Prenatal yoga: tips for new and experienced yoginis

Sandra Carson offers some tips for doing yoga during different stages of pregnancy, whether you're new to yoga or have been practising for years.

yoga for pregnant women

Whether you start practising yoga after you get pregnant, or you already have a practice, yoga can help you to consciously connect to your baby and prepare you for your birth. Sandra shares her prenatal yoga tips to see you through your pregnancy.

Starting yoga during your pregnancy

Many new mothers-to-be who have no previous yoga experience will benefit from a gentle and nurturing yoga practice. I was pregnant with my first daughter when I began practicing yoga. I had very little body awareness, a mediocre physical condition and no conscious breath experience. The yoga classes I attended were rich and educational. Movement, awareness and learning to breathe were some of the great tools that were of tremendous help to me during pregnancy and birth. The classes offered me the opportunity to become more aware, to feel my body and to notice my body changing.

Yoga invited me to connect with my baby in a different way than I was used to. Connecting though my attention and intention, by sending my love, through my breath, to my baby. It was really different and made me conscious of what else was out there, beyond the physical. If you are new to yoga, take all the props you need and take rest when you are out of breath or dizzy. Generally the focus is on enjoying the movements, breath and the energetic connection to your body and baby. After your baby is born and you are fully recovered, you will have the opportunity to practice more strenuous yoga.

I’d recommend starting with prenatal yoga classes with a teacher who can guide you in person. You could complement these with pregnancy yoga online classes if you feel comfortable to but this is a very personal decision.

If you already do yoga and become pregnant

As yoga becomes more popular more women who get pregnant are already practising yoga, and the emphasis is changing. Many women feel strong enough to, after the first trimester, continue their yoga practice at roughly the same level as before. If the pregnancy progresses well and no red flags are up, there is no reason why they shouldn’t. In my second and third pregnancies, I practised inversions and arm balances until the middle/end of my second trimester. Backbends felt fabulous as I was having back aches from the growing weight of my belly. Twisting opened my lungs, so I had more space to breathe. I loved feeling and cultivating my own strength.

If you are an experienced yoga student and your pregnancy is going well after your first trimester you may be able to follow many general yoga classes with some adaptations. Listen to your body and back off when it tells you to.

General tips for prenatal yoga

In my experience there is nothing wrong with a strong practice. But there are a few tips I give all my pregnant yogi students:

1. Use props and give your baby space

Modify your poses and use props to accommodate your changing shape. Place your hands on blocks and blankets under your knees in lunges. Use bolsters under your thighs for Cobras and generally be generous in giving yourself some more space and support.

2. Protect the Vena Cava

Try not to stay too long on your back during the second trimester as the baby’s weight might cut off circulation by pressing down on the Vena Cava. (This is the large vein that carries blood to the heart from other areas of the body.)

3. Adjust your balance

Keep in mind that your sense of balance can dramatically change during pregnancy, making you less stable in balancing poses and inversions/arm balances.   

4. Work on stability rather than flexibility

Due to the hormone relaxin in your body, from the second trimester on, stay away from your edge in stretching muscles. Focus instead on creating stable joints by keeping your muscles strong.  

Relaxin can have a big influence on how deeply you bend and twist. Respecting this powerful hormone, stay in your existing range of stretching instead of trying to increase flexibility.

Prenatal yoga – tips for all trimesters

During your first trimester

You might feel tired, nauseous and lacking energy to undertake any physical practice. Listen to your body, take all the rest you can. If you feel like this but want to do some yoga anyway, you can do restoratives and gentle breathing exercises (pranayama). These are great to cultivate listening and connecting to this unique time in your  body and life. Meditation may serve you well to centre yourself in that part of yourself that remains unchanging, observing all that is growing and changing in your body and mind. For a healthy pregnancy, there are no real do’s and don’t’s, just make sure you take care of your (resting) needs.

During your second trimester

After the first 3 months, nausea usually subsides and energy will return. You may even feel more energetic than ever before! During these 3 months, you will start to notice the physical changes in your body in your practice; lying on your belly will become more limited and eventually impossible. In bending forward you will need to step your feet wider apart and with twisting you will be limited by your belly (so take the twist more into the upper spine). If you feel good and have no special precautions from your doctor or midwife, you can practise yoga almost to what you did before pregnancy. The hormone relaxin will start to kick in, so you do need to be aware that you stay within your existing boundaries of stretching. In your practice, be observant and disciplined and don’t push yourself stretching, twisting and back bending. Otherwise, a strong and active practice may be what you like to do and that is fine. You are keeping your body in shape and staying active is a part of doing so.

During your third trimester

Now you will start to feel your increased weight and the weight of your growing baby. Although a physical practice is still fine to do (if you feel well and no precautions have been advised) but stay vigilant of the relaxin in your body, as well as your body’s changes. These can include a different sense of centre, decreased sense of balance and more pressure on your joints and ligaments due to your increased weight. When you lay down, only do so on your sides and not on your back. Wide-legged standing poses can be done with your feet a little closer together (creating more stability) or with a chair.

Downward Facing Dog practising-moms-to-be have been known for “spinning” their baby’s breech position even in the last trimester, so practice if it feels good!  In either case, it might take the pressure off the pubic bone and babies often get excited when they get to be turned over.

Take time to rest, connect and nurture in your practice. Staying strong in pregnancy is great when it’s done with an equal amount of relaxation. Allowing your body to do what it needs to do, is best served when you can also have a sense of surrender. Being pregnant is wonderful and also taxing for your body, so take your well-deserved rest whenever you can!

Practice our Pregnancy Yoga Program

Over the course of this program, José de Groot will guide you through yoga classes for different stages of your pregnancy including prenatal classes to enhance your fertility, pregnancy meditation, and Yin and Yang yoga for each trimester.

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Sandra CarsonWith almost two decades of experience studying the body, mind and heart, Sandra has developed a style of teaching that aims to make yoga a holistic, self-reflective, and spiritual practice.