Benefits of Yoga During Pregnancy

Practicing prenatal yoga can benefit both mother and child. Prenatal yoga focuses on breathing techniques and gentle stretching. These classes are designed to make you more flexible and prepare you for labor.

If you’re expecting, you may want to consider trying a prenatal yoga class in a studio or at home. 

What Is Prenatal Yoga?

Prenatal yoga is a type of yoga designed for pregnant women. Yoga is intended to create a balance between emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual dimensions. Prenatal yoga is about helping you prepare for childbirth by relaxing the body and focusing on safe techniques and poses in all stages of pregnancy.

Yoga can improve your physical and psychological health — and not just for the duration of your pregnancy.  If you didn't practice yoga before pregnancy, it's best to talk to your doctor before starting any prenatal yoga classes. 

Why You Might Want to Try Prenatal Yoga

It's good for you and your baby to get at least 30 minutes of movement each day. You don't need to do extensive workouts to see the benefits of exercise. Prenatal yoga is a low-impact fitness routine that can help improve your mood and sleep, increase your strength and flexibility, and decrease lower back pain and other common symptoms of pregnancy.

More benefits of doing prenatal yoga include:

Reduces stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. The combination of intentional movement and structured breathing can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Breathing in slow, rhythmic breaths activates the nervous system and blocks cortisol, which, in high amounts, has been linked to depression. 

Improves blood flow. The stretching and movements in yoga help increase blood flow to your heart. Improved blood flow means more oxygen-rich blood is going to your baby. This keeps your baby on track for healthy development.

Betters your labor experience. Starting prenatal yoga in any trimester can help you better relax and stay positive once you go into labor. Meditation and breathing exercises have been shown to reduce pain and anxiety during labor. Being confident and building your coping abilities will also help you have a less painful labor experience. 

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Helps you build a support system. Prenatal yoga classes can also help your social life by connecting with other expectant moms. A strong support system makes childbirth and postpartum easier. Anxiety about the delivery process can make labor worse. Being able to talk through your experience and hear others' stories can be comforting.  

Yoga During Each Trimester

The further along you are in your pregnancy, the less intense your workouts should be.

The first trimester. You may feel fatigued and sick during this trimester. Try to avoid overworking yourself. Doing yoga poses slowly and carefully will prevent you from feeling worse. Yoga can alleviate pregnancy symptoms like nausea and backaches. 

The second trimester. At this stage, you’ll want to avoid belly poses and sharp twists. If you've been practicing advanced poses like backbends and inversions — where your feet are above your head — you may want to modify them. Inversions can compress your lungs and cause severe discomfort. 

The third trimester. You may feel tired more often and your balance may be off-centered. Yoga during this time should focus on restorative and hip-opening poses. Light stretching will help ease your aches and pains. Avoid lying on your back. Blocks and pillows can help you get into comfortable, safe positions. 

Safety Considerations

Movement and exercise are great ways to stay healthy during pregnancy, but pushing yourself too hard can be counterproductive. Certain exercises and poses can be dangerous to you and your baby. 

There are certain types of yoga to avoid when pregnant. Hot yoga can be dangerous because extreme heat can cause neural tube defects. Twisting and bending should also be avoided. These movements can put you off balance and increase your risk of falling. Poses that put a lot of pressure on your abdomen can harm your baby as well. 

Even if you exercised before pregnancy, you should still talk to your doctor before beginning any prenatal yoga routine. Watch for signs like sharp pain with certain movements, vaginal bleeding, or decreased fetal movement. If a movement or posture doesn't feel good, slowly bring yourself back to a comfortable position.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 02, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Can Fam Physician: “Hot yoga and pregnancy: fitness and hyperthermia.”}

Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: “Systematic Review of Yoga for Pregnant Women: Current Status and Future Directions.”

Journal of Maternal and Child Health: “The Effect of Prenatal Yoga on Anxiety and Depression in Kudus, Central Java.”

Mayo Clinic: “Prenatal yoga: What you need to know.”

Obstetrics & Gynecology: "An Examination of Maternal and Fetal Responses to 26 Yoga Postures."

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