When I tell people I am a prenatal yoga teacher, they usually have a lot of questions for me, pregnant or not. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions, garnered from my education, experience, and research I have done. Keep in mind that I am not a medical professional!
How is prenatal yoga different from “regular” yoga?
The biggest difference is that everyone in the room is a pregnant woman! This results in a class tailored more specifically to address the aches and discomforts of
pregnancy. Also, the aspect of community is a major part of prenatal yoga classes. It’s a wonderful place to meet other women who are going through a similar experience as you, making it a great place to vent, share stories, get tips, or whatever else you may want to hear/say. The other difference is that the teacher is usually trained in prenatal yoga or at least has some experience with birth that qualifies them to teach this speciality, therefore they have a fairly good understanding of the process of pregnancy and birth and are comfortable offering options and answering questions.
What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
Many women come to prenatal yoga never having practiced yoga before, because their doctor recommended it. Why exactly are they recommending it?
There have been medical studies done regarding the benefits of prenatal yoga. Here are some according to Mayo Clinic:
Studies have suggested that practicing yoga during pregnancy can:
Reduce stress and anxiety
Increase strength, flexibility and endurance in muscles needed during childbirth
Decrease some common “side effects” such as carpal tunnel, low back pain, nausea, shortness of breath, headaches
Decrease risk of pre-term labor
Also prenatal yoga can help you meet and bond with other pregnant women as you prepare for the stresses of new parenthood. Another awesome benefit of prenatal yoga is the focus on the breath. Many of the breathing practices that we practice during class can be extremely helpful to use during labor. Some women even find that they use certain yoga poses during labor.
How early in pregnancy can I start taking prenatal yoga?
Generally, during the first trimester, energy levels can be very low, women can feel nauseous, and hormone levels can be rather unpredictable. For this reason, most women prefer to do a lot of resting during this time, and it’s not very common that I see students before the 12 or 13 week mark. Additionally, there is a high risk for miscarriage during this time, so the body may be sending messages in general to take it slow.
However, it’s never too early to start prenatal yoga, as long as you are listening to your body during your practice and staying within the comfort of your physical limits. Sometimes women who are trying to get pregnant like to take prenatal yoga, and I say they are more than welcome! Even if you are not pregnant it can be a nice practice, I just prefer to keep the classes women only for comfort of my students.
How long into pregnancy can I practice yoga?
As long as it feels good! I have had students practice during their 41st and even 42nd week, just days before giving birth. I even know of one student who went into labor later in the day after attending a prenatal class that morning!
I’ve been practicing yoga for a while, can I continue taking my regular classes or should I switch to prenatal because I am pregnant?
I would say this is totally up to you! If you already have an established yoga practice and feel connected to your body, then trusting your intuition should be fairly easy and you may feel comfortable modifying poses yourself without the guidance of a teacher. But if you are fairly new to yoga, or would just really like to experience the camaraderie of sharing your practice with other mom-to-be’s, then you would probably really enjoy a prenatal yoga class!
Are inversions safe during pregnancy?
This is kind of a complicated one to answer! The simple answer is yes, IF 1. inversions are already an established part of the pregnant mama’s practice 2. she is listening to her body and intuition while inverting 3. she knows her limits and can get up and down safely. Pregnancy is not, however, the right time to start an inversion practice.
That being said, the more complex answer requires defining more specifically what an inversion is. Some consider an inversion to be any pose where your feet are about your head. Under that definition, legs up the wall, a restorative pose which can be helpful in reducing swelling in the feet and legs that is common during pregnancy, would count as an inversion.
Another definition sometimes given for inversions is that they are any pose where the head is below the heart. This definition would include down dog and standing forward folds as inversions, poses that again, are safe and commonly practiced in prenatal yoga classes.
This is not to say that these definitions are incorrect, but when talking specifically about yoga during pregnancy, an important factor to consider in poses is where the pelvis is in relation to the heart. Therefore, the best definition of inversions to use in relation to prenatal yoga is: poses that have the pelvis lifted higher than the heart. This definition would include many of the poses that we may more readily think of as inversions such as handstand, headstand, shoulder stand, forearm balance, scorpion, etc.
Those are the poses that should be an already established part of a woman’s practice if she is going to practice them during pregnancy. She needs to know how to safely get in and out of the pose, as her center of gravity shifts during pregnancy, challenging balance. Also because of relaxin and other hormones produced during pregnancy, her back and pelvis, as well as joints and ligaments are more at risk of injury. She must be very comfortable with the pose and know her limits.
There are many differing opinions on this subject in the yoga and birth world, however, the best answer I can give as a yoga teacher is: I am there to support you and make sure you are safe, but you know your body and practice best, and I will not tell you what you can and can’t do.
Are there any other poses that are considered unsafe to practice during pregnancy?
Again the best answer is to trust your intuition and listen to your body. Generally, it is best to avoid closed twists as they can decrease circulation. Also poses that target the abs aren’t great to do, including poses with a strong focus on strengthening the obliques as overly strong obliques can pull your abdominal muscles apart further than they are already being pulled, which causes a condition known as diastasis recti. Deep backbends such as full wheel can also cause diastasis recti. Better to stick with milder back bends such as camel or upward facing dog with a bolster under the thighs. It is also best to avoid poses that require lying straight on the tummy, mostly as that just won’t feel very good for you and your baby.
Once in the second trimester, lying on the back for long periods of times should be avoided. I recommend using a bolster and blocks during Savasana and other times that require being reclined. The increased weight on the uterus when lying flat on the back interferes with the flow of blood and nutrition to your baby. Plus it’s just not very comfortable and can aggravate low back pain and heartburn as well as possibly elevate blood pressure.
Finally, it’s best to avoid hot yoga during pregnancy. You already tend to be over heated most of the time anyway, and getting dehydrated is not a risk you want to take!
Growing a baby is hard work and truly an incredible feat, so honor your body, take it easy when you need to, believe in your own strength, and embrace what your body can do during this special time rather than mourning what it can’t.