A lot of women shy away from yoga when they’re expecting, but you can actually practice it throughout your entire pregnancy IF you’re careful and know what to be mindful of. If you have a bub on the way and are keen on doing the practice, then make sure you read this first.
The yoga concerns
Yoga is a very ancient practice that has been proven to have a very positive effect on wellbeing; yet there is a common belief that it’s no good for pregnant women. The key reasons for this include:
- Risk of miscarriage – Certain poses put pressure on the belly and uterus which in the first trimester many believe can put you at higher risk of miscarriage.
- Risk of injury – During pregnancy you produce the hormone relaxin which relaxes ligaments and tendons to create room for the baby and prepare for birth, which means you could ‘over do it’ without realising. You may also lose your balance in the later stages and hurt yourself or the baby.
In addition to these concerns, there is also a theory that having very strong core muscles (as many yoga practitioners do), actually makes it harder and more painful during labour; and also increases the risk of diastasis recti (abdominal muscle separation) occurring.
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The benefits of yoga in pregnancy
While the risks and concerns about yoga in pregnancy are very valid and need to be addressed, when done safely there are many wonderful benefits of the practice for the expecting mama such as:
- It relieves stress and boosts your mood to help prevent prenatal mental health issues (such as depression and anxiety)
- It increases your energy and helps fight fatigue
- It strengthens the body and increases stamina – important for birth and recovery
- It can sometimes help with nausea
- It forces you to slow down and be still, and practice focusing on your breathing
- It can result in a faster and less painful birth
Prenatal yoga classes
There are actually specially designed classes for pregnant women which don’t include any potentially risky poses or other elements. The classes are aimed at gentle exercise with a large focus on breathing, stillness, stretching, opening up the pelvis and improving digestion and circulation. They are also a good way to bond with other local mums who are expecting, but don’t expect to work up a sweat as they’re more about birth preparation than exercise.
Tips for a safe yoga practice
If you want to incorporate yoga into your prenatal exercise regime, then follow these guidelines:
- If attending a regular yoga class (and not a prenatal one), be sure to tell the instructor how far you are along before the lesson starts.
- If you’ve never done yoga before, it’s best to stick to a prenatal class rather than a general one – you don’t need to physically push your body any more than it already is being challenged by taking up a brand new form of fitness.
- Avoid any types of hot yoga such as Bikram, as overheating could be dangerous for you and your baby (not to mention uncomfortable).
- Be especially careful in your first trimester when miscarriage risk is at its highest.
- Use aids like chairs and walls with standing poses as you get larger, because your centre of gravity will shift and you don’t want to fall and injure yourself or your baby.
- Listen to your body and if you feel any discomfort or pain, stop and seek advice from your instructor and your doctor.
- Be sure to only undertake a yoga class with a trained instructor who knows about pregnancy safety. Don’t attempt to do your own yoga unless you’re very experienced or are following a DVD or online class suitable for pregnancy.
Asanas (poses) to skip
To be really safe you should also avoid these yoga poses when pregnant:
- Twists – especially deep belly ones as they are designed to compress the internal organs (including the uterus)
- Prone poses – such as the bow pose or locust pose, as they put pressure on the uterus
- Backbends – these also compress the uterus and can overstretch the abdominal muscles
- Jerky or sudden jump movements (in the first trimester) – they can disturb implantation
- Core and abdominal strengtheners – you should be aiming for a soft belly and core, and strong body elsewhere
- Certain pranayamas – where breath is retained or involves deep forceful belly movements
- Back poses (after the first trimester) – they can reduce important blood flow to the uterus
- Heavy inversions – such as headstands and handstands
Did you practice yoga when pregnant, or are thinking about it?