Prenatal No-Nos: A Complete Yoga Guide To A Healthy, Safe Pregnancy

Written by Heidi Kristoffer

Pregnancy is an exciting (and scary!) time. If it’s your first pregnancy, then for the very first time in your life every decision you make effects not only just you, but also your precious cargo growing inside. All of a sudden, every morsel that you put into your body has different meaning, and every move you make has the ability to affect the new life you are growing.

What does this mean for your yoga practice? Not a whole lot if you have a strong, consistent practice, but being pregnant is NOT the time to “go big” with new yoga moves that your body has never known.

When I taught multiple public yoga classes most days of the week, I found that I would get a fairly regular stream of pregnant women coming to my rigorous vinyasa classes who were already far along in their pregnancies. Their reasoning? “My doctor told me no more running or high intensity workouts like I have been doing, and he said yoga was OK. I heard your class was very athletic, so I thought it would be good for me.”

As a teacher, my heart always dropped when I heard this. No doctor, when he or she envisions sending their pregnant patient to yoga could possibly fathom how rigorous or heating an intense vinyasa practice can be. YIKES! What I wanted most was for the students in my class to be safe. Most of these women had never practiced yoga before and if they had, it was “once or twice in college,” and they were throwing themselves into inversions in their first classes and taking every advanced option that I offered.

While I always admired the courage of these women, pregnancy is not the time to be introducing new workouts into your life. And, yes, yoga IS a workout — especially when it is a heart pumping, sweaty, rigorous vinyasa flow.

In yoga, there are consistent aims: listen to your body, stay true to you in every moment, be present, pay attention, be kind to yourself, and take deep breaths. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it! But not everyone has access to prenatal yoga classes where they live, and if they do, many find that classes can be pretty downright boring to a woman with a solid yoga practice.

If this sounds familiar and you feel confident continuing to go to your regular yoga classes, be sure to let the instructor know that you are pregnant. You can also follow these simple guidelines to keep you and your baby (or babies, if you're like me and carried more than one!) safe, happy and healthy.

First Trimester

The first trimester is the most fragile time in a pregnancy. The fetus is trying to implant, so if you do too many jarring moves like jump backs or inversions (though not everyone will agree on this), it will not survive implantation and the pregnancy cannot be sustained.

Also keep in mind that overheating is common throughout pregnancy. This is especially common in the first trimester, so be sure to have access to a window or fan, and stay hydrated.

General Guidelines:

  1. Avoid jump backs
  2. Avoid inversions
  3. Avoid closed twists (open twists are fine)
  4. Avoid heating pranayama or retention

Depending on how many babies you are carrying and how quickly your body changes, you might want to start avoiding deeper forward folds at the end of the first trimester.

Instead, try taking a wider stance with your legs to make room for your growing belly.

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Second Trimester

Generally, in the second trimester, mamas-to-be feel their best. Your belly isn’t quite yet in the way, and if you had morning sickness, it most likely has gone away by now. For many, the first trimester fatigue will have lifted.

Plus, your baby is now much more secure in the place where it will continue growing for the next several months.

General Guidelines:

1. If jumping back and inversions were part of your practice prior to pregnancy, and they feel good, you can begin bringing them back. However, the one inversion that can be difficult is Shoulder Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana), as it compresses your lungs. Leave that out if it causes discomfort, as you would with anything else that causes discomfort.

1a. A nice alternative to Shoulder Stand for a pregnant goddess is Reclined Goddess Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana).

2. Avoid any more poses on your belly, like Cobra (Bhujangasana), Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) or Locust (Shalabhasana).

Start modifying any intense abdominal work. For example: bend your knees if you want to do Boat Pose (Navasana), and avoid Crow Pose (Bakasana) and other arm balances.

And say goodbye to any extreme back bends. Cow Pose is a good alternative to Upward Dog at this point, and your Wheel practice will be waiting for you after you are cleared for exercise once the baby has arrived.

If at any point during your practice you start to feel dizzy, sit down in a kneeling position (Vadrasana) with a long straight spine and take deep breaths.

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Third Trimester

By now you are really starting to feel your pregnancy. The fatigue has returned and your belly is growing more every day. There may be some swelling, there is definitely some heart burn and/or indigestion, you're probably having trouble finding a comfortable position to sleep in, and there are many aches and pains thanks to your ever-changing body.

Your yoga practice now should be entirely about opening, preparing for birth (with lots of hip openers), and nurturing yourself and your growing offspring. If you haven’t already, now is definitely the time to get into a prenatal class, or find some prenatal yoga routines online.

General Guidelines:

1. You need to steer clear of any poses that involve lying on your back. Instead, prop yourself up at an angle with blocks, bolsters, or pillows, so that you are not flat on your back. If you are in Savasana, you can lie on your left side in a fetal position to encourage better circulation for your baby.

2. Do any balancing poses that you wish to do at a wall or with a chair. Your rapidly changing body will knock even the most centered yogi off balance at times.

3. Concentrate on restorative moves that create space (like side bends) and make you feel GREAT.

Prenatal Pro Tips

1. As your pregnancy progresses and your body prepares to deliver, a hormone called relaxin is released into your body. This is meant to allow your ligaments to lengthen for the birthing process.

However, it is not limited to that one event, and can allow for injury if you aren’t careful to stay within the limits of your body. So be sure to take care, and do not push yourself beyond your limits.

2. The “talk test” is recommended by every doctor I know during pregnancy. If you can talk without sounding winded doing your activities of choice, you are fine.

If you are huffing and puffing when trying to talk during your practice, your baby is not getting enough oxygen.Give that little miracle what he or she needs!

3. Take care of yourself!! Only you know what feels right or wrong for you in any given moment. Follow your intuition, and pay careful attention to all of your needs. You will do great, Mama!

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