Ah, motherhood. Pregnancy is a beautiful time, but it can also come with aches, pains, and downright uncomfortable moments. So what can you do to have a more relaxing nine months? Yoga!
As exhausted as you might be, exercising during pregnancy is important for you, your baby, and your birthing experience. Yoga is a safe and effective practice for pregnant women because in addition to offering relief, research shows that in some cases it can help lead to improvements in pregnancy and labor outcomes1.
The gentle, opening movements of certain poses and slow breathing can also provide stress relief, which, let's be honest, is a much-needed benefit.
Always be sure to listen to the sensations you feel in your body and check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. This is especially important for those new to the yoga space who are beginning their journey during pregnancy. (Check out mindbodygreen's beginner's guide to yoga if you fall in that category.)
Below are my favorite prenatal yoga poses, perfect for all levels.
If you're experiencing back pain, you may want to rock between cat and cow to get some relief. This basic set of movements stretches the spine and allows your belly to hang, which can help ease tension.
These poses will help you during labor if you experience "back labor," or pain in your lower back while giving birth. To maximize the benefits of these poses, sync your breath with your stretching by breathing in and expanding your abdomen on the cow stretch, and exhaling and contracting your abdomen when you arch into cat.
- Place your hands on your mat, coming into a tabletop position.
- As you inhale, bring your belly toward the ground, bend your back, and allow your gaze to come up.
- Exhale as you curl and round your spine, bringing your gaze toward your belly button.
- Repeat while making sure to focus on your breath.
Wide-Knee Child's Pose
Child's pose can help to relieve the pressure of a growing belly while widening your hips, easing back pain, and helping to lower feelings of stress. It also targets the back and hips, which can become very tight during pregnancy.
- Kneel on a yoga mat while making sure your heels are touching your bottom.
- Lay your chest down, and let your forehead touch the mat.
- Extend your arms straight ahead of you with your palms resting flat on the ground or with your arms to your sides, yogi's choice!
A wide-legged squat can be done with or without the support of a wall for balance. This pose strengthens the legs and pelvic floor and encourages hip-opening—all key components of the birth process!
- Place your feet outside of hip distance and point your toes outward, away from each other.
- Bend deeply into the knees and press the knees toward the pinky-toe-side edge of the feet so the hips open wide.
- As you inhale, reach the arms wide in opposite directions.
- As you exhale, bring your palms in to meet at your heart.
- Use 2 to 3 rounds of breath to continue sinking the hips low and pressing the knees wide.
Bound Angle Pose
Bound angle pose, or baddha konasana, is the perfect time to practice good posture and deep breathing. You can even give yourself a foot and calf massage while you're sitting, to improve circulation and ease the strain of added weight. This pose also opens the hips, which, again, is essential for supporting childbirth.
- Sit down with your back straight and place the soles of your feet together.
- Breathe deeply and hold on to your ankles for extra support. Make sure to maintain good posture throughout this move.
Legs Up the Wall
Getting your pregnant body into this pose requires some less-than-glamorous maneuvering—however, once you're in it, you'll want to hang out all day. Resting with your legs up the wall allows gravity to assist blood flow back to your heart and is known to reduce swelling in the feet and ankles, which is common during pregnancy. Do this daily for 10 to 20 minutes (or longer!) to take the pressure off your feet and focus on your breathing.
Note: Women in their third trimester (or second trimester, for those who are carrying twins), should avoid this pose "as this can occlude the ascending vena cava and make a woman pass out," says OB/GYN Wendie Trubow, M.D.
- Lie on your back and raise both legs straight up into the air.
- Make sure your legs and glutes are flat against the wall for full support.
- Place your arms down by your side or wherever feels comfortable.
Movement is important at any phase in your pregnancy, and while you may be feeling lethargic and uncomfortable, you might find some relief in stretching and engaging your body. Whether you're simply looking to momentarily unload the pressure of your growing belly or aiming to make the birthing process a little smoother, yoga can be an underrated tactic to help ease both stress and discomfort.
Juanina Kocher is a certified yoga teacher, health and wellness coach, and creator of Flex Flow Wellness. Kocher offers health and wellness coaching, membership-based yoga flows, meditation and breathwork, as well as quick and easy recipes to accommodate a busy lifestyle. Her philosophy is that (consistent) baby steps are big steps towards achieving your health and wellness goals.