A Prenatal Yoga Teacher's Best Advice For Practicing Yoga While Pregnant

mbg Contributor By Blair Fillingham
mbg Contributor
Blair Fillingham is the creator behind MTRNL.COM, an online pre and postnatal yoga studio. She’s a certified yoga instructor with a bachelor’s in business and corporate communications from Pace University, and believes that the health and vitality of mothers is crucial to the future of our planet.

Photo by MaaHoo Studio

I disagree with a lot of the advice out there about how to modify a yoga practice during pregnancy. We’re told to continue doing what we're doing; we're told to do it as long as it "feels good" and to not start any new type of exercise once we become pregnant. We're also told we’re supposed to modify, but then we see Instagram pictures of pregnant women in headstands. It gets confusing.

As a prenatal yoga teacher, I believe that we are the ones who get to decide what is right and wrong for our bodies. But if you’ve never been pregnant before, how do you know what something is supposed to feel like? How do you know when a stretch is too deep? How do you know when your abs are separating beyond (surgical) repair or what it feels like when a placenta is detaching?

This is why prenatal yoga was developed: To provide specialized instruction and therapeutic application of yoga to ensure pregnant women are taught in a way that considers the risks, benefits, and alternatives of every pose. And frankly, I think many poses that are still taught to pregnant women—whether they’re in a prenatal class or not—are doing more harm than good. I have chatted with hundreds of mamas since I became a prenatal yoga teacher, and here are some of the questions I hear on a regular basis.

Can you do prenatal yoga if you've never done yoga before?

With a good teacher, it really is for everyone—regardless of fitness level, from "Iron Woman" to "Woman on Bed Rest." Prenatal Yoga encourages experienced yoginis to slow down and become even more mindful of how they are moving. It also teaches those with no experience how to enjoy yoga without injury or stress.

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Is prenatal yoga enough to keep you fit throughout your pregnancy?

If you go for walks on top of doing prenatal yoga, yes—you really will stay fit. For now, staying fit means slowing down and smelling those roses while you practice patience, surrender, and focusing inward. Remember that this is only a temporary break from high-intensity workouts. Taking a break from something you do regularly could even improve your form when you come back to it. You may even become stronger through resting your body as it grows a human.

Should women who already do yoga modify their practice?

Yes: From the moment of conception, there are some really basic principles around modification—such as avoiding deep twists and situps—and important symptoms to be aware of such as shortness of breath, feeling hot, pounding head or heart, and/or pressure in your eyes. These symptoms are signs that the pose you are doing isn’t working for you and your baby today. I couldn’t do a downward-facing dog during either of my pregnancies because every time I did, my head would pound and my eyes would bulge. It happens!

My advice is to go to a few prenatal yoga classes at the beginning of your pregnancy to learn the poses that we practice so that you can incorporate them into your existing practice. For example, you can do a "birth wave" pose while the rest of the class is doing chaturanga dandasana.

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Can I wait until I "feel more pregnant" before I do prenatal yoga?

A pregnant woman has more relaxin (the hormone that relaxes her ligaments, softens her cervix, and regulates the mother's cardiovascular system) in her body in the first trimester than she does when she is in labor. To prevent overstretching ligaments that could lead to instability for the rest of your life, prenatal yoga will remind a mama to "come back from her edge" rather than "push through it." The focus on stability, and moving slowly, is even more important before there is a belly involved.

What's with all the photos of pregnant women doing powerful yoga poses on the internet?

There is a saying that what we do in the 40 weeks of pregnancy will influence the next 40 years of our life. I focus my energy on offering 1-minute tutorials via my blog and Instagram on how to practice yoga poses safely. Rather than say, "If it feels good, do it," I encourage my students to tune in to new sensations and feelings that they didn’t know they had access to. Guided discernment is required, and that requires the teacher to be informed about how to care for a maternal woman—from conception through menopause.

The reality is that life is long, and there will be many opportunities for headstands in the future. For now, why not truly immerse yourself in what it means and feels like to conceive and be pregnant? Why not find a pose that gives all of the same benefits but is also less likely to cause you or your baby injury? If you ask me, at least giving prenatal yoga a try is so worth it. You (and your baby) will thank you.

Trying to get pregnant? Here are 21 tips you should know about.

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