Prenatal yoga

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Prenatal yoga is a special type of yoga using exercises and poses that are safer to practice during pregnancy. Read on to learn more about pregnancy yoga and how it can help reduce stress and help prepare your body and mind for childbirth.

What Is Prenatal Yoga?

Prenatal or maternity yoga classes are similar to gentle yoga classes, but your instructor will make modifications to poses to ensure they are safe to do during pregnancy. In your prenatal yoga classes, you can usually expect to:

  • Learn and practice some focused breathing techniques that can help you relax. These can also be useful for managing your breath during labour if you give birth vaginally.

  • Do some gentle stretching

  • Practice pregnancy yoga poses and exercises that can help strengthen muscles you’ll need during labour and delivery if you give birth vaginally

  • Learn some helpful relaxation techniques

  • Meet and network with other mums-to-be.

Your midwife may be able to suggest some good prenatal yoga classes in your area. Alternatively, contact nearby yoga studios and ask if they offer yoga sessions specifically for pregnant mums-to-be. If they don’t, they may be able to recommend another studio in your area that does.

For your safety, it’s best to let your yoga instructor know that you are pregnant before starting the class.

In Summary

At prenatal yoga you’ll learn and practice focused breathing, do gentle stretches and yoga exercises that can help prepare your body for labour, learn relaxation techniques and meet other mums-to-be.

Benefits of Prenatal Yoga

Like many other forms of gentle exercise during pregnancy prenatal yoga can be a safe way for mums-to-be to stay fit and limber.

Some research also suggests that staying active during pregnancy can lower the risk of problems during labour.

Here are some potential benefits of prenatal yoga:

  • May decrease stress and anxiety

  • May reduce backaches and other aches and pains

  • As a form of exercise, yoga may help lower the likelihood of health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure. The latter carries a risk of pre-eclampsia. Keep in mind that yoga is not a substitute for the proper management of blood pressure and any other health issues with the help of your doctor and midwife.

  • Helps develop core muscle strength and flexibility, helping to prevent or ease pelvic girdle pain and improve balance as your centre of gravity shifts forwards with the growth of your bump

  • Provides the opportunity to practice breathing and relaxation techniques that can help throughout pregnancy, labour and delivery.

In Summary

Prenatal yoga is a safe form of exercise for most mums-to-be and may have benefits ranging from lowering stress levels, reducing the risk of certain health issues, developing muscle strength, flexibility and balance, and learning breathing and relaxation techniques all of which could be useful during pregnancy, labour and beyond.

Safety Guidelines for Yoga During Pregnancy

To help ensure you and your foetus are as safe as possible as you practice prenatal yoga, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Talk to your midwife and/or doctor. Check that the prenatal yoga classes you’re interested in are safe for you.

  • Check that your instructor is qualified. As your body changes during your pregnancy, the yoga poses you can do safely might change. For this reason, it’s important to make sure the class that is led by an instructor who is trained in prenatal yoga. Before the class, let your instructor know how far along you are and let them know if you have any medical conditions or aches and pains that may impact what you can do in the class.

  • Stay well-hydrated and cool. Avoid strenuous or ‘hot’ yoga sessions during pregnancy, and drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated.

  • Be realistic with your goals. About 30 minutes per day of gentle exercise is recommended for most mums-to-be, and this can include some prenatal yoga sessions. If you didn’t exercise or lead an active lifestyle before you were pregnant, it’s best to work up to this gradually. Start with a maximum of 15 minutes of yoga or any other continuous exercise up to 3 times a week. Once you’re comfortable with this amount of exercise, gradually increase the time you spend on exercise (including yoga) to 30 minutes a day. You might find it best to alternate doing other forms of exercise, such as walking or swimming, on some of the days when you don’t do prenatal yoga. Listen to your body and if you feel that you are pushing yourself too hard, scale things back.

  • Be gentle and pace yourself. During your prenatal yoga session, if you can’t speak as you normally would without losing your breath, then you should slow down. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to release a pose and relax. Don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for alternatives if a particular pose is uncomfortable or too difficult.

  • Use props. As your pregnancy advances, your centre of gravity will shift. This has an effect on your balance. Use pillows or soft blocks for extra support during yoga sessions.

  • Avoid some yoga poses and be mindful of your posture:

  • Don’t do back bends or strong body twists

  • Avoid lying flat on your back, especially after you’re 16 weeks pregnant

  • Don’t lie upside down or on your belly

  • Don’t do inverted poses like shoulder stands or headstands

  • Avoid stretching too far or strenuously

  • Don’t do exercises that involve holding your breath or taking short, forceful breaths.

In Summary

Stay safe while doing prenatal yoga by checking with your midwife or doctor before starting classes, avoiding strenuous exercises and poses or movements that could be unsafe in pregnancy, such as deep bends and twists or lying flat on your back or on your belly. Tell your instructor before the class starts how far along you are and if you have any health issues.

When to Avoid Doing Prenatal Yoga

Check with your midwife or doctor before starting prenatal yoga. In most cases it’s OK to do yoga in pregnancy, but there are some complications that can make it unsafe for you or your foetus.

You may be advised not to do pregnancy yoga or other exercise if:

  • Your waters have broken

  • You have high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia

  • There are concerns about your foetus’s growth

  • You have a condition where your cervix can open too easily

  • You have placenta praevia and you’ve passed 28 weeks of pregnancy

  • You are expecting triplets or a higher number of multiples

  • You have other health conditions such as certain forms of diabetes, thyroid disease, heart trouble or breathing problems.

When to Stop and Call Your Doctor or Midwife

There are several warning signs to be aware of during prenatal yoga or any other form of exercise during pregnancy. If you notice any of the following, stop and seek medical attention right away:

  • Breathing difficulties

  • A headache

  • Chest pain

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Pain or swelling in your calves

  • Bleeding or fluid leaking from your vagina

  • Any signs of premature labour such as contractions, pressure in your pelvis, period-like cramps or an unusual backache.

FAQS AT A GLANCE

  • After checking with your midwife or doctor, you can start prenatal yoga classes any time during your pregnancy.


    If you’ve been practicing yoga before your pregnancy, ask if your instructor is qualified to teach prenatal yoga or can recommend someone who is.

  • Yes. It’s usually safe to do yoga and other forms of gentle exercise at any stage of your pregnancy.


    Make sure your yoga instructor is qualified to teach pregnant mums-to-be and let the instructor know how far along you are in your pregnancy.


    It’s always a good idea to check in with your midwife or doctor before starting or continuing any form of exercise during pregnancy.

  • If you already do yoga you can probably continue doing many of your usual yoga poses during pregnancy but it’s best to consult with an instructor or studio that specialises in prenatal yoga.


    Exercises to avoid when you’re pregnant include:

    • Lying flat on your back (especially after 16 weeks)
    • Back bends or strong body twists
    • Strenuous stretching
    • Exercises where you have to hold your breath or take short, strong breaths
    • ‘Hot’ or more intense forms of yoga.


  • Pregnancy yoga may be able to help

    • reduce or alleviate pregnancy symptoms like backache, pelvic pain and insomnia
    • reduce stress and anxiety
    • improve your strength, flexibility and balance
    • teach you breathing and relaxation techniques than can help you during pregnancy and childbirth.


  • In a prenatal yoga class you can expect to

    • learn and practice focused breathing techniques
    • do gentle stretching exercises
    • practice pregnancy yoga poses and exercises that can improve strength, flexibility and balance while helping to prepare your body and mind for labour and delivery
    • learn some helpful relaxation techniques
    • meet other mums-to-be.


The Bottom Line

Once you’ve got the all-clear from your midwife or doctor, joining a prenatal yoga class can be a wonderful and safe way to stay active and help you stay connected with your changing body during your pregnancy.

You might also find that meeting other mums-to-be at the classes helps you feel more supported as you can share your experiences of the highs and lows of pregnancy together.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.