Prenatal yoga is a great way to stay in shape while you’re pregnant, and it’s good for your baby, too!
Pregnant women hear all the time that we should rest, relax, and put our feet up. While rest is definitely important – growing a whole person in your belly is hard work! – getting exercise is also critical to get your body ready for birth and motherhood, and it’s great for your baby, too!
You should always talk to your doctor before starting any prenatal exercise, especially if you weren’t exercising much before your pregnancy.
Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
Two of the most beneficial exercises you can do when you’re pregnant are walking and yoga. Even if all that you can manage is a walk around the block or a 15 minute session of easy yoga poses, you’re conditioning your body, getting your blood pumping, and even helping your baby get properly positioned for birth.
The other bonus I’ve noticed to walking and yoga? It seems to help with edema! It sounds counter-intuitive, but a 1/2-1 mile walk or short set of yoga poses often relive some of the swelling in my feet after a long day.
Related Reading: 10 Natural Remedies for Swollen Feet and Ankles
The reason that exercise helps with swelling is that it gets your blood pumping, which helps move those fluids out of the feet, ankles, and legs.
Prenatal Yoga Benefits
Some yoga poses are particularly beneficial to you and your baby. Certain poses can help your baby turn, and others tone your body for labor and for being a mom. You need strong legs and arms to birth a baby, and carrying a child around is a lot easier with a strong body, too!
Now that I’m in the last weeks of my third trimester, my workouts have definitely slowed down. It’s tough to walk as far and as fast with a bowling ball in your belly, and some yoga poses are impossible or even unhealthy during pregnancy. You need to avoid poses where you are lying on your belly, and in the second half of pregnancy too much spinal twisting can be uncomfortable.
As your baby grows and your uterus takes up more and more space in your abdomen, you might also notice that you get out of breath more easily. That’s because your baby is actually crowding your lungs. This can definitely impact your endurance during both walking and yoga!
Whether you’ve reached the exhausted phase of pregnancy or are full of energy, incorporating some of these prenatal yoga poses can make a big difference for your pregnancy and your birth!
1. Cat/Cow Pose
Cat/cow is especially beneficial in the third trimester, but it’s a great pose to practice throughout your pregnancy. This is actually two poses that you practice together, and the combo is great for stretching and strengthening your spine and gently stretching and strengthening your abdomen. That can help relieve back pain, which a lot of pregnant women deal with.
By stretching and toning your abs, you can also help relieve some of that round ligament pain: those out-of-nowhere belly cramps you are probably experiencing as your belly stretches to make room for your growing baby.
Cat/cow also helps make room in your uterus toward the end of your pregnancy, so that your baby can turn. During the early stages of pregnancy, your baby might be positioned any which-way, but toward the end of the third trimester, you will want him to turn to the head-down position. He’ll still move some, but head-down is where he should be resting, and cat/cow helps him work with gravity to turn the right way. It also keeps him off of your spine, which can help with back pain and may even help prevent painful “back labor” during your birth.
If you’re not familiar with cat/cow, check out the video above!
2. Cobbler’s Pose
Cobbler’s pose is another one that’s great for stretching that low back and relieving some of that pain and pressure. It stretches your upper legs, helping your body get ready for labor, and it encourages good posture, which is great for both you and your baby. Moms with good posture tend to have less back pain, and maintaining good posture throughout the day gives your baby more space to move around in your belly than if you’re hunched over.
She mentions in the video that this is a great “hip opener,” which means it helps tone your body for labor.
Like cat/cow, cobbler’s pose creates space in your growing uterus, which can help your baby turn toward the end of your pregnancy. It’s also a good counter-pose to some of the leg strengthening postures you’ll do to prepare for birth.
3. Yoga Squat
Squatting is such an amazing pose to get your body ready for birthing. It opens the hips, stretches and tones the legs, and helps improve your posture to relieve back pain during pregnancy.
Not only does the yoga squat prepare you for labor, my doula – who is also a certified prenatal yoga instructor – says that it’s a great pose to use during labor. When you picture laboring, you probably imagine a scene from a Hollywood movie where the woman is on her back on a hospital bed, but this is actually a terrible position for birthing. It compresses the pelvis and forces your baby to basically climb uphill. The yoga squat lets gravity assist your baby and helps your lower body open up, so you can birth more easily.
Practicing this squat during your pregnancy will make it easier to get into this position during labor. Check out the video above to see how to practice this posture!
4. Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is a relaxing posture that opens your abdomen and stretches the back. Like the squat, it helps open the hips.
As your belly gets bigger, you’ll probably need to modify how you do child’s pose. In the early stages, you can do it as usual – with your knees together. As you grow, you’ll need to separate the knees, so your belly can fall between them. Listen to your body when you practice this posture, and find the knee position that works best for you.
Practicing relaxation with postures like child’s pose also help ready your mind for labor. There is so much fear surrounding the birthing process, and fear can actually cause you to experience more pain. When we are afraid, our brains release stress hormones that cause our bodies to tense up, the opposite of what needs to happen during childbirth. Training your mind to relax can help alleviate some of that fear, and by extension some of that pain.
The video above has the modified child’s pose I describe and another variation to help you get comfortably into child’s pose if you’re a little bit tighter.
5. Warrior II
Warrior II strengthens your thighs, hips, and arms to prepare your body for labor and for being a mom. Birthing can be a long process, and poses like warrior II that focus on endurance help you get prepare for labor.
The longer that you hold this posture, the more strenuous it becomes, as you work against gravity to hold your leg bent and your arms out. This is another great chance to practice the relaxation that’s so important for birth. Once you’re settled into the pose, try to focus on your breath – inhaling and exhaling deeply – rather than on what your body is feeling. Send your breath to anywhere that you’re feeling strain or tension.
You can do a couple of shorter sets of this posture, like in the video above, or hold it longer to build up more strength. Again, it’s all about listening to your body. If you’re having a low-energy day, don’t feel like you have to hold the pose as long. On a day when you’re feeling more energetic, hold it for longer – maybe 10-15 deep breaths – to improve endurance.
I’d love to hear from the other moms out there! What prenatal yoga poses did you find particularly beneficial?