The time has come for you to trust your strength, endurance, and intuition. Empower your body to ride the journey of both pregnancy and labor with a dynamic yoga practice!
As a yoga teacher for over 15 years and mom to 15 month-old Maisy Blue, I am deeply concerned about the slow progress being made in prenatal yoga.
There is a huge gap between the time a woman conceives and when she actually needs 8 bolsters, a strap, 2 blocks, a blanket and a pillow. Where are the classes that teach the physical strength necessary for a woman to carry her growing baby? Why as a society are we taught to fear the use of our abdominal muscles when they are exactly what we need not only to support our spines but to push the baby through the birth canal?
There is such beauty in prenatal yoga. It holds the space for deep meditation to prepare the mind for labor. It connects us to the growing baby inside our belly and can provide essential opening of the pelvic floor and hips. It unites women in an extremely powerful, sometimes new and frightening time. Even with all of that, it is missing vital human physiology.
STRONG YOGA PRACTICE
Who were you pre-pregnancy? Did you have a strong yoga practice, run, spin, or interval train? Have you been a couch potato? There is no cookie cutter answer for what level of exercise women should be doing while pregnant. A trained athlete is quite capable of maintaining a fervent yoga practice, even if relatively new to yoga. Where as a high-risk woman well seasoned in Ashtanga may need to slow it down. There are many signals the body tells us when we are pushing too far. Light headedness, nausea, an inability to catch ones breath are all indications that you need to modify. That said, it is neither productive nor supportive to make a pregnant woman feel as though she is sick, weak, an invalid, or in major danger if she were to be physically active. This is the repeated message I hear from the doctors of my pregnant clients, and I think what is (unintentionally) mirrored in prenatal classes.
Usually the “hot button” topic, should women abstain from abdominal work because a baby is growing within them? High-risk women who have previously miscarried are most sensitive to strong abdominal work in the first trimester as the fetus is implanting. However, that doesn’t mean they should abstain completely as strength is needed in the core to support the weight of the growing baby. Here again is where our competent intuition needs to be addressed. All it takes is a moment of checking in with your body. Ask yourself, “Does this feel good?” One of the most distressing effects I witness as a result of societal influence, are women losing their confidence in knowledge of self. The same intuition you need to raise your children is the same one you need in growing them.
The rectus abdominis is most at risk for diastasis (tearing of the abdominal wall) and should not be made “overly strong” as it needs to stretch to accommodate baby. Back bending while pregnant can also create diastasis by stretching the tissue. Still, it is valuable to have strength in the rectus in order to sit up from a chair relatively easily as well as be able to pick up your baby pain free, post birth.
My favorite abdominals to engage while pregnant are the oblique muscles. These muscles essentially hug the baby like arms around your belly. The stronger their support, the less force of pull you will experience on your spine.
Lastly, there are the transverse abdominis. They are responsible for providing pelvic and lower back stability as well as assist women in pushing during delivery. If targeted during pregnancy as well as after, the transverse abs will support the return to your pre-pregnant belly. If you are someone who experiences diastasis, you will heavily rely on the transverse to support your spinal posture.
As you can tell from the picture, I chose to invert. I have also been inverting since the age of 7 and up until 9 months pregnant, it felt great. I do not typically invert pregnant clients who have no previous experience with the exception of Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) and Apanasana on a block, provided they can be on their backs, as they have no reference for what feels “right.” With inversions, the body will immediately tell you if it is not working for you by generating light-headedness or nausea. Inversions not only help reduce edema in the lower legs, they are the method used to turn a breech baby!
One of the greatest gifts prenatal yoga teaches mothers is how to slow down and connect to what we are feeling. The better physical space we are in to birth our children, the more likely we are capable of vaginal delivery, using less drugs, and quick recovery. So take a moment and ask yourself, “What does my body need today?” and trust the answer.
Watch our Free Hip Fix Video.
Read about abdominal exercises for pregnant women.
Leg cramps during pregnancy? – Read about it here.
Wow, thank you for this article. YTU has brought me to such a greater comfort with my own body, but some how the culture still imprinted the weak pregnant woman story line we’ve all been told. Thank you for such a clear counter argument.
I totally agree that our society tends to treat prenatal women as if they are frail and shouldn’t be doing anything strenuous. As long as there are no medical contradictions Prenatal yoga is amazing. I get a lot of women coming to my prenatal class saying that they want more and not just stretching. I think you are correct that there is a need to engage the core muscles for support of growing baby.
There is a lot of good, accurate information here, but, as a prenatal teacher with 105 hours of training, I worry that your excellent point regarding intuition is muddied by the photo.and your own personal experience. It’s a great illustration of one end of the spectrum, but it could be even more helpful to offer up some alternatives. There are so many reasons why inversions or back-lying poses might not be appropriate even for seasoned yogis, and it’s worth talking about them. Compromised joint stability, the enhanced curves of the spine, and pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel are some of the many… Read more »
Some good points here. I have a pregnant student who loves yoga, but prenatal is not enough for her. She wants and needs to move. She modifies if needed but usually stays right with the class. I think part of the trick is that she feels included and empowered.
Awesome photo! Lots of good info here and I love the encouragement of movement during pregnancy. Pregnancy, if all goes well, is coming up the pipeline for me in the near-ish future and so I am trying to gather as much knowledge in preparation. Like most I am curious about abdominals and what is right/wrong/good/not so good before, during and after to support my body and the baby. I know many who have experienced diastasis and the info here was helpful in understanding it a bit more. Thanks!
As a mother of two, who practiced yoga throughout both pregnancies, I agree that more work needs to be done in the area of prenatal yoga. I was lucky to find a very skilled prenatal teacher who taught ways in which yoga can actually aid in labor and delivery. Both of my deliveries were beautiful and I’m convinced it’s because of the knowledge and strength I gained through prenatal yoga. Sadly, many women I know avoid prenatal yoga because they feel it’s just a bunch of pregnant women meditating and breathing on blankets. In fact, it should be quite the… Read more »
Thank you Tiffany! When you write “Where are the classes that teach the physical strength necessary for a woman to carry her growing baby?” that is exactly what I hear from my newly pregnant friends. And as a yoga teacher, my friends turn to me for suggestions on how they can continue following their doctor’s orders, while still keeping themselves mentally and physically engaged. Grateful for the support you provide in this article, backed by anatomy. Thanks for the info!
Thank you for putting this information out into the world! As a prenatal yoga teacher, I come up against the sad amount of misinformation of what’s safe and appropriate for pregnant bodies every day. Now, at 11 weeks pregnant myself, I am learning to navigate my own practice to figure out what still works and feels good and what’s already started to need modifying. The abdominal work issue is a personal pet peeve of mine, and I do core work, usually related to the trasnversus abdominis in almost every class. I think one of the big problems in teaching group… Read more »
Wow what a picture! I wish that I had read this 22 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. The advice back then was to avoid most exercises and poses, only light exercise was advisable. The focus was on what you shouldn’t do as opposed to what you should you, very negative, indeed.
Thank you for posting prenatal yoga into the mix. i am glad there are poses in YTU for pregnant women. I would like to add in addition to the obliques, pregnant women should practice on strengthening their inner thighs. When your feet are in the air giving birth, it’s the same pose as frogs at dock. But only this time the frog is docked for hours on end!
I have not yet beared a chile but I find Prenatal yoga fascinating! It’s interesting you mentioned how the rectus abdominous should not be too strong and that the oblique muscles help to “hug” and carry the child. I love that you explained how the transverse abdominal muscles assist with giving birth! I truly believe every woman who is pregnant should do prenatal yoga to help with preventing the chances of having to do a natural birth and not a c-section…. I witnessed my sister’s birthing process and it was very unpleasant! The public medical system, in my belief, should… Read more »
This is awesome. I think your insight is right on. There are so many people telling pregnant ladies all kinds of opinions-its overwhelming!! I think it is great to offer options and to be able to have lots of modifications ready. I hope the prenatal community will continue to grow-it is such important work for yogi’s and people new to the practices that want to get in tune with their body, the philosophies and other women going through the same experience. What a gift the practice can be at all stages of life and creating more life.
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I can’t wait to learn more about Pre-natal yoga! I always fear that if I get pregnant, maybe I won’t be able to do yoga, and then I dread that extra weight gain. I love the idea of continuing yoga through pregnancy, and I imagine it will be fun for the baby too! 🙂
Thank you for the information about prenatal yoga. My sister is pregnant at the moment and I have been wanting to help her practice but have been frankly a bit scared to do so. Most of what I’ve heard is that you need to be really careful. I understood that pregnant women should be careful about practicing yoga because of the increased laxity of tendons and ligaments and consequent risk of over stretching. Do you have any thoughts about this? Did you experience any problems with over stretching perinatally? I think that your message of mindfulness, of knowing and respecting… Read more »
Hi Alex! Thanks for your comment! Hope you are loving your training!
I completely agree with you that Western Society treats pregnancy as an ailment and disease. As women, our bodies have been growing babies for centuries, and just because we don’t have to tend to the field while pregnant, doesn’t mean we have an excuse to sit on the couch and do nothing. I only hope that I can rock a handstand like you when I’m pregnant! =D
Thanks! I needed this. I am 7 months pregnant right now and struggling with how to modify my teaching as well as my practice. In my teacher training we put blankets under our shirts to simulate a pregnant belly. It is nothing like a pregnant belly! I agree that the most important thing is to listen to your body. I love the picture of you in handstand! It’s amazing to me that you were able to find your balance!
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