- Researchers found that some yoga poses are safer for pregnant women than previously thought.
- Pregnant women should always talk with their doctors before doing yoga or any other workout routine.
Yoga has a reputation for being all namaste-y — more about stretching, less about intensity.
In reality? Just take a look at some of the more intense flows — like Vinyasa and Bikram hot yoga — and you’ll see that it’s actually more about strength and inversions than it is about meditation. This means yoga can be a powerful tool to get your mind and body in shape, but you should take special precautions if you’re baking a baby.
The reason: Some of the more dangerous moves — like the handstands and other inversions — can be super dangerous for pregnant women. But, not all of them are dangerous. A 2015 study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that some of the moves not recommended for pregnant women actually aren’t dangerous and can be performed throughout a healthy pregnancy.
In the study, a team of researchers — led by Rachael Polis, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist in Louisville, Kentucky — observed 25 women in their third trimesters during one-on-one prenatal yoga classes. The yoga instructors led participating pregnant women through a series of yoga poses — including ones that were previously big no-nos for pregnant women.
“We found these postures were really well-tolerated by women in our study,” Polis told NPR of the study. “Women’s vital signs, heart rates, blood pressure — these all remained normal.”
More importantly, heart rates in their babies remained normal. “Because we had them [the pregnant women] on continuous fetal monitoring, we could see that the fetal heart rate remained normal,” says Polis.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
More OB-GYN clinics are now offering yoga as a part of prenatal care, as are yoga studios. The reason: physical activity during pregnancy provides a whole bunch of benefits and gets the body ready for childbirth.
Some of the benefits of prenatal yoga include:
- Better sleep
- Less stress and anxiety
- Decreased lower back pain
- Less morning sickness and headaches
- Increased strength and flexibility—especially in the pelvic floor–which can help with childbirth
Pregnancy Yoga: Safe Prenatal Yoga Poses For Pregnant Women
Pregnant women just can’t do a number of the more challenging yoga poses — like the bow pose or backbends — after the first trimester because of the simple mechanics of a growing baby belly. Others, like the crow pose, bring serious falling risks — and you want to avoid them at all costs.
But, what are some of the now-deemed-safe yoga for pregnancy poses?
The corpse pose is the most anticipated pose of the yoga practice because it’s so easy — and it signals the end of a challenging class — but pregnant women were told not to do it because it involves lying down, which can put pressure on the lower back and the vena cava, cutting off circulation. Most yoga for pregnancy calls for poses done on the side, but Dr. Polis’ research showed that it didn’t cause any adverse problems.
Happy Baby Pose
The happy baby — where you lie on your back and hold your toes like a baby — might be a little more difficult with a bigger belly, but the research shows it’s not unsafe yoga for pregnancy.
Downward Facing Dog
The downward-facing dog pose is technically an inversion, but the study showed that practicing yoga during pregnancy wasn’t a bad thing. So, do the pose if you feel comfortable—just make sure to keep your hands and feet on the floor at all times.
The chair pose is known for its leg-strengthening abilities, something that moms-to-be definitely need. That said, position your body against a wall if getting into the pose it makes you nervous.
These opposite moves — the cat pose involves arching your back and the cow pose is more of a spine bend — are good for flexibility and don’t create problems, according to the study.
These poses help with back pain, so they may help alleviate some of the pains that come with being pregnant, too.
When Not to Practice Prenatal Yoga
“I think [prenatal yoga] is great,” says Draion “Dr. Drai” Burch, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, adding that you should only do more complicated forms of exercise to stay fit — like yoga or weightlifting — if you practiced before getting pregnant.
“You must wear comfortable clothing that will help you stay cool,” he adds. “Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Also, make sure you eat the daily extra calories you need.”
Your OB-GYN should always know about your yoga plans before you enroll in that new class — and she may nix the classes for your situation, especially if you have a high-risk pregnancy.
“Women who have risk factors for preterm labor, vaginal bleeding, have a previa, or premature rupture of membranes should not exercise at all,” says Dr. Drai.
It might not seem fair, but no yoga posture is worth risking you — or your baby’s — health for, no matter what research says.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.