Prenatal Yoga: Your Ultimate Guide
If you’ve heard about yoga but have never done it, you may be wondering what it’s all about. Is it a practice only for the spiritually enlightened? Does it actually have benefits?
Prenatal yoga is a type of yoga designed for pregnant women. Although it isn’t as straining as a cardio exercise, it has numerous benefits. If you’re interested in a practice that increases the chances of a healthy baby and prevents postpartum depression, read on.
In this guide, we will cover what prenatal yoga is, the precautions you should take, the benefits and where you can start your first class.
What is Prenatal Yoga?
Prenatal yoga is a practice that can be considered both an exercise and a relaxation technique. It can be safely practiced by a healthy pregnant woman from the first throughout her third trimester. Pairing yoga with cardio, such as a brisk walk, is a great exercise routine for pregnant women.
Students in a prenatal yoga class may learn:
Postures— Postures are similar to gentle stretches that increase strength and flexibility. Throughout a yoga session, you’ll likely move through sitting, lying or standing positions. Since you’re pregnant, the instructor may introduce props such as cushions to increase comfort. Although your heart rate will rise, you typically won’t experience the same shortness of breath you would from a cardio workout. Yoga’s difficulty level will depend on how physically fit you are. Women who are active and flexible may not even break a sweat, while others will find some moves challenging.
Breathing— Similar to meditation, a yoga instructor will teach you how to breathe deeply and calmly. This involves breathing in and out slowly through your nose. This type of breathing can help promote relaxation which can carry forward into labor.
Cooldown— When the yoga session is coming to an end, the instructor will show you how to relax your muscles. She or he may also teach you relaxation tips, such as breathing, that you can practice at home. Since inner peace and self-awareness is a large part of yoga, the instructor may give you advice throughout the session to help achieve these states.
As with any type of exercise during pregnancy, there are a few precautions you should take:
- Before starting a prenatal yoga class or any type of exercise, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor first. Expecting mothers at risk for premature labor are generally recommended against prenatal yoga.
- As your baby belly grows, you may find that some poses become more challenging and require modification.
- Don’t overexert yourself.
- Don’t lay on your back. Laying on your back can decrease the blood flow to your uterus and may make you feel dizzy or cause shortness of breath. If a pose requires you to lay on your back, use a wedge or limit the time to one minute.
- Avoid unsafe poses. Poses like headstands or shoulder stands should be avoided.
- Avoid hot yoga. Bikram or hot yoga classes are dangerous for pregnant women. You should also avoid yoga anywhere that’s humid.
- If you regularly do yoga, keep in mind that some poses may require modification now that you’re pregnant.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Research has shown that the benefits of prenatal yoga are physical and emotional.
Prenatal Yoga and Labor
A scientific review of 10 studies showed that prenatal yoga:
- Lowers your chance of birthing complications
- May lower chances of having a small fetus
- Decreases pain
- Decreases stress levels
In addition, the practice can improve sleep, decrease nausea and headaches. Physically, it can tone your muscles and improve strength and flexibility. These benefits can be seen during labor. A 2005 study found that yoga improves pregnancy outcomes by improving birth weight and decreasing preterm labor.
If you think the breathing techniques taught in yoga are meaningless, you’re wrong. Yoga breathing can actually help you stay calm during labor and prevent you from tightening up due to pain. Research has also shown that the practice can improve a woman’s confidence about a positive birth outcome. In short, yoga may make your birthing experience better.
Prenatal Yoga and Depression
Aside from the benefits relating to labor, prenatal yoga can also help treat and/or prevent depression.
A 2014 study evaluated how prenatal Hatha yoga affects depression and cortisol (a stress hormone). Twice during pregnancy, participants reported effects and provided a saliva sample after a 90-minute session. Researchers found that cortisol levels were lower on the days the women did yoga. Although it didn’t seem to improve depression during pregnancy, it decreased the chances of postpartum depression.
A 2015 study found that yoga is a good treatment option for women suffering from depression before labor. Since many antidepressants aren’t safe or haven’t been studied enough on pregnant women, using alternative remedies is ideal. Researchers enrolled 34 depressed pregnant women in a 10-week yoga program. Afterwards, they found that depressive symptoms were significantly reduced.
Research has also shown that prenatal yoga can prompt an increase in optimism, power and well-being.
If you’re someone who struggles with feeling comfortable while expecting, yoga may also help with that. A 2010 study observed 88 women from Taiwan in their third trimester who started a yoga program. Researchers found that those who took part in the program reported fewer pregnancy discomforts.
Aside from the benefits of the actual practice, the class itself has numerous positives. Meeting every week with other expecting mothers can help you meet women going through the same experience. Forming a sense of community may help you feel better and give you support.
While yoga boasts many benefits, a 2012 review found one negative effect: It may increase uterine contractions. However, this can be avoided by reducing your activity level.
Prenatal Yoga Classes
You can start your hunt for prenatal yoga classes with a simple Google search. You can also use a yoga resource such as YogaFinder.com.
If you have a gym membership, check the classes calendar to see if yoga classes are offered.
Other than yoga studios, many instructors have their own private practices, which may also be more affordable. You may find these posted on local classified sites such as Craigslist or in newspaper listings. If you like a more personalized approach, some instructors also offer private sessions.
If you’re on a budget, check your local library or community center to see if they offer free yoga classes. If they offer regular yoga, call the instructor and ask if the class is suitable for pregnant women. Search for “prenatal yoga” in your city on Eventbrite.com to see if there are any additional free classes near you.
When choosing a class, here are a few things to consider:
- Is the instructor trained specifically in prenatal yoga? What are their qualifications?
- What class sizes are you comfortable with?
- Do they offer prenatal classes on a day/time you can commit to every week?
- How long are the classes?
If you can’t find a prenatal yoga class in your area, you can consider going to another type of yoga class (but not hot yoga!). Make sure you tell the instructor that you’re pregnant so she or he can show you safe modifications.
If you’re attending a yoga class for the first time, you may be wondering what to bring. Here’s a simple list:
- Comfortable workout clothing. This can include flowy pants and a breathable, loose shirt.
- Large water bottle. Some yoga studios may sell water, but it’s cheaper to bring your own.
- Yoga mat. Bringing your own yoga mat can be a cleaner and cheaper option in the long-run. However, many studios provide mats to use or rent. If you don’t want to purchase a mat, ask ahead of time if they’re provided.
- After-yoga snack. A healthy snack is always a good idea after a workout—especially when you’re pregnant and trying to stay healthy.
Many women who attend prenatal yoga classes are trying the practice for the first time, so don’t feel intimidated. If there’s a pose you find difficult, the instructor will show you a modification.
Online Prenatal Yoga
If you don’t want to attend an in-person yoga class or live in a rural area, there are a few at-home options.
Many websites offer paid yoga classes online. They provide videos which you can stream and follow anytime, anywhere. If you’re unsure, use ones that offer a free trial. Here are a few paid online prenatal yoga classes:
You can also view free yoga videos online. Here are a few ideas:
- Prenatal yoga YouTube classes
- Pregnancy Workouts Free App
Have you tried prenatal yoga? If you have, comment your favorite yoga video below! If you have pregnant friends, be sure to share this post to help them, too!