When you're expecting, one of the major concerns is whether or not you can keep your previous exercise regime up, or if it needs to change. With the prevalence of yoga in the world of fitness right now, it's only natural that you'd be wondering, is yoga safe during pregnancy? I spoke with Neelu Shruti of Love Child, a yoga studio that offers yoga, doula services, prenatal and new parent support in New York City. Shruti teaches fertility, prenatal and postnatal yoga, is a full spectrum doula, a trained midwifery assistant, and breastfeeding counselor. Shruti and I spoke about whether or not it's safe to practice yoga as an expecting mother, what poses are perfect for expecting moms, and what poses you should avoid.
According to Shruti, practicing yoga while pregnant is actually encouraged. In an article Shruti wrote for Medium, she cited a few benefits of prenatal yoga. These perks include getting a good workout, strengthening your abdominal pushing muscles, learning to relax your pelvic floor, getting your baby in the optimal position, bonding with your baby, building confidence in your body, and being part of a community.
Just remember, not all yoga is created equal. "Avoid hot yoga," says Shruti. "In your first trimester, avoid all abdominal exercises, deep twists, and anything that compresses the uterus." Since miscarriages are very common in the first trimester, Shruti says that it's best to be extra safe during that period of your pregnancy. Shruti goes on to tell me that you'll want to avoid unsafe abdominal work and poses in your second and third trimester, because it may cause diastasis recti. Diastasis recti can make your abs weaker and cause lower back pain, according to WebMD. "Listen to your body," says Shruti. "And avoid anything that doesn't feel right." According to Shruti, some of the most common exercises that cause diastasis recti are sit ups, crunches, and boat pose .
You may be tempted to keep attending your regular yoga class, but Shruti tells me that any kind of prenatal yoga is the best for expecting mothers. "Prenatal yoga helps you build strength and flexibility, so that you are able to carry your belly more efficiently in pregnancy," Shruti says. At her studio, Love Child, prenatal yoga classes target specific muscles that help aid in labor, birth, and postnatal recovery. "We also focus on breathing and relaxation exercises, so that you can get some quiet time to bond with baby," Shruti says. "But also so that you are able to better connect your breath during labor."
But exercise and physical health aren't the only things you'll find in a prenatal yoga class — you'll also become part of a community. "You continue to get to know each other in class every week," says Shruti. "And you can continue to be a part of each other's journey after birth." Many yoga studios offer "Baby and Me" style yoga classes for you to continue your yoga journey with your child.
Though most prenatal yoga classes will help you avoid any risky poses while pregnant, if you're doing yoga on your own, or attending a yoga class not specific to pregnancy, there are a few poses you'll want to avoid. According to Shruti, any poses on the belly, any poses on your back unsafe ab exercises, deep twists, deep backbends such as wheel pose, and inversions should all be avoided. That is, unless you are doing them for a very specific purpose, with guidance and supervision.
Regardless of what type of yoga you're pursuing, you need to listen to your body. Every pregnancy is different, and every body is different. "Ask yourself if your workout regiment is helping or hurting," says Shruti. "Often, the biggest challenge is slowing down from your usual high intensity workouts such as spin, barre, running, hot yoga, or pilates." Shruti says that altering your workouts to fit your best needs during pregnancy will help prepare your body for the best possible outcome, because what you do in pregnancy directly affects your labor and birth.
If you can't find a prenatal yoga class near you, you can still take regular yoga classes while expecting. Shruti recommends vinyasa, Kundalini, or Slow Flow, and says you should speak to your instructor to let them know you're expecting before partaking in the class. This way, they can advise you on any poses you may want to sit out on during the class. Whether you're a former athlete who prefers high intensity workouts, have a tighter pelvic floor, or happen to sit at a desk all day, prenatal yoga can help your body adjust and prepare for birth and labor so that you and your baby have the best experience possible.