What is safe for me and for baby?
By Dina Abbondante, LMT, ERYT, RPYT
There are few life shifts like pregnancy to inspire the necessity for change. Having taught prenatal yoga for 14 years and shared the path with many prenatal massage clients, it feels fair to suggest that change is the most common denominator on the pregnancy path. ‘I won’t need to adapt much’, we tell ourselves in the attempt to redirect what we already know - transformation is on its way. The alternative to averting our eyes, is to begin to consider our notions on change and to start to view them as an opportunity to become more of who we are.
In essence, we have an unparalleled moment in time to get to know ourselves through self-study (svadhyaya). Svadhyaya is one of the observances of yoga, which means dive into introspection and to get comfy with one’s own reading. In a way, your new little being is inviting you to become a witness to this process of evolving into a new version of you and of your family. You are subtly (and sometimes, not so subtly) asked to allow room for adaptation and to become curious about the two of you, together.
Whether you’ll continue with an existing yoga practice or start a new exploration, it is beneficial to consider your physical adjustments as baby grows and your body accommodates the transition. I’m sharing the pre and postnatal yoga tips that I offer during class to encourage you to stay connected with your practice and your innate wellbeing. You’ll find recommendations about the benefits of prenatal yoga and how to adapt your practice during pregnancy and beyond. Consider that as you approach prenatal yoga, there will be two of you (sometimes more) on the mat. Welcome the spaciousness of this opportunity to fully explore yourself, create softness for you and baby, trust your stamina, and honor your phenomenal body as it cultivates life.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
Improve posture and spinal alignment (as the spine changes)
Stabilize muscles for pregnancy and in preparation for birth
Increase balance and deep stability in posture
Enhance lubrication of joints, tendons, and ligaments
Support diaphragmatic breathing techniques useful for relaxation
Smoothe circulation to the reproductive organs & whole body
Relieve fluid retention, varicose veins and leg cramps
Enhance effective and consistent sleep
Ease low back, round ligament, and neck/shoulder discomfort
Decrease adrenaline and increases endorphins during labor
Sustain inner calm and increases body confidence
Reduce stress and tension (parasympathetic response)
Primary Contraindications of Prenatal Yoga
Most importantly, receive approval from your medical provider before starting a movement practice during pregnancy.
Closed twists are contraindicated during any stage of pregnancy. A pose that squeezes the abdomen and uterus, affects the developing placenta and its function when fully formed. The placenta provides blood, oxygen, thermoregulation and nutrients to baby, which should not be interrupted by strong abdominal movements.
Jumping into or out of poses is contraindicated. The act of sudden jumping places pressure on the body and could influence early pregnancy implantation of the fetus. In later months, jumping can affect diastasis recti (ab muscles) and pelvic pressure.
Vigorous breathing practices such as retentions of breath, skull shining breath, bellows breath, and breath accompanied by bandhas should be put on hold during pregnancy. Breathing practices should remain steady and comfortable, as well as even throughout asana and dhyana practices.
Inversions are only contraindicated during pregnancy IF the practitioner is new to these poses. This is not the time to learn how to go upside down, especially considering that the center of gravity in a pregnant woman’s body will be shifting. If the student has a well established inversion practice, it is safe to continue with shoulderstand, headstand, forearm stand and downward facing dog poses. Make good use of the wall and your teacher’s assists during the 3rd trimester.
Heated flow is a robustly warm Vinyasa Yoga practice. Expecting practitioners have a naturally elevated basal body temperature throughout pregnancy, which could influence how one responds to added heat with vigorous movement. In pregnancy, extra external heat affects blood pressure, pace of breathing, equilibrium and stamina. All of these physiological responses affect baby via the placenta (thermoregulation). It is wise to place heated flow practices on hold while expecting, knowing that it will be there after baby arrives.
Plank pose and low plank pose should be explored with knees-down to support mom’s stretching abdominal muscles. The natural stretch effect of the six pack muscles, (aka, rectus abdominis), takes on added pressure in plank and low plank poses due to baby’s growth and weight. Baby presses into the abdominal wall while mom supports herself in both of these arm balances. Therefore, the muscles and fascia (linea alba) are stretched further, which could lead to diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal fibers). Knees down is the safest option throughout pregnancy.
Neutral hips during yoga practice is the best placement for mom’s pelvis. Do not correct the tailbone or natural tilt of the hips. Always allow baby and hips to move together while in standing poses.
Belly lying, once baby is felt moving (around 18-20 weeks) is contraindicated. Try table pose or 2 bolsters under chest/hips as alternatives.
Supine poses should be explored for a maximum of 3 minutes after week 26. Due to baby’s weight, reclining positions lead to compression of the lower vena cava (primary vein that returns blood to the heart). Mom might feel dizzy or light-headed. It is best to prop at 45 degrees with bolster or rest on left side for savasana.
Savasana is important, please do not skip this time to assimilate the benefits of your practice and rest your nervous system.
The moment of return to yoga practice after baby’s arrival is simultaneously exhilarating and daunting. Much of this dualism pertains to the hope that we can trust where our body is, along with our willingness to feel differently and be ok with it. Do not lose heart and be kind to yourself. You and your baby are a work of art in progress. Remember, prioritize adjustments and extra space for you and for baby.
Consider your physical being - as long as you are nursing, your muscles and connective tissues are functioning like they did while you were pregnant. In other words, the hormone, relaxin that creates malleability in the joints and tissues, is still active and affecting potential instability in the body. This means that you are busy cultivating this sweet little being, as well as yourself. Try to consider that it was 9 months into this journey and will likely take 9 months to sift out. The re-threading process of your muscles, joints and sense of stability takes time to feel like you are back at home in your body and in practice. This is normal and to be expected, hence my reiteration of exploring spaciousnes and patience. You are depth and balance in motion.
As Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga Yoga teacher & Sanskrit scholar) suggested, ‘Practice and all is coming.’
When to return to Yoga
Medical practitioner gives you the ‘go ahead’
Typically, 6 weeks post vaginal delivery and 8-12 weeks post cesarean delivery
4th trimester of pregnancy (12-15 weeks after baby’s arrival)
Conservative closed twists, open twists are kinder to your rethreading abdomen
No sit-ups (diastasis recti is rethreathing)
Explore cat/cows in table pose with emphasis on exhale, bringing navel to spine
Inversions should be modified or wait until baby is 3-4 months
If nursing, lifting arms overhead and going upside can increase milk ‘let down’
Notice sensations in hips/sacrum during asymmetrical poses (relaxin hormone)
Stay closer to center in deep lunges
Wait until baby is 3 months (post vaginal delivery) & 5 months (post cesarean delivery) to practice full arm balances (knees down in plank/low plank poses)
Careful stretching, move 60-70% of the way into stretch poses (influence of relaxin hormone), we do not need to overstretch during postnatal yoga
Benefits of Yoga after baby arrives
Enjoy freedom of movement and developing sustained stability
Scan body during class and avoid exhaustion during movement
Calm the nervous system
Diminish feelings of fatigue
Promote easeful digestion and assimilation of nutrients
Soothe endocrine system (hormonal rhythms)
Encourage even and rhythmic breathing
Move at own pace and do not rush movements
Have fun being in your own space again
Congratulations on the arrival of your little bright light!
Dina Abbondante has studied and taught prenatal yoga and vinyasa yoga since 2004. She collaborates with the 200hr teacher training program at Down Under Yoga, leads bodywork workshops and sees massage and prenatal massage clients in Newton. It continues to be an honor for Dina to share in the journey of clients who are starting and expanding their families. We are forever students in the classroom of our children and ourselves.