Prenatal Yoga: Stretching and Strengthening for Expectant Moms

Portrait of young pregnant female working out at home. African pregnant woman practicing yoga at home. Prenatal groins stretch. Buddha Konasana Pose. Pregnancy yoga and fitness.

Key Points

  • When appropriately done, prenatal yoga alleviates pregnancy symptoms. 

  • Restorative yoga uses supportive props such as straps, bolsters, blocks, and blankets.

  • Trimester-specific poses, breathing techniques, and pelvic floor exercises prepare women for labor.

Want to feel as fabulous as humanly possible throughout your pregnancy? How about setting yourself up to have a positive birthing experience? Yoga is the blessing you didn’t know you needed.

Prenatal yoga focuses on light stretching, mental centering, and focused breathing. It’s safe, gentle, and slow-paced. Even better? This yoga style benefits expectant mothers and their babies. 

Benefits of Prenatal Yoga

Not only does prenatal yoga help you connect with your growing baby, it helps you prepare for labor. Yoga promotes deep diaphragmatic breathing, delivering oxygen straight to your baby. Controlled breathing techniques soothe any stress and tension you may feel during labor. They can even reduce the intensity of your contractions. 

This form of yoga aids balance and supports your changing body.

Pre- and postnatal yoga teacher Jane Austin explains that bodies experience an “accelerated pace of change” during pregnancy; “Prenatal yoga practice is designed to support the changes that happen in a pregnant body.”

Additionally, yoga can:

  • Improve sleep

  • Reduce anxiety and stress

  • Minimize depression

  • Alleviate constipation and bloating

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Relieve lower back pain, first-trimester nausea, headaches, and shortness of breath

  • Reduce the risk of preterm labor

  • Strengthen your pelvic floor

  • Expedite your postpartum recovery process 

Major bonus? Pregnancy-friendly yoga classes introduce you to other expectant moms. You can bond with one another throughout your motherhood journeys.

Finally, someone who knows exactly what you’re going through!

Pregnant woman performs yoga on mat at home

Restorative Yoga for Pregnancy: Props & Stretches

Restorative yoga focuses on rejuvenation through “feel good” movements. Instead of solely relying on muscles to achieve various poses, you use supportive props to make you feel grounded and secure. Props include blankets, bolsters, blocks, straps, and pillows.

Prop-based alignments remove common strains on your mind and body. The result? You arrive at a more restful state and gain a willingness to accept help from others.

This yoga style reduces tightness in your stomach, chest, shoulders, and hips. It also encourages self-love and compassion.

Straps reinforce alignment, deepening, and lengthening. Use them to enhance the Goddess Pose, Seated Forward Fold, and Warrior II. Stick with the six-foot strap unless you’re extra blessed in the height department.

Blocks provide support, length, and traction. Place one under your glute to refine the Pigeon Pose or below each knee during Savasana to release the lower back. Yogis recommend practicing with 9” x 4” x 6” size blocks.

Bolsters are the main star of the show in restorative yoga. They’re usually firm and rectangular, assisting a multitude of poses. Place them beneath your hips during Legs Up The Wall to avoid lying flat on your back for too long. Position one under your head or chest during Child’s Pose to ease pressure and discomfort in your spine.

Blankets add warmth and cushion your bones and joints during yoga postures. Place one next to your hip before moving into the Fallen Tree Pose. Set one beneath you to elevate and stabilize your hips during Hero Pose and Easy Pose. When selecting blankets, get two to three with an identical feel, texture, and thickness. 

Pregnant woman kneels on yoga mat holding belly

Safe Prenatal Yoga Poses for Each Trimester

Each pregnancy stage brings rewards, changes, and challenges. The little life growing inside of you is overwhelming and beautifully surreal all at once.

Knowing what’s happening inside your pregnant body is essential. Adapting asanas for each trimester keeps you and your sweet baby healthy. 

Avoid straining. Rather than pushing to achieve a stretch, concentrate on gently allowing your body to open and lengthen during a specific pose.

Below are trimester-specific poses with safe modifications. 

First Trimester

Debilitating nausea, bizarre food cravings, tiredness, and an expanding belly take hold during this stage. Since your body hasn’t changed much, most yoga poses are safe. If something feels off, modify it until your posture is comfortable.

Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana)

This movement bolsters your lower back, hip, and leg muscles. It also fosters relaxation and stimulates digestion. 

Sit on the edge of a block with your right leg extended. Form a triangle by placing the sole of your left foot against the inside of your right thigh. Inhale, reach your arms overhead, and lengthen your spine. As you exhale, fold your torso forward until you feel a slight stretch. 

Pause here. Rest your elbows on the floor and grab your right foot with both hands. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Modifications: Place a block under your extended knee for support or loop a strap around your foot and pull gently. 

Pregnant woman does a modified bridge during yoga

Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana to Bitilasana)

This satisfying stretch boosts circulation, improves hip and spinal mobility, and promotes intentional breathing. 

Start on all fours, aligning your shoulders with your hands and your hips with your knees. Inhale as you round out your spine, suck in your belly, and tuck your chin to your chest. Exhale as you arch your spine, release your stomach, and gaze forward. Continue this back-and-forth flow for 45 to 60 seconds.

Modifications: Place a blanket beneath your knees or a block between your thighs.

Second Trimester

Most women feel their best during the second trimester! However, it’s important not to overstretch. Relaxin (a surging pregnancy hormone) loosens up your tendons, muscles, and ligaments in preparation for birth. Elevated relaxin makes you more vulnerable to tears and injuries.

Wide-Knee Child’s pose (Balasana)

Start on all fours. Keeping your big toes together, separate your knees into a wide position. Sink your hips into your heels and reach your arms out in front of you. Breathe deeply and slowly.

Hold for up to 60 seconds.

Modifications: Lay a blanket under your forehead and widen your knees to make room for your belly.

Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)

Want to relieve neck and back tension? 

Begin standing and step your left foot forward. Both feet are outside your shoulders. Keep your left knee straight and slightly angle your right foot for stability. Rotate your hips and torso to the right and slowly reach for your left ankle with your left hand.

Extend your right arm above your right shoulder with your palm facing away from your body. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.  

Modifications: Perform next to a wall for support or shorten your stance to regain balance. 

Pregnant woman stretches backwards on yoga mat

Third Trimester

Swelling, fatigue, heartburn, difficulty breathing, and indigestion happen here. At this point, you’re seeking relief left and right until your baby arrives. Rest when needed and go at your own pace.

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

This pose strengthens your legs, increases endurance, and prepares you for the physical demands of labor.

From a standing position, take a big step back with your left leg. Angle your left toes outward and press both feet firmly into the ground. Align the inside of your left foot with your right heel. 

Raise and extend both arms parallel to the floor. Stack your wrists over your ankles, press your shoulders down, and elongate your neck. Lunge forward with your right knee, letting it hover over your ankle. Face the same direction as your lunging leg.

Hold for five breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.

Modifications: Decrease the bend in your front knee, shorten your stance, or perform next to a wall. 

Side Corpse pose (Parsva Savasana)

Ah, the ultimate relaxation pose. 

Place a pillow or blanket underneath your head and lie on your left side. Bend both legs softly in front of your torso. Adjust your arms to what feels comfortable. Relax in this pose for five to 15 minutes.

Modifications: Insert a pillow or bolster between your legs.

Three pregnant woman perform side bends while balancing on yoga balls

Poses To Avoid

If your instructor cues a pose below, use that time to perform slow breathing exercises and repeat positive affirmations. Remind yourself that you are safe, strong, and capable. 

  • Crow pose

  • Shavasana (without supportive props)

  • Supine spinal twist

  • Intense backbends, twists, and forward bends

  • Forceful abdominal contractions

  • Inversions

  • Lying on your back or right side (except for the first trimester)

  • Arm balances

  • Lying flat on your stomach 

  • Full splits

  • Standing poses without a wall or prop for stability

  • Vinyasa and hot yoga 

  • Fast breathing or holding your breath

  • Holding poses too long (more than 5 to 10 breaths)

Practice in a cool, well-ventilated space. If a movement hurts or feels uncomfortable, stop immediately and readjust. Take it slow and stay hydrated — you need more water during pregnancy exercises!

Incorporate prenatal breathing techniques into your routine. They cleanse your body, center your mind, and calm your nervous system. Pranayama helps you manage pregnancy dyspnea and push through labor contractions. 

Pranayama involves slowly inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Try alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana) and Victory breath (Ujjayi) sequences to decrease your stress response and enhance concentration. 

Always consult your healthcare provider before starting a pregnancy exercise regimen. 

Pelvic Floor Strengthening

Pelvic floor exercises move your muscles through their full range of motion: shortening, lengthening, and relaxing. They protect and strengthen your pelvic floor, which stretches during labor. 

During the pushing phase, you activate your deepest ab muscle and relax your pelvic floor to let your baby pass through. A strong pelvic floor ensures an easier delivery and helps prevent postpartum urinary incontinence. 

Need a little guidance? Start with Kegel exercises, belly breathing, the pigeon pose, and a reclined Goddess pose to prepare for birth.

Woman stretches her back while on yoga mat at home

Final Thoughts

Practicing yoga while pregnant is highly beneficial with a few mindful precautions and safe modifications. Implementing the trimester-specific poses and pelvic floor exercises above eases discomfort during pregnancy and delivery.

Listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard. Add supportive props for safety, stability, and confidence.

Keep rockin’ it, Mama! 

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