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A woman undergoes many changes during pregnancy, and some of these changes occur during the first trimester. While the body may not look much different physically, the Cleveland Clinic reports that estrogen production goes up, the uterus expands, and the mother’s blood volume increases. This can lead to feeling bloated, tired, and a bit moody. (1)
What helps ease all these effects? Regular exercise. For those with an already established yoga practice, or are interested in developing one, prenatal yoga is a good first step.
Research has found that prenatal yoga offers a pregnant person a variety of benefits. Two are less stress and a stronger immune system.
In one study, 94 healthy pregnant women were split into two groups. One group did 20 weeks of twice-weekly 70-minute yoga sessions. The other group served as a control. The women doing yoga had lower salivary cortisol, suggesting that their stress levels were lower. They also had higher immunoglobin A after each session, which is a blood protein important for fighting off sickness. (2)
Prenatal yoga can also improve delivery outcomes. A 2020 meta-analysis connected pregnancy yoga with improved vaginal delivery and shortened labor duration. It also decreases the risk of premature delivery or delivering a baby with a low birth weight. (3)
Another review suggests that yoga may be a good way to ease pregnancy-related pain in the lower back and pelvis without the use of drugs. It may even help reduce feelings of depression. (4)
This is in addition to the typical yoga benefits, which include:
Increased strength and flexibility
Better heart health
Like pregnancy health coaches, prenatal yoga instructors can also serve as a source of support for expecting mothers. They can provide comfort and calmness during the prenatal yoga class. This can help put the woman (and her baby) at greater ease.
Because a woman’s body changes throughout pregnancy, the prenatal class must change as well. This allows for a safe yoga practice during each trimester.
That said, there is one style of yoga that is not safe during pregnancy regardless of the trimester. It is hot yoga. One reason, according to research, is that exposure to high heat increases the risk of malformations and neural tube defects in the fetus. (5)
The American Pregnancy Association adds that yoga performed in a hot environment can also increase the mother’s risk of hyperthermia. (6)
So, what does prenatal yoga look like during the first trimester of pregnancy? Generally, the classes are shorter. Instead of being 60 minutes, for example, they may stop at the 30-minute mark. They also tend to be slower-paced.
First trimester classes may also incorporate different poses. Some prenatal yoga poses good for the first three months of pregnancy include:
Cat Cow pose. This pose helps the spine stay mobile. It’s also a gentle way to strengthen the core. For a pregnant woman with low back pain, bypass the cow portion of this pose and keep a neutral spine instead.
Easy pose. This yoga pose is both calming and relaxing. Are there any better feelings for a woman during pregnancy? Not likely. That makes it a good pose to include in a prenatal yoga practice.
Low lunge. This pose is a hip opener. Doing hip-opening exercises during pregnancy can help prepare the body for childbirth. Low lunge also stretches muscles in the legs and groin. This helps relieve tightness in these areas.
Palm tree pose. This is one of those yoga poses that promotes not just mental balance but physical balance too. That makes it beneficial during the first trimester, when changes begin to occur in both the mind and body.
Seated forward bend. One reason to do this prenatal yoga pose is that it helps stretch the lower back. It also strengthens the shoulders, getting them ready to pick up and carry the baby in a few short months.
Side angle pose. During pregnancy, a woman can carry tension throughout her body. This pose helps release that tension. It promotes greater relaxation and lessens feelings of strain.
Triangle pose. This pose is also beneficial during the first trimester. It gets blood flowing throughout the body. It also helps reduce pain, especially in the back and legs.
Warrior I pose. This Warrior pose helps strengthen many different muscles in the body. This includes those in the arms, legs, and back. It also helps inspire feelings of courage, which can be beneficial if the woman is at all concerned about the pregnancy ahead.
There are a few yoga poses that a woman should not do during her first trimester, or at any time during pregnancy. This includes those that require lying flat on the back. Poses that involve this posture include Corpse pose, Bow pose, and Fish pose.
Other poses that should be avoided include those that really stretch the abdominal muscles. This includes deep twists.
The American Pregnancy Association warns that women with a high risk of premature labor should not do prenatal yoga. (6) That said, during pregnancy, it’s always important to get approval from a healthcare provider before starting this type of practice or any other form of exercise. This helps ensure that it is safe for both the mother and child.
It’s also beneficial to consult with the physician along the way. Talk to them about doing yoga in the second trimester. Ask if being further along changes their recommendations. Do the same in the third trimester. Keep the lines of communication open and rely on their expertise when deciding what’s best for you.
If you’re a yoga teacher, it’s important to remind prenatal practitioners to listen to their bodies. Let them know that they don’t have to push themselves physically to gain the benefits of prenatal yoga. The goal is to set them up for a healthy second trimester and beyond.
Since their bodies are changing, they may also find yoga props helpful. This may be a challenge if they’re used to doing certain poses on a yoga mat. However, the use of a block can help them get into a more comfortable position with a growing belly.
Breathing exercises are also an important component of prenatal yoga. They can help the women relax while doing their yoga asanas. This provides value on its own. It also creates a lower-stress environment for the baby to grow in.
Maybe you don’t currently teach yoga or you want to learn how to develop and lead a prenatal or postpartum yoga class. Yoga teacher training can help.
The cues, sequencing, and teaching principles are the same regardless of yoga style. The only thing that changes is how you structure the class, and the best yoga poses to include. A teacher training program can provide this information for prenatal yoga specifically.
If you’re ready to get started, ISSA Yoga & Wellness Academy offers a Yoga 200 course. This course covers prenatal yoga, along with everything else you need to know as a yoga instructor.
First trimester of pregnancy: What to expect. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9699-first-trimester
Chen, P.-J., Yang, L., Chou, C.-C., Li, C.-C., Chang, Y.-C., & Liaw, J.-J. (2017). Effects of prenatal yoga on women’s stress and immune function across pregnancy: A randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 31, 109–117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2017.03.003
Rong, L., Dai, L.-J., & Ouyang, Y.-Q. (2020). The effectiveness of prenatal yoga on delivery outcomes: A meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 39, 101157. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2020.101157
Kinser, P. A., Pauli, J., Jallo, N., Shall, M., Karst, K., Hoekstra, M., & Starkweather, A. (2017). Physical activity and yoga-based approaches for pregnancy-related low back and pelvic pain. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing, 46(3), 334–346. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jogn.2016.12.006
Chan J, Natekar A, Koren G. Hot yoga and pregnancy: fitness and hyperthermia. Can Fam Physician. 2014 Jan;60(1):41-2. PMID: 24452558; PMCID: PMC3994790.
Prenatal Yoga. American Pregnancy Association. (2023, June 1). https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/prenatal-yoga/