When I say prenatal yoga, most people assume I mean one of two things. Either they think of pregnant ladies with huge bellies doing crazy handstands and backbends. Or they hear “prenatal yoga” and think gentle, easy, stretching class. In reality, prenatal yoga isn’t either of these things.
What is prenatal yoga?
Prenatal yoga is, simply put, a yoga practice specifically designed for pregnant people. Unlike a yoga class that merely modifies a “regular”* practice to be safe for pregnant women, prenatal yoga actually addresses concerns that pregnant women would have. For example, it helps with common pregnancy aches and pains, eases the mental and emotional concerns of pregnant women, and helps prepare the body for birth and postpartum recovery.
*I’m going to say “regular” a bunch in this article. Please know that I’m not implying that being pregnant makes you irregular; it’s just the easiest way to refer to “non-prenatal” classes.
What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
Prenatal yoga helps alleviate common aches and pains during pregnancy, helps your mental and emotional well-being during pregnancy, and helps prepare your body for birth.
The pregnant body is constantly changing, due to the weight of the baby (and all of the internal rearranging that baby creates), the hormones of pregnancy, and all of the other physiological changes your body makes to support baby.
For example, did you know your blood volume during pregnancy can increase by over 50%. That alone can have effects ranging from swelling in your hands and feet to nosebleeds! Prenatal yoga helps to reduce or even eliminate a lot of the aches and pains that come with pregnancy, like:
- Tight hips
- Low-back pain
- Upper/mid-back pain
- Neck and shoulder discomfort or headaches
- SI issues
- Swelling in the hands and feet
- Acid reflux
Of course, all of that depends on how your prenatal yoga class is taught. If you’re doing more of a modified version of a regular class, you could actually exacerbate any of the above issues. However, if you’re doing true prenatal yoga – or a class that actually support the pregnant body through its physiological changes – it can help provide relief.
Prenatal yoga also provides a community and an outlet for concerns around the pregnancy, birth, and the impending arrival of that screaming little bundle of joy. Prenatal yoga offers breathing and meditation practices that can help with the sleepless nights, anxiety, and anything else you may be feeling before baby arrives. Obviously, it is not a substitute for a professional mental health provider, but it can certainly help on the path toward optimal mental health.
Finally, prenatal yoga may help make your birth a bit easier – both emotionally and physically. When the body is well balanced muscularly and the bones (particularly the pelvis) are aligned, baby is able to settle into a more optimal position for birth. Baby’s position can have a huge impact on how your birth progresses, so the stretching in prenatal yoga could help you have an easier, faster labor. (Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will have an easier labor.)
Additionally, the breathing and meditation skills you practice during yoga can come in handy when you’re in labor – both to manage the pain of birth and also to handle whatever curveballs may come your way.
What is the difference between prenatal yoga and regular yoga classes?
There are a few major differences between prenatal and regular yoga classes. For example:
- A prenatal yoga class will never be hot, as hot yoga is not considered a great idea for pregnant people.
- Prenatal yoga will use significantly more props, to help support your body as it changes and grows.
- Prenatal yoga will not include advanced inversions and arm balances (think: handstand, crow pose, etc.)
- A prenatal yoga class will not ask a woman to lay on her back or belly.
- A prenatal yoga class is going to approach core work very differently than a regular class.
As you can see from this list, if you’re going to a regular yoga class and modifying for pregnancy, you might not be left with much that you can do.
Plus, many fantastic yoga teachers don’t know a whole lot about how to modify for pregnancy, and what is actually safe or useful for women to do while pregnant. So, your wonderful teacher who you love might not really be the best person to advise you on how to modify your prenatal yoga practice. (I say this as a yoga teacher who used to know very little about prenatal yoga and felt secretly worried whenever an expecting mom would show up to my regular yoga classes.)
This is just one of several reasons prenatal yoga is better for pregnant women than regular yoga. Here are a few more:
- In prenatal yoga you never have to worry about what modifications to take or about being singled out.
- Beyond just making yoga safe, prenatal yoga will help you optimize your well-being during pregnancy and help you prepare for birth.
- Prenatal yoga provides a community of resources and support for pregnant women.
To learn more about why prenatal yoga is better than regular yoga when expecting, head here.
What to expect in your first prenatal yoga class
You can start doing prenatal yoga even if you’ve never done yoga before, as it’s usually very beginner-friendly. (Obviously, check with your instructor in advance to confirm.) And the other good news is that you can start prenatal yoga pretty much as soon as you find out you’re pregnant and continue practicing until that baby comes out.
Some prenatal yoga classes (like mine) begin each session by going around the room, introducing yourself, and discussing any concerns or symptoms you’d like to address during the practice. This allows your teacher to offer a custom class based on the concerns she sees each week.
From there, you’ll move through some simple relaxation, neck and shoulder stretches, standing poses (advancing from easiest to more challenge, and yes, there are challenging poses in prenatal yoga!), core and pelvic floor work, hip opening, and the glorious svasana at the end.
Is prenatal yoga safe?
Prenatal yoga is far safer than many other workouts that pregnant women do, such as Crossfit, bootcamp classes, barre, spin (like Peloton, Soul Cycle, etc.), Pilates, boxing, and running.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s always safe. If your doctor puts you on bed rest or advises you not to exercise, you should skip prenatal yoga. If you have other symptoms, like lightheadedness, dizziness, high or low blood pressure, or anything else that gives you pause, you should talk to your doctor before doing yoga.