What are some of your favorite yoga poses for pregnant and postpartum women?
Common areas of tightness and discomfort for pregnant and postpartum women are the hips and lower back. One of my favorite poses is Low Lunge, which can be done with your back knee up or down. Use blocks under your hands to make space for your belly and keep your spine elongated. It's a great stretch for the front of the hips while maintaining a strong and stable foundation.
Cat and Cow, or Cat with some gentle pelvic rocks, are great for relieving lower back pain and stretching the spine.
Another great one is Downward Facing Dog on the wall or the kitchen counter. No, you're not hopping up on the kitchen counter! You brace your hands on the counter (or wall) and bend forward to create an L shape with your body. It gives a nice stretch along the spine and shoulders without giving you heartburn from actually going down to the floor!
What are some tips for doing yoga while pregnant if you've never done it before?
Take it easy and be really conservative! The hormone relaxin is released into your body during pregnancy and does just what you'd think - relaxes the ligaments in your body, making your joints looser, which helps your body adjust as baby grows but makes it easy to injure yourself. Even if you feel you can easily go deeper or further into a pose, it's not always a good idea, especially if you’re pregnant or recently postpartum. Find a prenatal yoga teacher (even online!) who is educated about how to help pregnant women move safely.
What are some tips for experienced yogis as they adjust to their changing bodies?
Be kind to yourself! It's easy to beat yourself up about what you used to be able to do. It's also surprising how often a pregnant belly can get in the way of what you feel like your body really needs. Be gentle with yourself in movement and in mindset. Know that breathing and taking time for yourself is just as great a gift as a physically demanding yoga session.
Since yoga has a lot of moves that affect the core, how should pregnant women practice? Which moves should pregnant and postpartum women skip?
Please talk with your medical provider about modifications you should make, but Upward Facing Dog is generally not recommended once you are showing. Bridge can be great until you start feeling uneasy when lying on your back.
If you weren't practicing Wheel before pregnancy, wait until several months after birth to start building up to that. The cardinal rule in yoga is to not do anything that doesn't feel right. If it makes you feel icky, stop. Use caution with plank and Chaturanga; they can actually cause more harm than good if you have an abdominal separation like diastasis recti. There are a lot of ways to engage your core, like pelvic rocks and breathing. Those are great ways to maintain proper core connection in pregnancy and to reconnect the core after birth.
Can pregnant women do Savasana?
YES! There are many modifications available for pregnant women. If lying on your back is still comfortable, you can bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor to help relieve lower back pain.
Or lie on one side in the fetal position with a pillow between your knees. If you have a bolster and blocks handy, google “supported pregnant Savasana.” There are lots of options!
Is there anything to avoid because of potential balance issues?
The wall is your friend. Even if you know you can balance really well, be near a wall just in case. Many women experience pelvic separation (SPD) during pregnancy that is quite uncomfortable. Split leg poses like Warrior I and II, High Lunge, and wide-legged forward folds can worsen pelvic pain. If you feel any discomfort or shooting pains when your legs are separated, stick to poses where your legs stay together (like Mountain pose with a block between your inner thighs to help stabilize the hips and pelvis).
Can yoga breathing help with delivery?
YES! This is one of the reasons I became a yoga teacher. I had such profound benefits from yoga, mainly the breathing and the mindset, during my four-day labor with my first child. Without yoga, I would have ended up in a very different birth situation. But knowing that it would pass and that I was capable of getting through each moment, that relief would come with my exhale, helped me have the delivery I wanted. Breathing can be the difference between a "5" and a “10” on a pain scale. It is an amazing tool that is accessible to everyone, no matter what your physical body shape or size is. It's also tremendously helpful for the postpartum period. My first child was very colicky, and breathing and letting go were the only things that kept me sane from moment to moment.
Can you give some advice for strengthening your pelvic floor?
Right after birth, pelvic floor strengthening looks nothing like what you imagine. There are no planks, no crunches. Rebuilding your pelvic floor after pregnancy and birth means drawing up through your pelvic floor throughout the day to make sure your core is as stabilized as possible. Continue beyond the typical Kegel, where you imagine stopping the flow of urine; imagine your pelvic floor going up like an elevator. So before you pick up your baby, square your hips and torso towards him or her. Engage your pelvic floor up and bend your knees rather than bending your back. This same "drawing up" action can be done throughout the day. Where conventional wisdom would tell you to squeeze your belly and create a bearing or pushing down sensation, think "draw up" instead. When you are ready to bring gentle movement like yoga back into your day, remember to engage the pelvic floor in each position. Keeping your pelvis stable by engaging your pelvic floor as you move your extremities is one of the best things you can do for your body after baby. (I am not a doctor; I'm merely sharing my experience from my own practice and life after two vaginal births. Please consult a pelvic floor specialist who can meet your individual needs.)
Can you do yoga with a baby (perhaps while baby-wearing) or a young child since getting out of the house for a workout can be tough?
A lot of yogis find ways to incorporate their babies or kids into their practice. For me, it was most beneficial to practice when my babies were asleep, so I could feel truly restored by the time I spent on my mat. My one piece of advice is to not do any yoga poses with your baby that you wouldn't do if you were holding them in your arms.
What are your favorite workout clothes for pregnant women to practice in?
Can you provide a sample practice pregnant and postpartum women could do at home to squeeze in a bit of yoga?
Thank you so much to Hannah! With your doctor’s permission, exercise can be an incredible way to improve your physical, mental, and emotional health during and after pregnancy. We hope Hannah’s tips will help you feel your best on this amazing journey.
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