If Jennifer Pettit, a New York City-based yoga instructor who specializes in prenatal yoga, had met me during any of my three pregnancies, she would have guided me to take off my high heels, slow down and breathe. What I needed was the benefits of a prenatal yoga practice – something that I discovered well beyond my pregnancies. Omm.
“Practicing yoga helps each mother-to-be nurture herself, while being the nurturer during this miraculous time. Yoga enhances the experience of pregnancy by connecting mothers-to-be with their bodies, minds and the babies growing inside,” says Pettit. That being said, this is a pivotal time in women’s lives when extra care and safety is critical during the practice of yoga. Following guidelines, a yoga practice can be safe and rewarding during every trimester, helping the mom-to-be prepare for childbirth.
First Trimester: Breathe
In the first trimester, a mom-to-be might feel like doing everything she is used to doing. Instead, this is a time to begin to listen to the changing needs of her body. Recommendations for modifying yoga classes include slowing down, not overworking to exhaustion and avoiding overheating.
Pregnant women are taught to access their breath to help bring awareness to slowing down, build deeper connection to their baby and strengthen the transverse abdominals, which provide support to the growing baby. “Breathing into the baby is a wonderful way to create a bond between mom and baby”, says Pettit. Using visualization and touch are useful tools to teach mothers-to-be about the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing – or as it is called in Sanskrit – ujjayi breath. As a pregnant woman inhales with her hand on her belly, she can visualize breathing into the baby as she feels the baby toward her hand. When she exhales, the baby rocks back toward the back body – the spine. With every breath the mom takes it is rocking the baby.
Prenatal Yoga Tip: Place one hand on the abdomen and add the sounds “Ssssss” or “haaaaa” with the exhalation breath. Feel your muscles hug the baby with more strength. Try exhalation with the mouth open “haa, sss, mmm, hoo, ooo, aum.” Adding sound to the breath lengthens the breath and helps you feel the transverse abdominals working.
Second Trimester: Modify
If you are attending a regular yoga class, be sure to tell the instructor that you are pregnant and which trimester you are in. During the second trimester, it’s a time to start a regular prenatal practice with modifications.
With a regular practice, the yogi mom-to-be can prepare the body for childbirth by opening the hips, toning the pelvic floor and strengthening the transverse abdominals. “Modify poses to avoid pressure on the uterus and add balance support with blocks, a wall or chair and support from your yoga instructor. Avoid deep stretches such as twists, lunges, back bends and avoid jumping back and forward,” says Pettit. Because of the hormonal increase in the body, a mother-to-be can overstretch ligaments, leading to lack of support, which puts her at risk for strains and pulls.
After the fourth month, women should avoid any yoga postures on their back. This is to ensure uninterrupted blood flow to the baby. Ask your prenatal instructor for proper modifications for any poses on the back. As in the first trimester, there is a continued importance to take rests in class and have a drink or snack on hand if needed. In addition, it is important to pay attention to avoid overheating. “Hot yoga is a ‘don’t’ in every trimester,” says Pettit.
Prenatal Yoga Tip: The easiest way to modify poses done on the belly is to place a bolster under the tops of the thighs. In lieu of a bolster, use a yoga block under each thigh, which will avoid your belly touching the floor. Another alternative is to place your knees on the floor.
Click next for some studios offering prenatal classes in Westchester and nearby.
Third Trimester: TLC
In the third trimester the body is rapidly changing as it prepares for childbirth. Many physical changes occur as more weight is added and joints become unstable which causes challenges with balance. This is not the time to be adventurous. “This is the time to be conservative, be careful and focus on a restorative practice. No inversions or anything new,” says Pettit. “This is a time that some people feel they can advance their practice because their ligaments are looser due to the hormone relaxin, but this is not the time to try anything new. Keep your practice simple and restorative.” Rest is critical. Accessing the breath and holding poses for longer in the restorative practice can help reduce stress and ease the mind and body. The breath is the main tool to relax the nervous system and for childbirth. This is a time to remind yourself to listen to your body and connect to the baby, breathe, restore and relax.
Throughout the trimesters, look for support and building a community of other moms-to-be. A prenatal yoga class is a perfect opportunity to bond with other women in a comfortable environment as you go through changes and look forward to the times ahead.
Prenatal Yoga Tip: Squatting is the best preparation for childbirth. “The pelvis is 30 percent more open when the body is in a squatted position, in this case gravity is your friend,” says Pettit, who teaches supportive squats, which a certified prenatal instructor can teach.
Important note: Always consult a physician before beginning a yoga practice or any other physical exercise.
Alysa Robin Hantgan is a writer, mom of three and yoga teacher who lives in Westchester County.
Taking a prenatal yoga class is also a great way to meet other moms-to-be and embark on this journey together. Here are some studios offering prenatal classes in Westchester and nearby.
Sage Yoga of Armonk
6 Maple Ave., 2nd Floor, Armonk
393-6517 | sageyogawestchester.com
Scarsdale Yoga Studios
7 Popham Road, Scarsdale
914-874-5555 | scarsdaleyogastudios.com
White Plains Hospital
41 E. Post Road, White Plains
681-1234 | wphospital.org
50 S. Buckhout St., Irvington
591-9642 | yogaworks.com
Yoga Haven and Yoga Haven 2
62 Main St., Tuckahoe (Friday and Saturday mornings)
91 Montgomery Ave., Scarsdale (Tuesday evenings)
914-337-1437 | yogahaven.com
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