Is Yoga Safe During the First Trimester?
You’ve recently found out that you’re pregnant and wondering if yoga’s safe during the first trimester. You may have even delivered the news to your yoga instructor.
At this point, two responses are common. Some yoga teachers will tell you to put your yoga practice on hold until after week 12. Others will respond that there is no problem with you continuing your yoga practice as normal.
As a matter of fact, the former is what I’m told to do at the studio where I teach.
So, is yoga during the first trimester safe?
Well, it’s somewhere in between. Yoga during pregnancy can definitely be safe and very beneficial for both you and your baby, but only if you approach it mindfully and with care.
Yoga During the First Trimester and the Risk of Miscarriage
The main reason why yoga teachers advise against practicing yoga in the first trimester is the high risk of miscarriage.
Over 80% of miscarriages happen in the first trimester, making it a very sensitive period. The majority of them are completely out of the mother’s control. Most of them happen because of genetic problems.
However, a woman may also have a higher risk of a miscarriage if she:
- is over 35 years of age
- has had miscarriages before,
- develops an infection,
- suffers from immune system problems,
- has diabetes, thyroid issues, or other medical conditions,
- has uterine abnormalities.
Yet, genetic problems remain the most common reason for a miscarriage.
Why Yoga Teachers and Studios May Tell You to Put Yoga in the First Trimester on Hold
Telling students to skip yoga during pregnancy is a matter of safety. Basically, no one wants to be blamed for a miscarriage. Even if it had nothing to do with yoga (and according to the data above, in most cases, it doesn’t).
Yet, the moment you inform your yoga teacher that you are pregnant, you pass some responsibility to them. You expect them to safely guide you through your practice and offer modifications when needed. Sadly though, not every teacher knows how to do that.
And that’s not entirely their fault.
Most yoga teacher trainings are short. They give a basic introduction to teaching yoga, but they don’t and can’t cover everything.
Some trainings may go over basic modifications for pregnancy. Others may not include anything at all. And not all yoga teachers have medical knowledge or education.
So, in most cases, that’s really up to each individual yoga instructor to take extra courses and trainings or learn about these topics by themselves.
Another problem is that the number of yoga injuries is on the rise. And that, again may not necessarily be the teacher’s fault.
Many people are simply not careful enough when they practice. They ignore the yoga teacher’s safety instructions, let their ego guide them, and put their own bodies at unnecessary risk.
Yoga During Pregnancy Can Be Good for the Mom and the Baby (if Done Safely)
In recent years, more and more scientific data shows that it’s good for an expecting mother to stay active. That involves different types of exercise, including yoga.
On top of all the physical benefits, yoga during pregnancy can also help you relax and keep stress and anxiety at bay.
However, that doesn’t mean you should keep the same intensity. Or even the same type of exercise or style of yoga. And it’s definitely not the time to take up something completely new.
So, if you’ve never lifted weights, done Ashtanga yoga, or run a marathon, it’s best not to start it during pregnancy.
However, if you take into consideration the changes happening in your body and modify your practice, you should be able to continue practicing yoga. Unless, of course, your doctor or midwife advise against it.
Why You Need To Modify Your Yoga Practice During the First Trimester
Even if no one is yet able to tell that you’re pregnant, your body undergoes numerous changes.
In order for your uterus to expand and for your body to support the development of your baby, both your estrogen and progesterone levels increase.
Your body also starts releasing relaxin, a hormone that relaxes your joints and muscles. It’s needed to create more space for your baby and, eventually, for an easier delivery.
This means that your flexibility increases. And you can also easily overstretch yourself if you are not careful.
hCG, the hormone that makes the second strip on pregnancy tests show up, can also mess with your well-being. Although it is not completely sure what causes morning sickness, scientists speculate that it’s the high levels of hCG.
Morning sickness can drastically decrease your willingness to do anything. And so can fatigue. Many women feel exhausted during pregnancy, especially the first trimester.
So, you need to be mindful of these changes and how you are feeling and adapt your yoga practice accordingly.
How To Stay Safe in Your Yoga Practice During the First Trimester
There are a number of yoga poses that can be very beneficial in the first trimester. However, it’s also the time when you can start modifying your practice to avoid any possible injuries or other problems.
1. Be Mindful of Your Increased Flexibility
Your flexibility will increase due to relaxin and a larger amount of estrogen and progesterone. Don’t get overexcited about that, as you can easily overstretch and damage your tendons and ligaments.
2. Avoid Jumps and Sharp, Jerky Movements
Relaxin affects not just your muscles but also affects your joints, tendons, and ligaments. They become looser, and, therefore, more prone to injury.
It may become much easier to damage your ligaments and tendons as well as strain, sprain, or dislocate joints if you put too much pressure on them. Especially if you are naturally flexible, or hyperflexible, and have not developed strong muscle support around your joints.
3. Avoid Deep Twists and Backbends
As your belly starts expanding, deep twists can compress the uterus and affect the blood flow to it. Open, gentle twists are fine but avoid yoga poses like Marichiyasana or Lord of the Fishes Pose that constrain your stomach.
Even if your uterus is still very small, it’s best to start adapting your practice and new habits as soon as you are aware of your pregnancy.
Deep backbends, on the other hand, can overstretch your abdominals and contribute to the formation of diastasis recti.
4. Skip Prone Poses that Put Pressure on the Lower Abdomen
During the first trimester, your uterus is small enough to stay protected by your pelvis. Therefore, you can still lie on your tummy and do poses such as Sphinx and Cobra.
However, when it comes to poses that put pressure on the lower abdomen, such as Locust and Bow Pose, it’s best to skip them.
5. Avoid Pranayama that Involves Breath Retention and Forced Breathing
Kapalbhati and breath retention both restrict the amount of oxygen that your body, and thus your baby, receive.
Instead, focus on deep, full-belly breathing instead. Alternate nostril breathing is fine to practice, too.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Slow Down or Skip Your Practice Altogether
Make sure that your ego doesn’t get in the way when you practice yoga.
Your body has excellent muscle memory, and, even if you lower your intensity and lose some strength and muscle mass, you’ll be able to recover that after pregnancy.
Feel free to slow down, rest in Child’s Pose, attend a lower-intensity class, or skip a class altogether if you need rest.
You can join a Prenatal Yoga class instead of going to regular yoga. Or you can simply drop your intensity level if you do not want to go to Prenatal Yoga that or if it’s not available in your area.
7. Avoid Hot or Bikram Yoga During Pregnancy
There are multiple risks involved due to the heat and the intensity level that can negatively affect the development of the baby. Because of that, I personally would stay away from hot or Bikram yoga during pregnancy.
Rule Number One for Yoga in the First Trimester
The bottom line is that there is no definite answer to whether it’s safe to practice yoga during the first trimester. It can be incredibly beneficial, yet there are multiple factors (and risks) at play.
It will depend on how your pregnancy is developing, how you are feeling, what type of yoga you practice, and at what intensity, as well as how skilled your yoga teacher is at guiding you through proper modifications.
Definitely approach your yoga instructor and tell them that you are pregnant. You should then have an idea of whether they have the knowledge, experience, and confidence to work with pregnant women. Don’t continue if you don’t feel safe.
If your yoga teacher tells you not to continue yoga in the first trimester, don’t hold that against them. He or she may be saying that because they are instructed to do so. Or they simply do not have the necessary knowledge and experience. That doesn’t automatically make them a bad teacher.
And finally, it’s not just you anymore that you need to take care of. It’s also the little human that you have growing in your belly. Stay cautious, and if anything doesn’t feel well, follow your gut.
If you’d like to read more on the topic, here’s a post on the dos and don’ts of yoga during pregnancy.