Yoga In the First Trimester

“Should I practice yoga during my 1st trimester?” is a question that I am asked quite frequently. Like so many pregnancy topics, you’ll come across a variety of opinions and ideas, many of which conflict. One teacher I know believes it is inappropriate to practice during the 1st trimester, while another teacher I spoke with said it is completely fine, and you do not need to modify your practice at all until the 2nd trimester. My own feeling about this falls somewhere in the middle. I believe that you can continue your practice or even start a yoga practice in the first trimester, but there are a few modifications that I would incorporate right away.

There is also the belief that if you did an activity prior to pregnancy, you can continue to enjoy it throughout pregnancy, without changes or modifications. My problem with this theory is it is ignoring the hormonal, physiological and anatomical changes that happen to the pregnant body regardless of pre-pregnancy conditioning.

Focusing more specifically on yoga and the first trimester, students may find themselves facing the challenges of nausea and fatigue. Not every woman experiences this, but for those that do, even thinking about physical exercise may be totally out of the question. My personal experience was that yoga helped me through the nausea and fatigue. However (I stress), that is not what others may go through. Another issue that may arise relates to disclosing your pregnancy. While I think it is important to tell your yoga teacher that you are pregnant if you are still taking general classes, you may not feel ready to tell people your news.

Understanding the Hormones of Pregnancy

The heavy hitter hormones of pregnancy are estrogen, progesterone and relaxin. The levels of these hormones undergo the biggest changes and have great effects on the body. There are other changes to the endocrine system, but I am not going to focus on them since they do not directly affect one’s yoga practice in the first trimester.

Estrogen increases 1000 fold which:
-Increases blood flow
-Growth and function of uterus and breast
-Sodium and water retentions
-May influence emotional mood swings
-Increases pliability of connective tissues

Progesterone increases 10 fold which:
-Increases hypothalamus to cause fat storage
-Increases basal body temperature
-Increases amount of sodium excreted by kidneys
-Decreases gastrointestinal mobility
-Decreases smooth muscle tone of bladder, stomach, intestines, uterus, sphincters

Relaxin

-Relaxes the tendons, muscles and ligaments. This hormone facilitates the birth process by causing a softening and lengthening of the cervix and the pubic symphysis (the place where the pubic bones come together)
-Relaxin is released into the body immediately after conception and peaks at 3 months. It remains constant until labor in which there is a significant rise.

You will notice with all three of these hormones, a common denominator is that in some manner or another, there is instability being created in the body by the softening of connective tissue, ligaments and tendons and smooth muscle tone. This, of course, is necessary to create the space for the growing baby, placenta and uterus. However, because of this “loosening” effect on the body, it is important to be mindful of one’s yoga practice, even early on.

Recommended Modification
Modifying one’s yoga practice in the first trimester can seem a bit odd to some since to the outsider, there is little visible physical change. But the body is undergoing huge changes. As mentioned above, there are already tremendous hormonal surges that affect the mom-to-be. Additionally, the focus should be on implantation of the fetus and proper attachment of the placenta, while not over taxing the fatigued body. This stage of pregnancy is considered the most delicate because the risk of miscarriage is at it’s highest.

Remember even if you are an experienced yogini, the body changes regardless of your past experience. What the past experience will offer is a deeper intuitive sense of being able to listen to your body- but it is important not to let the ego lead instead of the physical sensations.

That said, here are some mindful modifications for the first trimester mama:

Prone poses.
Certain belly down poses are fine, like bhujangasana (cobra pose), as long as the practitioner is grounding the pubic bone and elongating through the lower back and actively using her legs, the lower belly is not getting direct pressure. However poses like danurasana (bow pose) and salambhasana (locust pose) both put direct pressure on the uterus and should be avoided.

Deep twists.
This family of poses is wonderfully therapeutic for the nonpregnant body since it provides an excellent means of compressing the internal organs which stimulates and cleanses the organs. Even though the uterus is still fairly small and situated in the pelvis, I recommend avoiding deep belly twists. Instead focus on twists of the upper back, keeping the “baby” pointing forward and twisting above the bra strap line.

Deep backbends. These poses should also be approached with caution since they too, compress the uterus and can over stretch the abdominal muscles.

Jumps and jerky movements. These movements can disturb implantation.

Abdominal strengtheners. At the Prenatal Yoga Center, we do not teach abdominal work to first trimester students. My reason being, that during the first trimester there is the high incidence of miscarriage. I have never come across data that states abdominal work will cause miscarriage, but I know that many women are protective of their belly region and concerned about any hardening activity of this area. I would not want anyone, should they suffer the loss of their pregnancy, to think that the ab work they did somehow caused the miscarriage.

We do focus quite a bit on transverse abdominal work in the second and third trimester. We believe abdominal work at this time in pregnancy aids and prepares the mother for the second stage of labor (pushing) and supports the back as the uterus continues to grow.

Certain pranayamas. Avoid pranayamas that involve breath retention and deep forceful movements of the belly like kapalabhati or bhastrika (bellows breath) Alternate nostril breathing is fine as long as you DO NOT add retention. Ujjiyi breath should not be practiced if the mucus membranes are swollen causing stuffiness. Most laboring women breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth. Since the one of the focuses of prenatal yoga is to help prepare for labor, I encourage the students to practice mouth breathing in their asana practice since it will be familiar to them for their labor and birth.

This may seem like quite a long list of poses to avoid during your first trimester, but there are still many amazing poses to enjoy. This may also be a great time to explore restorative poses, especially if you are suffering from morning sickness and fatigue. I would also highly recommend, if you are still going to non-prenatal yoga classes during your first trimester, you find a teacher that is trained in the contraindications of pregnancy. Even though you are now armed with a list of poses to modify, your teacher can help offer your alternative poses so you can still be actively involved with the flow of the class.

Personally, as I embarked on this new approach to my yoga practice, I was a bit conflicted about how I felt watching my classmates enjoy and grapple with poses I once loved. Soon I started to embrace the opportunity not to push myself so hard and acknowledged this is all part of the path towards motherhood.

Sources
Holistic Midwifery by Anne Frye

This entry was posted in Yoga In the First Trimester and tagged by Deb. Bookmark the permalink.

About Deb

Debra is a graduate of the Boston Conservatory of Music with a degree in Musical Theater. She has spent most of her life performing and was introduced to yoga through a choreographer in 1997. After several years as a yoga student, she decided to continue her education and became certified as a Bikram Yoga instructor. In 2001 Debra headed out to Seattle to study with renowned prenatal yoga teacher Colette Crawford, R.N., at the Seattle Holistic Center. Debra has received a certificate for Vinyasa Yoga from Shiva Rea, with whom she continues to study. Debra has also been certified in the Maternal Fitness Method with Julie Tupler. In 2004, Debra completed the OM Yoga advanced teacher training with Cyndi Lee. Debra currently studies with Cyndi Lee, Genevieve Kapular, and Susan "Lip" Orem. After being witness to several "typical" hospital births, Debra felt it was important to move beyond the yoga room and be present in the birthing room. In 2003, Debra attended her first birth as a DONA certified labor support doula. In that short period of time, Debra has attended about 40 births. She is continuously in awe of the beauty and brilliance of birth. Most recently, Debra received her certification as a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator. Drawing on her experience as a prenatal yoga teacher, labor support doula and childbirth educator, Debra looks to establish a safe and effective class for pregnancy and beyond.

16 thoughts on “Yoga In the First Trimester

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  2. Thanks. This is the best article I have read on yoga in pregnancy. I am 8.5 weeks into an unplanned pregnancy and in india where I have been doing yoga daily. I did 14 days of a very dynamic yoga retreat in the first 3 weeks of my pregnancy and since I found out I was pg (2 weeks ago), I have toned down my practise but am still doing dynamic yoga. My teachers have all said I am fine with what I am doing but I have read so many conflicting reports online, I don’t know what to think!
    So thanks. I am feel better having read this. Will stop heavy backbend and jump backs which I had been doing. It is so hard to know what is best!
    Abby

  3. Pingback: Yoga in the First Trimester | Dina Abbondante, LMT

  4. Thanks for such a wonderful article,I have been doing yoga on & off before pregnancy,am only 5weeks and feel very tired to do anything though i do try to walk or do some exercise.I have been worried about doing yoga as of many conflicting articles,you made it so clear and I feel so comfortable after this that I might stop my search of shall I do yoga in 1st trimester or not, will listen to my body and will go to yoga class with modifications. thanks and bless you

  5. Pingback: Blog ArchiveFirst Trimester Yoga Tips: The Pre-Bump Bra Strap Rule » Higher Ground Yoga

  6. Hi there.
    Ive been teaching yoga for three years now. Recently I’ve descovered that I’m pregnant. I’m currently at the real early stage of the first trimester. I was worried if I should continue practacing as I read some reports that increased seritonin levels in the body after yoga may cause autism in babies. I wonder if this has any ground. Or do know if there is a greater chance of birth defects if u practice yoga from early on? I do remember reading that yoga should not be done at around week 12. Do u know why? I’m happy I read your article because yoga helps me with my fatigue and nausea. Also the modifications u suggest makes a lot of sense. I’m not exactly sure though, how I can continue teaching a regular class. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  7. Hi Terry,

    Congratulations on your pregnancy!

    I have not heard anything about yoga in relationship to autism. I personally, practiced and taught through out my whole pregnancy. I also am very confident that there is not a greater chance of birth defects with practicing yoga early on. I do suggest you talk to your care provider about these issues. He/She may have more information then I do.

    It is true that some people hold off on yoga or physical activity until after week 12. Statistically, after week 12 the chances of miscarriage greatly decrease. However, I am unaware of a risk in prenatal yoga causing miscarriage. I would advise avoiding a yoga style that is very vigorous, heating and has lots of deep twists and backbends. But prenatal yoga (to my best knowledge) is safe to practice.

    Hope this helps!

    Sincerely,
    Deb

  8. I am a yoga teacher. I teach a lot of gentle classes and a lot of kids classes. I am finding that when I teach and when I practice myself, I get pinching, cramping feelings in my lower abdomen particularly on my right side. I am just about 5 weeks pregnant. These sensations make me nervous and I have a rigorous teaching schedule. In addition, I am also experiencing light-headedness. BTW, I am 37 years old and this is my first pregnancy. Any insight?

  9. Hi Dina

    Congratulations on your pregnancy!

    The pinching, cramping sensation you have on your right side may just be gas. But if you are concerned, you should discus it with your care provider. At 5 weeks, they may just say take it easy. The light-headedness may be a little low iron or low blood sugar. Again, check w your provider.

    In terms of your teaching, don’t feel the need to demonstrate all the poses. You can always ask a student to demonstrate for you.

    I know the first trimester is anxiety filled time. I would recommend trying not to worry. During my first trimester, I tried to remember something a friend told me She said, “That little baby is strong and you can’t walk around on egg-shells. You just need to keep living your life and trust your body.”

    Hope this is helpful. :)

    Deb

  10. Hello Everyone! I have just found this blog and I am so happy to have someone to talk to about this! Thank you for posting that article. I am 6 weeks along and 40 years old with my first pregnancy. I am feeling good, but am very anxious about not being able to relieve stress through my workouts. I am a second grade teacher and used to running and practicing mostly Bikram yoga in order to relieve stress and stay in shape. The only prenatal classes in my community are Sunday mornings and I would like to work out more then that.

    Does anyone know of a good video, app, or anything that that they trust is safe for the first trimester? I keep finding what not to do, but have yet to find a program that I might be able to integrate myself.
    Looking for an outlet,
    Thanks,
    Alice

  11. Any advice on inversions (e.g., sirsasana a & b) during the first trimester? I’m 7 weeks and had a strong practice before becoming pregnant, but inverting doesn’t feel quite right. (I’ve also been experiencing a fair amount of cramping, which may have something to do with my apprehension.)

    • Hi Kat

      Congratulations on your pregnancy! While I believe inversions are fine in the first 20 weeks or so if you have a strong established practice, I highly encourage you to listen to your body. If the poses don’t feel right, don’t do them. These poses will be around at a time that feels more appropriate. Pregnancy and motherhood is a time of sacrifice and change for the greater good of your family. Changing your yoga practice is a great way to surrender to this.

      Also- I only recommend continuing inversions for those that really have a strong understanding of support in the upper body for head stand and for those who can easily step into handstand. Otherwise, I believe you can compromise your neck in headstand and injure your pelvis in handstand.

      You are on the right track- listen and trust your body! I hope you enjoy your journey through pregnancy!

      Warmly
      Deb

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  13. I have had a strong practice for many years (Ashtanga/Iyengar/Vinyasa). After 3 “unexplained” miscarriages, the only thing I have left, to try and conceive my first child is taking a yoga break.

    • Hi Tanya

      Thank you for commenting on our blog at Prenatal Yoga Center.

      I understand your disappointment with multiple miscarriages. I am sorry to hear you had to go through this.

      As for your yoga practice (and please check with your care provider about this) but you can still maintain a practice by modifying to a restorative practice or refocusing on yoga for fertility. Here in NYC, there is a company Receptive Nest, that offers this service. You may be able to find some yoga for fertility online as well.

      I hope this is helpful!

      Most sincerely
      Deb

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