Prenatal yoga: What you need to know

Prenatal yoga can be a great way to prepare for childbirth. Find out if this type of prenatal exercise is right for you. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you're pregnant and looking for ways to relax or stay fit, you may be considering prenatal yoga. Good for you! But did you know that prenatal yoga may also help you prepare for labor and promote your baby's health? Before you start prenatal yoga, understand the range of possible benefits, as well as what a typical class entails and important safety tips.

What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?

Much like other types of childbirth-preparation classes, prenatal yoga is a multifaceted approach to exercise that encourages stretching, mental centering and focused breathing. Research suggests that prenatal yoga is safe and can have many benefits for pregnant women and their babies.

For example, studies have suggested that prenatal yoga can:

  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth
  • Decrease lower back pain, nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and shortness of breath
  • Decrease the risk of preterm labor, pregnancy-induced hypertension and intrauterine growth restriction — a condition that slows a baby's growth

Prenatal yoga can also help you meet and bond with other pregnant women and prepare for the stress of being a new parent.

What happens during a typical prenatal yoga class?

A typical prenatal yoga class may involve:

  • Breathing. You'll be encouraged to focus on breathing in and out slowly and deeply through the nose. You may also practice different breathing techniques and making deep sounds, such as humming or grunting. Prenatal yoga breathing techniques may help you reduce or manage shortness of breath during pregnancy and work through contractions during labor.
  • Gentle stretching. You'll be encouraged to gently move different areas of your body, such as your neck and arms, through their full range of motion.
  • Postures. While standing, sitting or lying on the ground, you'll gently move your body into different positions aimed at developing your strength, flexibility and balance. Props — such as blankets, cushions and belts — may be used to provide support and comfort. You'll also continue to focus on your breathing.
  • Cool down and relaxation. At the end of each prenatal yoga class, you'll relax your muscles and restore your resting heart rate and breathing rhythm. You may be encouraged to listen to your own breathing, pay close attention to sensations, thoughts and emotions, or repeat a mantra or word to bring about a state of self-awareness and inner calm.
Jan. 22, 2013 See more In-depth