Making Room for Baby: Top 10 Prenatal Yoga Poses to Open and Gently Stretch
During my pregnancy as I reached my half way mark, (20 weeks) over the winter holidays. I started feeling more abdominal pressure, reduced depth of breath, reduced core control (in the form of the beginning of a diastasis recti), not to mention a quick and large change in my belly size - Baby and I needed more room to grow! Especially if I wanted my core to adapt and continue to work well both for the rest of my pregnancy and post-partum.
Creating space in the abdomen and lower back, increasing mobility of the ribcage, pelvis, hips, legs and respiratory diaphragm, and optimizing alignment can all help to enhance proper reflexive core activation during pregnancy and post-partum. This in turn can help limit poor movement patterns that can contiribute to abdominal separation while also creating room for growing baby; not to mention a myriad of other benefits like limiting other common pregnancy aches and pains, improving digestion, limiting swelling and stretch marks.
** Note: I did feel some GENTLE tissue stretching of the abdomen during some of these which is fine (and it felt good and like what I needed!) as long as it is not painful and you do not have a preexisting or known abdominal separation (diastais recti). I typically will play with flowing in and out of certain poses where I feel this gentle abdominal stretch until it has gently warmed up and then stay in it for a bit, allowing it to deepen and soften. I would start with some gentle 3 part breathing to warm up the ribcage, belly, diaphragm and core, as well as any wrist, shoulder or neck stretches you know. This was also not a pure sequence, so feel free to intersperese with your favourite poses and play with what feels intuitively good.
As always, listen to your body and go gently into all poses, doing both sides as the pose calls for. You do not need to do them all and feel free to modify with props, supports, furniture and the like. Consult your healthcare provider, preferably a women’s health or pelvic floor physiotherapist, if unsure of the safety of these postures for you and your pregnancy.
So here are my top ten yoga poses I found helpful to lengthen and create more space to relieve pressure, gently stretch my ever expanding abdominals and create more space for my growing bundle:
1. Cat Cow (seated forwards and back & with circles like rimming the edge of an upright bal [not shown]; plus on all fours): I did all three interspersed throughout my practice. Play with your body and see what feels good, getting into the intuitive movements.
2. Seated side bends: Make sure to lengthen the spine and arm first then tip to one side to really focus on the space between the ribs, as well as the ones at the waist. Breathe into the sides of your ribcage to expand even more from the inside out, making sure that both hips and sits bones stay grounded throughout. You can do this on the floor, block, bolster, or even chair at your desk.
3. Firelog/ Double Pigeon (can do any variation): My body prefers firelog to traditional pigeon as it stabilizes and maintains symmetry in both hips, but feel free to do which ever variation of pigeon that works for you. If you are doing Firelog, make sure your are sitting on your sits bones and that you have a nice neutral curve in your lower back. Both feet are flexed and ankles are directly over opposite knees - this will protect your ankle joints which may have become more flexible during pregnancy. I also like to prop with folded blankets/ block to fill the space between my knees and the floor so I can be super relaxed in it.
4. Low lunge: Opening the front of the hips feels so good with the growing belly. Feel free to use props as needed and make sure not to pop the front of your rib cage open - instead stack your ribcage and engage your core muscles (think about closing the angle of the ribs in the front to focus the stretch into the pelvis).
5. Half Splits: Creating balance in the legs and pelvis, lengthening the hamstrings (as they attach to the pelvis) is another important one - especially as we tend to tuck our pelvis under during pregnancy to balance our centre of gravity. Make sure your hips are square, maybe drawing the hip of the straight leg back a bit. Lengthen the spine up through the crown of the head. Use props, including the wall or furniture, as needed.
6. Child’s Pose with Side Bend: To accommodate your bump you can keep knees wide with toes still touching. This feels really good after the more traditional Cat Cows (on hands and knees). You can stay in the middle resting for numerous breaths, bringing forehead down to meet the earth or block. When you bring both hands to one side make sure your hips stay heavy and directly over heels to enhance the side stretch. Breathe into your side body... Yum!
7. Modified Cobra with Side Bend: This is one to be cautious with and may not feel that great if you are further along, have a larger bump, or are carrying low. You can cushion your belly with some softer blankets or pillows. If you can be on your stomach you can move the pressure down by pressing your pubic bone into the mat to engage your lower abdominals, while also pressing the tops of your feet into the mat. Keep that engagement as you inhale to lengthen your spine and use your hands to lead with the chest coming into the back bend. You will feel a gentle stretch on the front of your belly. I added on to this traditional posture with bending slightly to the side. You can flow side to side staying up or to give your arms and belly a break you can go up and down (not losing your core activation - pubic bone and feet pressing into the mat) alternating sides and the middle.
8. Revolved 3 Legged Dog: A nice combination stretch once you have warmed up with the previous ones. Make sure to be strong in your core (not flaring the ribs forwards) and keeping shoulders square as you open the hip to focus it more into the hip flexor and obliques