Hormones, weight gain, a shifting center of gravity, extra stress—combine these elements, and you’ve got a perfect storm of back pain for most pregnant women. However, prenatal yoga as a form of exercise through every trimester may be the key to much-needed relief. A regular prenatal yoga practice not only opens tight hips and hamstrings, strengthens your muscles, and improves your sense of balance and flexibility throughout pregnancy—but also relieves tension throughout your back. Here’s why.
You may not necessarily equate core work with being pregnant, but the truth is, all that extra weight in your belly requires strong abs in order to protect your back and spine.
“A healthy lumbar spine (low back) has a natural curve inward, known as lordosis,” explains prenatal yoga instructor Renee Kennedy. “As a pregnant woman’s belly grows, the weight can begin to pull her low back further than usual, which is referred to as extreme lordosis. This extra pressure on the vertebrae can lead to persistent back pain.”
Prenatal yoga movements can teach women how to safely strengthen their abdominal muscles to support the baby’s weight. She recommends targeting back pain through certain postures, such as downward facing dog, cat pose, and child’s pose. Also simply practice the action of posteriorly tilting your pelvis in all yoga poses.
“Another common pregnancy-related ailment is sacroiliac joint dysfunction,” says Kennedy. “The sacroiliac (SI) joint is located between the sacrum and the ilium of the hip, and is stabilized by several ligaments. This allows a slight gliding movement. Hormones released during pregnancy can bring laxity to these ligaments, making the joint slightly less stable. Pregnant women may experience lower back pain, generally on one side or the other, and located right around the ‘dimples’ of the low back.”
A regular prenatal yoga practice can help keep this pain from getting worse, or even beginning, notes Kennedy. If you’re experiencing SI joint dysfunction, she recommends modifying yoga poses that could potentially exacerbate such issues. Take ankle-to-knee (also known as thread-the-needle) instead of pigeon pose, or prop up your knees with blocks in supta baddha konasana.
As your belly grows, good posture is often the first thing to go. An overarched lower back can create other imbalances, such as slouched shoulders, an extended neck, and a collapsed chest. Prenatal yoga can help you stand, sit, and move with proper alignment in order to directly support your changing body.
Finally, if you feel back pain during prenatal yoga, ease off the pose and rest. “Listen to your body! You are growing a human, so do about 60-70% of what you’d normally do,” says Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden. “You also have a surplus of a hormone called relaxin, which can make you feel more limber. So, keep that in mind during prenatal yoga to avoid overstretching. Take it easy—this is the time of your life to show your body more love than ever before.”