There is a lot of mixed information out there on what is safe and what is not during the first trimester. The most general advice given comes from the basic “do’s and don’ts” of a yoga teacher training. We have all heard: No holding your breath. If you are not breathing, neither is your baby. No deep twists. Twisting can be very detoxifying. But what else??
A women should consider a variety of things when playing it safe on the mat. The most common misconception is; because I’m not really showing, I can still continue to do everything as I was previously. Wrong!
There are a few specific things that a women should avoid during her first trimester. In fact, I believe that this is the time when a woman should nurture and modify the most. Those first few weeks are such a working miracle in progress!
In weeks four to five of early pregnancy, the embryo grows and develops within the lining of the womb. The outer cells reach out to form links with the mother’s blood supply. The inner cells form into two, and then later, into three layers. Each of these layers will grow to be different parts of the baby’s body.
The fifth week of pregnancy already the baby’s nervous system is developing, and the foundations for its major organs are in place.
The sixth through eighth week the heart can sometimes be seen beating via ultrasound. The brain is growing rapidly, limb buds start to form cartilage which will develop into the bones of the legs and arms, and the placenta is continuing to develop, forming structures that attach the placenta to the wall of the womb.
Just 12 weeks later the baby is fully formed. All its organs, muscles, limbs and bones are in place, and the sex organs are well developed. From now on, it has to grow and mature.
We may not be able to see or feel all of this work happening, but it is! And it requires a women to be safe and sweet to her body during this time.
According to the March of Dimes, as many as 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Most often before a woman misses a menstrual period or even knows she is pregnant. About 15-25% of recognized pregnancies will end in a miscarriage. More than 80% of miscarriages occur within the first three months of pregnancy.
Knowing the reality of these statistics make me even more cautious when working with pregnant women. My personal mantra through the whole 40+ weeks of pregnancy is “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” This really helped me to personally decipher what was intuitively safe for me and what wasn’t.
So for all of you Power Vinyasa lovers out there who have recently become pregnant, please be kind to your body and your growing baby and treat both of you with care.
Avoid ALL twists during your first trimester. Most teachers will tell you, or you may just assume that because you do not have a big belly yet, that it is safe to still twist or at least do “open twists.” I personally disagree. All twist are detoxifying. Period. At a time when so much is developing, attaching, growing…its best to keep the abdomen free from any chance of purification or purging at all. If your instructor is cueing the class to twist from traditional poses such as chair pose, crescent pose, or any supine position; just simply stay in the original variation and leave the twist behind.
You have a surging hormone known as Relaxin in the body now. Levels are at their highest in the first trimester, peaking at 14 weeks. At this time it’s known to help implantation of the developing fetus into the wall of the uterus and the growth of the placenta. Early in pregnancy, relaxin also inhibits contractions in the wall of the uterus, to prevent premature birth. This is a wonderful and necessary hormone for labor and delivery. However, it is a dangerous hormone for exercise. It leaves a women highly susceptible to over-stretching, instability and injury. It is very easy to pull muscles or fall out of poses that you have done thousands of times before. So the general rule here is: be kind to yourself. Don’t take all the advanced options offered. Lower a knee when possible. Use props. Shorten your stance in all warrior poses. Avoid inversions in case you fall on your belly. Just think “less is more.”
Be mindful not to overheat the body. It is believed that overheating in early pregnancy, can harm a developing baby. Pregnancy adds to one’s body temperature, regardless of the weather or any physical activity by a pregnant woman. With 40% more blood pumping through the body to nourish the fetus, a pregnant body does enough work to heat the internal system. Even the heart is said to enlarge a little in pregnancy and moves to a side with the enlarging uterus occupying more space in the body. If your body overheats, you may develop cramps, nausea, faintness, or even life threatening organ damage. Also, your baby may be at risk of birth defects if your body temperature is too high during the first trimester, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Additionally, you may be at a greater overall risk of miscarriage if your body temperature gets too high at any point during pregnancy. Today mostly every yoga studio is heated to some degree. So be sure to wear light weight clothing. Set up your mat near a window. Take childspose as often as needed. Drink plenty of water before, during and after each practice. And remember that breathing out the mouth is the best way to cool down the internal body.
We’ve already covered that holding the breath is not safe during pregnancy. However it goes beyond that. Mostly all other stimulating breath techniques such as Breath of fire, kapalbati, Agni Sara should be avoided as well. If you are working one-on-one with a trained prenatal teacher, or have been told specifically that a breath is safe for you, then practice; but never assume that a breath technique is safe unless told otherwise. Ujaii breathing is the perfect calming breath that provides both mama and baby with the oxygen they need. When in doubt stick to this.
A great first trimester breath known as Shitali Breathing can help curb some of those early pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, acid reflux and anxiety.
You can see an instructional video here.
Ladies, hopefully these tips will inspire you to take it easy and treat your changing body with the care that it needs during this transitional time. The first trimester can be filled with a wide rage of emotions, fatigue, and overall sluggishness. Once the fog begins to lift you may feel like you “should” be doing more than just laying around eating white bread products all day. I’m here to remind you that when you do return to that mat, be sure to do it safely!