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Yoga does a body good. It’s no wonder many pregnant women continue going to class as their belly grows, though they’re often advised to skip certain poses. Now, there’s evidence they may not have to do that.
Poses that were commonly thought to be risky for expectant moms in the third trimester — including Child’s Pose, Corpse Pose, Downward Facing Dog and the appropriately named Happy Baby Pose — can be safe for both mom and fetus, a study published last month in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology has found.
In all, more than two dozen popular yoga postures were evaluated and found to be fine for women in late stages of pregnancy. The study was conducted by Dr. Rachael Polis, a gynecologist at Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, and her colleagues. It took place at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, New Jersey.
"I feel reassured that healthy pregnant women in their third trimester can participate in yoga with modifications," Polis, who has been practicing yoga for more than 12 years, told TODAY Parents. "Modifications can include the use of a chair, block or wall for certain yoga postures."
She emphasized it's important for pregnant women to discuss any exercise routine with their obstetricians.
In general, yoga is fine, even in late pregnancy, as long as a woman is healthy and has been active throughout her life, said Dr. Iffath Hoskins, vice chair of patient safety and quality in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Yoga can help increase an expectant mom's flexibility; plus any exercise and stretching is good overall for pregnant women, Hoskins noted.
But despite the study’s findings that Corpse Pose — lying flat on one’s back — was fine, Hoskins still advised against it, noting the uterus could put pressure on a large vein in a pregnant woman’s body and decrease blood flow to the fetus. She urged women to not lie flat, but put a wedge under their right hip, thus tilting themselves to the left.
For the study, the researchers recruited 25 healthy pregnant women. All were 35-37 weeks along and none had pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure, bleeding or premature labor. They ranged in age from 18 to 42.
Only ten of the women were experienced yoga practitioners. Eight others were familiar with the practice and seven were yoga newbies.
Each mom-to-be took part in a one-on-one yoga session with a certified yoga instructor, going through 26 postures from a typical yoga class. They skipped some postures, like lying flat on the belly, to avoid pressure on the uterus; and headstands, because of the risk of falling.
An OB/GYN continuously monitored both mom and fetus for any signs of trouble during the class. The women were also evaluated before and after the session.
The study found all of their vital signs remained normal in all postures, including Child's Pose, Corpse Pose, Downward Facing Dog and Happy Baby Pose. There were no falls or injuries. Fetal heart rates also stayed normal across all 26 poses. All positions were "well tolerated" by mom and fetus, Polis said.
In a follow-up the next day, none of the women said they felt unsafe during the session or reported any problems, such as contractions or fluid leakage.
There are some things to keep in mind: The study did not evaluate women with complicated pregnancies.
Also, women who practice yoga in late stages of pregnancy should modify their practice a bit, the study authors advise. A chair, a wall or blocks are essential when doing balancing poses, for example, because a growing belly changes a woman’s center of gravity.
Hoskins also advised women to watch for signs of trouble, including an unusual increase in heart rate or core body temperature, dehydration and pain in any joints or limbs.