Many prenatal yoga resources aim to prepare pregnant women for vaginal birth. Yet, the CDC reports that nearly one third of all deliveries in the United States are performed via C-section (according to 2017 data). Yoga is a great way to prepare the body for a safer, healthier birth, but women who deliver by alternative methods have a lot to gain from yoga, too. In this article we’ve outlined what we see as the two most important points of focus for yoga in the third trimester: the spine and the pelvis. These poses will stretch out discomfort in your body, open the pelvic area, and calm any anxious energy you may be feeling. Pain in the back gets especially acute during these final weeks of pregnancy, and yoga can be a great tool to manage this for yourself. After all, it’s not all about the birth. You can take care of your child and yourself by feeling better right now.
Always consult your doctor before practicing any unusual or strenuous activities during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. As your child reaches the final stages of prenatal development and your body has steeply decreased mobility, it is more important than ever to know your boundaries and stay safe. When practicing the poses below, remember to actively regulate your breathing and stay within comfortable limits for difficult positions.
As the abdomen grows to the iconic ‘baby bump,’ a lot of the stress of added weight moves to the spine. The following poses are great for stretching the back and neck to work out discomfort and strengthen muscles.
On your hands and knees, begin by rounding your shoulders downward and look down with your head. Try to focus on pushing your spine up toward the ceiling. Next, try pushing your abdomen toward the floor and looking up with your head to stretch out the back muscles. These two positions together make up the cat-cow stretch.
Relax your shoulders and on an exhale, let the weight of your head pull your neck muscles into a gentle stretch. Try this with your chin pointed up, down, to the side, or however feels good. The key is to avoid forcing your head in any direction. Instead, allow your breath to let your head relax into position and stretch your neck.
This classic pose should still be doable in the third trimester but you may need to make adjustments to keep it comfortable for you. On your knees, place your hands flat on the floor in front of you and stretch forward as far as you like. Focus on stretching forward instead of down to best lengthen the spine.
Stretching out your pelvis is a great way to loosen your hip flexors and prepare for natural birth. For soon-to-be mothers who will deliver through C-section, you can still benefit from having a stronger pelvic area.
Sitting down on the ground with the bottoms of your feet pressed together in front of you, gently pull your ankles toward your hips and press your knees toward the ground. Many guides recommend clasping onto your feet in this pose, but pulling up on your toes can pronate your ankles and cause damage. Try instead to place your thumbs on the flats of your feet and hold onto your feet from the side, or simply hold onto your ankles instead. Part of this stretch comes from pulling in your feet close, while an equally important part comes from using your hip muscles to push your knees toward the floor. These two processes work together to open up the pelvic muscles.
Sitting down on the ground, open your legs straight out to the sides and refrain from bending your knees if possible. It’s okay if you cannot open your legs very far. You can still get a great stretch by placing your hands on the floor in front of you and gently sliding them forward until you can feel a stretch in your inner thighs and hips.
How you care for your body during pregnancy is totally up to you. If you choose to practice prenatal yoga in the third trimester, remember to go easy on yourself and your body. Not every pose has to build strength or stretch a specific birthing muscle. Some gentle stretches of the back, neck, and pelvis can just be practiced to alleviate pain or discomfort. Many of the described poses have the added benefit of making your body more fit, but the main purpose of these poses is to get you in touch with what your body is feeling and find ways to feel better, physically and mentally.