Yoga Inversions for Pregnancy

A photo of a pregnant person doing downward dog while practicing yoga at home

By Carol Gray, LMT, CST, RPYT, ERYT-200

Once again, people ask if it’s safe. This time, it’s about inversions during pregnancy. Once again, the short answer is yes.

The Lineage

Yoga practices (including the physical practices) were originally developed by men for men. At first, the “rules” and precautions surrounding yoga practice for women were developed by men for women to follow. While pregnancy can be a time of great strength and robust health, it has often been regarded as a time of fragility, weakness and vulnerability. Accordingly, the practice of yoga during pregnancy has been wrapped in a blanket of controversy and fear.

The Myths

One of the most longstanding and persistent myths surrounding yoga during pregnancy revolves around inversions. Some of the prohibitions have to do with the possibility of causing the energy to flow toward the head – instead of toward the pelvis. Frankly, I’m not convinced it works that way, and even if it does, I’m not convinced that it creates a problem. Sometimes inversions are “contraindicated” during first trimester. There is no scientific or medical evidence to support this idea. Another fear is that it will cause your baby to turn into a breech (head up) position. Baby heads are the heaviest parts of their bodies, to be sure. However, no pregnant (or non-pregnant) person is ever going to spend the majority of their time upside down just because I (or anyone else) says it’s OK. Gravity and your amount of upside-down time are all in your favor here. Stop worrying about it.

What’s Important?

As always, you are your own teacher and the best expert on your body and your baby’s body. If a forward fold or a supported shoulder stand gives you heartburn, none of what I can tell you about the benefits will actually matter.

Why Should You Do Yoga Inversions During Pregnancy?

The main reason to practice inverted poses in pregnancy is to move babies into roomier parts of the parental pelvis. The pelvis is smaller down low. It’s roomier toward the top. More space gives babies opportunities to assume more ideal positions for continued gestation and ultimately, birth. Besides, (think about it) how would you like having your head turned in one direction only? Would you like it for a day, a week, a month, three months? Babies whose movements are so restricted end up born with twists and lateral flexion patterns in their bodies. They literally grow into these shapes and without help don’t just grow out of them. Trust me, I know this. These torsions and c-curves are a major source of compromised structure and function in what are otherwise medically-normal babies. As a Craniosacral Therapy practitioner/teacher and fine-tuner of babies I have seen a steady increase of babies so-affected in my private practice and free clinics over the last almost 30 years.

Do You Want More Reasons?

Yoga Inversions During Pregnancy…

  • Calm the nervous system.
  • Relax the pelvic floor.
  • Help resolve a posterior pelvic tilt.
  • Lengthen the torso.
  • Enhance return blood flow.
  • Help with varicosity discomfort.
  • Provide relief for round ligament pain.

modern-Day Realities for Pregnant People (In Industrialized Countries)

Yoga inversions are the antidote for seated lifestyle. Period. Sedentary, seated occupations are the norm for pregnant people in industrialized countries. Driving or riding in cars and sedentary home life all contribute to the problem of babies dropping deeply into the maternal pelvis and staying there days and weeks (sometimes months) before the onset of labor. Engagement – defined as fixation of the fetal presenting part in the maternal pelvis – really shouldn’t happen until the onset of active labor. It’s common most anytime in the third trimester these days, but it’s not necessarily normal. It ISN’T cause for rejoicing when it happens at 30 weeks. The operative word here is fixation. It’s also called fetal constraint. This all means stuck. Babies rarely get stuck in ideal positions for birth. If they were in ideal positions they would be able to glide high, low and back again in their parent’s pelvis. We see fewer babies these days who can actually do that.

What Qualifies as an Inversion, Anyway?

Does all of this mean that I’m advocating for daily handstands for pregnant people? No. Any posture that gets the hips higher than the shoulders qualifies. Almost anyone who can otherwise safely attempt a prenatal yoga class can do inversions that will be helpful.  It makes sense to mobilize the pelvis first with poses otherwise known as hip openers. I’ll talk about that in another post. Here’s a partial list of pregnancy yoga inversions:

  • Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend – Prasarita Padottanasana
  • Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana
  • Dolphin – Ardha Pincha Mayurasana
  • (Puppy Dog) Cow/Cat (on forearms) – Chakravakasana
  • Supported Shoulderstand – Salamba Sarvangasana
  • Supported Headstand – Sirsasana

More About How The MamaSpace Yoga Method Addresses Fetal Constraint

Here’s the Link to the video about the MamaSpace Yoga Method.

3 Prenatal Yoga Inversion How-To Videos Just for You:

1. Inversion Love (Clip) With Amarylis Fernandez

2. Supported Shoulderstand With Carol Gray

3. Pregnancy Headstand With Carol Gray

About Carol Gray

Carol Gray, MamaSpace Yoga Founder and OwnerCarol is the founder and owner of MamaSpace Yoga. She has been a therapeutic bodyworker in private practice for over 30 years. She specializes in Craniosacral Therapy for pregnant and postpartum people and infants. Carol has spent years developing hands-on techniques to enhance the mobility in pregnant bodies including the bony pelvis, the abdominal organs, the support structures and lower segment of the uterus. She is  proud to have pioneered the integration of this gentle manual therapy into prenatal care, the birth place and postpartum care for birthing parents and babies. The goal is to give babies more room to develop, grow and get born. Her specially-designed yoga classes have grown naturally from the roots of bodywork and yoga.

Carol has dedicated her professional life to supporting expectant and new families by promoting gentle aware birth. She has attended births for over 35 years – at first as a doula and from 2000 to 2012 as a midwife. She has since retired from attending births in order to focus on practicing and teaching CST and prenatal yoga. Her many years as a birth worker have forever changed her and her worldview. Those experiences remain an integral part of who she is as a therapist and teacher.

Carol is the founder and director of the The Carol Gray Center for CST Studies®. She teaches high-quality, small group classes that are appropriate for bodyworkers, birth attendants and other health professionals. She is approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) as a continuing education approved provider.

7 Replies to “Yoga Inversions for Pregnancy”

  1. […] Yoga Inversions for Pregnancy for more information on this. In the mean time, authors who parrot this myth usually go on to say […]

  2. Zed says:

    Hi, Thank you foe the information. Is it okay to do wheel pose in early pregnancy (8 weeks)? Wondering because did it and felt like that region of stomach and abdomen was awkward afterwards?

    • Carol Gray says:

      Hi Zed,
      Thank you for your question. Wheel is not specifically contraindicated during early pregnancy. However, if it doesn’t feel right, follow your instincts and don’t do it. We think of wheel as a backbend. It is, but more importantly during pregnancy it’s important to remember that it lengthens the front line of the body. As your baby grows, the front line of your body has to lengthen a lot. The extra lengthening that poses like wheel and camel provide will at some point be too much for most everyone. You’ll know when it’s time to dial it back to poses like bridge, Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose) or supported bridge. Hope this helps. Keep practicing.
      Love,
      Carol

  3. Snehal says:

    How far can I do a headstand in pregnancy if my body permits it? Do I need to stop at any particular week?

    • Carol Gray says:

      Hi Snehal,

      Great question…You really don’t have to stop if it feels good to you.. Inversions are a helpful antidote to seated occupations and lifestyle. during pregnancy — any time, really. Of course, there are many steps leading up to a full-on headstand that are just as beneficial. I do recommend headstands at the wall during pregnancy — even if you are an experienced headstander. There is no reason to risk a fall. Balance can be challenging when your center of gravity is changing.. Please feel free to reach out if I can answer any other questions.

      Love,
      Carol

  4. Zahra says:

    Hi, my baby is still in breach, i was wondering whether these yoga inversion exercies will help to get baby into a head down position ready for birth?

    • Carol Gray says:

      Hi Zahra,
      Inversions may help disengage your baby from the lower, smaller part of your pelvis. Once your baby is a little higher, they will be in a roomier part of your pelvis and therefore have more ability to move into a better position. I hope this helps.
      Love,
      Carol

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