The Best Prenatal Yoga Poses for Better Sleep
Growing a human is hard work, so feeling more tired than usual during pregnancy is completely normal. You’re expending extra energy, and all the physical and hormonal changes happening can take a toll on your ability to get comfortable and fall asleep.
Insomnia is most common in the third trimester, but some women experience it in the beginning of pregnancy too. Heartburn and morning sickness are among the many culprits that may keep you tossing and turning. Later in pregnancy, a kicking baby can serve as an unwelcome internal alarm clock—as can the incessant need to pee and pre-labor jitters. Plus, as your uterus stretches to create room for baby, it becomes more and more difficult to find a position—any position!—that’s conducive to sleep. But as we know, sleep is crucial during pregnancy, so finding ways to ensure you get enough rest is important.
Practicing healthy sleep habits, such as going to bed at a reasonable time and adopting a relaxing nightly routine is a good start. But getting enough exercise during pregnancy is another essential step to getting a good night’s sleep. Of course you may find it difficult to continue following the same exercise routine you did before you got pregnant. That’s where yoga can come into play. Practicing yoga during pregnancy can help you stretch and strengthen your body and unwind before bed.
I recommend gentle yoga at any stage of pregnancy because of its many benefits: in addition to improving sleep, it can promote mental clarity and even teach you breathing techniques that can help tremendously during labor.
Before practicing any type of exercise, check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you and baby. Once you’ve gotten the thumbs up, follow the guidelines below to ensure you’re performing the pose properly. Always listen to your body; if a pose feels too intense or painful, stop and try a modified version. You don’t want to risk getting injured or push yourself too far past your natural flexibility—so take it slow.
Ready to help calm your body to prepare for a good night’s sleep? Here are seven prenatal yoga poses to try tonight.
Standing forward fold
Regardless of whether or not you can touch your toes, this pose will give you a nice stretch in the hamstrings, hips and calves, and help increase circulation before you get into bed.
Start with your feet about hip-width apart on your mat. Slowly hinge your body toward the ground as you exhale. You can grab hold of whatever feels comfortable (your toes, knees or calves), or you can use blocks if you have them handy. You can also try taking each elbow into the opposite hand and hanging down like a ragdoll while you rock back and forth.
Hold this pose for about 8 to 10 breaths, inhaling and exhaling deeply. If you prefer, you can lift up slightly with each breath, or simply remain still.
This pose is a great way to warm up the spine and stretch your back and neck, which can become sore during sleep.
Start on all fours with the palms of your hands firmly planted on the mat, your knees about hip-width apart and your toes curled under.
As you inhale, drop your belly, lift your tailbone and gaze up to the ceiling for cow pose (be careful not to look too high, as this may over-stretch your belly). As you exhale, round your spine, tuck your chin to your chest and draw your pubic bone forward. Repeat for 5 to 10 full inhales and exhales.
This is one of the best poses during pregnancy to open up your hips and strengthen your legs and pelvic floor. It can also help you exert a little extra energy before laying down in bed—without overstimulating your body.
Start out standing and then step your feet out wide along your mat (with your toes pointing outward on each side). Exhale as you bend your knees, and let your hands fall wherever feels comfortable (or place them on your hips).
Stand up with each inhale, and bend your knees as you exhale; continue doing this for about 10 full breaths.
This pose is great for women with tight hips or for those having sciatica pain, which can act up when you’re lying down. Note that you might want to skip this pose once you’ve reached the second trimester, especially if you’re experiencing any pelvic pain.
Start in a down-dog position and then lift your right leg, bending at the knee. Keep your left leg straight behind you, and hold your chin parallel to the top of the mat. Place your hands flat on the mat in front of you while lifting your chest. For a deeper stretch, slowly hinge forward and lay your head down on the mat (this will likely be too difficult to do in the third trimester with a bigger belly). Hold here for 5 to 15 breaths on each side (or whatever feels good to you).
If pigeon pose feels uncomfortable, try a figure-four position to stretch your hips, lower back and glutes.
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. As you inhale, lift your right leg and, with your left hand, grab your right foot and gently place it on top of your left knee. You can stay here or clasp your hands behind your knee for a deeper stretch.
Note that you shouldn’t lie flat on your back for extended periods of time once you’re 20 weeks pregnant and beyond. While you won’t be in this position for long, it still may feel uncomfortable. If that’s the case, you can try doing this pose while sitting on a chair. Hold for about 5 to 10 breaths on each side.
Bound angle pose or butterfly
This pose gives you a great inner thigh and knee stretch while improving circulation, calming the nervous system and preparing your mind and body for rest.
Start by sitting; place the soles of your feet together as you bend your knees. You can stretch as deep as you like—just make sure it feels comfortable. If you want more of a stretch, gently press your hands into your thighs or knees. Of course, if anything starts to feel painful, stop right away.
You can flutter your knees up and down like a butterfly’s wings; do this for about 7 to 10 breaths to get the maximum benefits of this pose.
This is one of the best poses to practice right before bed as it can bring stillness and slow your breathing. It can also help to reduce stress, relieve lower back pain and give you a nice stretch in the thighs and hips.
This position will likely get harder as your belly gets bigger, so be sure to leave yourself enough room. Start on your knees with a wide gait at the edge of your mat. Fold your upper body forward, and touch your toes together behind you.
You only want to go as deep as feels comfortable to ensure you aren’t squishing your belly. As you fold forward, you can bring your arms out in front of you or keep them down by your sides. Place your forehead down on the mat; if you have a block, you can place it under your forehead to make a bit more space and reduce the pressure on your belly. Hold this pose for about 10 to 20 breaths, inhaling and exhaling deeply.
About the expert:
Rachel Mitchell is a maternity and pediatric sleep specialist, founder of My Sweet Sleeper and mom of six. She has been working with families all over the world for nearly 10 years, helping them implement practical tips and approaches with their children to help them get better sleep. My Sweet Sleeper offers online classes, one-on-one sessions, e-guides and helpful content through social channels and blogs. If you need 1:1 assistance, please contact Mitchell here.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.