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Third Trimester Yoga Tips :: The Downward Dog Dilemma

Body, Pregnancy + Birth, Yoga

If you’re a pregnant yoga mama, you may have heard that adho muka svanasana (downward-facing dog or “DFD”) isn’t safe to do during your third trimester of pregnancy.  

As with many of these safety guidelines, though, the reasons behind the rule may be unclear.

Have you ever wondered why DFD may not be your BFF as you approach your birth day?

This is an important question for any expectant mom who does vinyasa flow yoga, where downward-facing dog is a regular posture.

Some people believe inversions (like DFD) will negatively influence baby’s positioning. This, of course, is not ideal in the third trimester, as you’re preparing for baby to exit your body.  

The answer, though, isn’t necessarily to eliminate DFD totally. Instead, it’s one we get a lot in yoga: listen to your body.

I know, I know. By your third trimester, your body is probably saying a lot of things to you by now. 

But here’s why it’s really important to hear me (and your bod) out:

Prenatal yoga practice, like your pregnancy, is an evolving discipline. There’s confusion and controversy in the industry around what is appropriate and what isn’t for women during their babies’ different developmental stages.

It’s actually a bit like birth and birth preparation itself: there are some agreed-upon guidelines (like no deep twisting that stresses the uterus), but there’s just not one-size-fits-all answer because your body is unique and fabulous (just look at what it’s creating). 

Some women are crazy for triangle pose during their third trimester. Others find that it puts too much pressure on their bellies and pelvic area.

We try, we observe, we adjust.

So, what’s the general rule for most mamas?

When I was a private prenatal yoga instructor, I taught downward-facing dog throughout the entire pregnancy. Not only do some moms find that it gives them a much-needed release from lower back and belly tension, but inverted poses like DFD (or even “butt up” child’s pose) can actually help your baby turn into optimal position.

However, modify the posture during the third trimester, using these examples:

* You can try simply holding it for fewer breaths than usual. 
* Use DFD sparingly (if at all), in cases of bad reflux, heartburn or sinus-related breathing issues. It can be aggravating in those cases.
* And, IMPORTANT: avoid DFD entirely in the case of a “turnaround” breech.

A turnaround breech is just that: a baby that was in breech (head up) position, but has recently turned to a more optimal (head down) position. If your baby is a turnaround, congrats! Sub a simple child’s pose for DFD instead, with wide knees. Don’t encourage more acrobatics once the mission’s been accomplished.

If you’re not in the breech bucket, though, gentle inversions like DFD or puppy pose can actually help increase more optimal positioning. This is because they open the lower uterus, creating space for your little one’s head. 

When in doubt, remember this:

If you find DFD relaxing, and it helps relieve more stress than it causes, keep it in your asana (pose) rotation.

But if it’s uncomfortably challenging (e.g., strained hamstrings, wobbling, exhausted arms, etc), don’t hesitate to modify your pose and/or use props.

Props help create awesome modifications for many poses, and downward-facing dog is no exception.

In fact, I use them in my own personal practice, whether I’m pregnant or not. You can, for instance, your lower body in normal DFD position, bend your forearms and place them on a step-stool or low chair. Breathe deeply.

Or, if you don’t have any props handy, try “L-shaped” downward dog on the wall. For L-DFD, place your hands on a wall out in front of you and walking your feet back so that your body creates an “L” shape.  Gently contract your baby in towards your spine, turn the insides of your elbows toward the ceiling as your straighten your arms, lengthen through your tailbone and head.  Breathe deeply.

In the end, your yoga practice mirrors your mommyhood: intuition and flexibility lead the way.

Get used to noticing how your body feels, gather information from your resources, and make the appropriate adjustments that work for your body and spirit.

Those are a few rules that’ll get you maximum effect from all of your poses with minimal drama.

DISCLAIMER :: Please note that this article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice. If you practice yoga throughout your pregnancy, it is recommended that you work with a qualified and certified prenatal yoga teacher, and that you consult your health professionals for guidance on what’s best for you and your baby.  

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