Downward-facing dog during pregnancy – is it safe?

Down dog is one of the most repeated poses in regular yoga classes. Downward-facing dog during pregnancy though – is it safe? Like most yoga practises, the answer will very much depend on the individual, your health, lifestyle and yoga experience. (I know, that’s annoying vague, but let’s talk about why).

A 2015 study published in the journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found downward-facing dog is safe to practise during pregnancy for women who have no health or pregnancy complications. SAFE doesn’t necessarily mean comfortable though, so it’s always important to encourage your students to listen to their bodies and offer other options they can choose instead.

Let’s look at why you might choose to practise downward-facing dog during pregnancy and when you should consider an alternative.

downward-facing dog during pregnancy

Benefits of downward-facing dog during pregnancy 

  • stretches hamstrings and calves (which can be extra tight during pregnancy due to carrying additional weight)
  • strengthens arms and shoulders
  • can help to relieve sciatica pain 
  • is a calming / grounding pose 
  • may ease lower back pain

When shouldn’t you practise downward-facing dog?

High or low blood pressure

Moving your head below your heart can aggravate both high and low blood pressure during pregnancy. You should seek advice from your doctor before practising yoga with either of these conditions, though generally high blood pressure is considered more serious during pregnancy.

Carpal tunnel

It’s common for pregnancy to make carpal tunnel symptoms (pain, numbness and tingling in the wrists) worse. This can make down-dog uncomfortable to practise at best (and downright painful at worst). You may be able to modify with props to take the pressure of the wrists, or skip this one altogether.

Heartburn or reflux

While not life-threatening, heartburn or reflux during pregnancy can be extremely painful. Avoid any poses that put pressure on your chest and neck (like down-dog) to reduce reflux symptoms when practising yoga while pregnant.

What props should you use to practise downward-facing?

Heartburn, reflux or high or low blood pressure?

If taking your head below your heart is an issue, you can practise a modified downward-facing dog using the wall as a prop. Bring your hands to the wall at hip distance and walk your feet backwards until they are underneath your hips. Keep a bend through the knees to make sure your back is comfortable.

downward-facing dog during pregnancy

Carpal Tunnel?

Place a rolled blanket or towel underneath the heels of your hands to reduce the angle of the wrists. This can help to make this pose comfortable for those with sore wrists.

How to practice downward-facing while pregnant

From tabletop pose, tuck your toes and press into your hands, as you lift the hips high. Keep a generous bend through the knees to avoid straining your low back. Allow your neck and shoulders to soften and the head to hang. Let your belly soften as you breathe deeply. You might like to pedal out the legs, straightening one leg at a time. Come back down to child’s pose when you’ve had enough.

Which trimesters can you practise downward-facing dog?

Downward-facing dog is suitable for all trimesters for as long as it remains comfortable to practise. Personally I found that by the end of the 3rd trimester this pose made me feel a little suffocated from the weight of baby pressing into my lungs. This will be individual to every woman and every pregnancy though.

When should you practise downward-facing dog?

Downward-facing dog is often used as a transitional pose to move between standing and floor poses in regular yoga classes. In pregnancy classes however I avoid moving women between standing and floor poses too often. Moving from high to low can be uncomfortable in the later stages of pregnancy and can cause dizziness for some women. Instead I would use downward-facing dog if I wanted to build a little bit of heat. I encourage my students to come into down dog for a few breaths before moving back down to Child’s pose for a rest when they feel ready.

If you’re brand new to practising pregnancy yoga you can download my free guide here.

Or if you’re a yoga teacher looking for information about teaching pregnancy yoga, you can download my free teaching guide and resources here.

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