The third trimester feels like a very different phase of pregnancy. The physical body feels larger and heavier (it generally is), breath and movement can be compromised, and birth feels a lot more real than it did earlier in pregnancy.
In a typical prenatal class, we often have pregnant students with a variety of needs, plans and preferences. Some will be hoping for a completely natural birth. Others might be planning a belly birth or facing an induction. Others still may be experiencing a high-risk pregnancy and may need close monitoring for the remainder of pregnancy and during labour.
So when asked how yoga can support with birth preparation and the final stages of pregnancy, is there a one size fits all? The answer is of course no. However there are ways we can use yoga to support the physical and energetic bodies regardless of birthing preferences or physical limitations.
The idea of ‘Active Birth’ was pioneered in the late 1980s by Janet Balaskas. Active Birth suggests that by labouring in more upright or semi-squatting positions, a woman / birthing person can maximise the pelvic opening, stimulate the natural hormonal responses, and empower themself to make their own choices about how and where to labour and birth.
Active birthing techniques are very helpful within a physiological or natural labour. However, being free to move around and birth upright may not always be an option for those needing a caesarean section or close foetal monitoring.
Nevertheless, the principals of Active Birth can be helpful within the third trimester as they help direct the downward movement of energy, or Apana. This promotes increased blood flow to the placenta and baby, creates openness and flexibility through the pelvis, and on an energetic level is an essential preparation for the act of birth.
Apana Vayu is a concept we discuss in both Moving with the Moon and our Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training course. Apana naturally builds throughout the later stages of pregnancy, and especially in the third trimester.
As it governs downward and outward movement, Apana energy is also responsible for pushing the baby out of the womb at the time of birth.
Physiotherapist and holistic women’s healthcare visionary Tami Lynn Kent explains that directing the energy downwards is an essential part of the birthing process (regardless of the type of birth) and deeply connected to pelvic and hormonal health after pregnancy.
Fear can interrupt the natural downward flow of energy during pregnancy, labour and birth, since when we feel scared we effectively halt the movement of apana and send our energies back up. So any techniques that slow us down and support a relaxation response are especially beneficial.
Three ways yoga can support women through the third trimester
- Practicing Half Squats
Depending on how they’re practiced, asana such as Goddess, Chair or Horse pose can be grounding, stabilising, strengthening and toning. We cover a variety of upright and semi-squatted positions in our Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, including adaptations for each trimester and some of the different common pregnancy complaints.
Horse Pose (pictured here) helps us to open through the hips and pelvis, feel strong through the lower body and ground through our connection to the earth and downward focus.
Regardless of birthing outcome, half squats are excellent to practice within the third trimester as they help us to feel stable and place trust within the body. They can also encourage the baby into an optimal position without forcing them to engage/descend into the pelvis too soon.
An Active Birthing approach would suggest that if it feels OK within labour, these same positions can also be used during a contraction to work with the natural opening of the uterus. In this way they can aid dilation and shorten the first stage of labour.
- Soft Belly Breaths
Breath is of course another powerful way to direct our attention and energies to the pelvis. The breath fills the body with prana and cleanses toxins (Ama) from the body.
When we take slow, deliberate belly breaths, coupled with an elongated exhale, we also stimulate the Vagus nerve. This takes us into our Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest and digest) which slows the body and supports our nervous system to recalibrate.
By practicing a lengthened exhale, and directing our attention to the pelvis we can very gently – yet very powerfully – support the body’s innate prenatal and birthing intelligence. It is also used by many to effectively ‘breathe through’ contractions at the time of birth.
To practise, sit for a few minutes in an upright position, either cross legged on a cushion so the hips are slightly raised, or straddling a bolster. Invite an awareness of the sit bones grounding downwards, and breathe softly into the belly, noticing it’s rise and fall without any strain or holding.
- Simple Mantra
Mantra is another powerful way to support the late stages of pregnancy and help prepare for birth, even if our pregnant student is limited in their ability to practice asana. For our physical bodies, the act of chanting helps us breathe more deeply and dramatically lengthens the exhale. Again this stimulates a Parasympathetic Nervous System response, inducing feels of relaxation and calm.
Chanting also creates resonance at the throat chakra, clearing this important energy centre. The resonance of chanting a simple Om or Om Gam is soothing (for both baby and mother/parent). It is thought to further direct Apana and remove any obstacles, in this case, associated with pregnancy or birth.
Simple mantras can also be effective ways to release energy within contractions, making the most of the physical connection between the throat and uterus which can help the uterus to dilate.
So rather than feel we have to provide something additional, we can very effectively help women and parents-t0-be negotiate the final stages of pregnancy and prepare for birth simply by being more conscious of how our existing bag of tools can support. This is also great practice for life as a parent – when learning how to keep life as simple as possible becomes one of your greatest super powers!
Beth Ivy Buxton joined the Bliss Baby Yoga team as Social Media and Marketing Manager in 2019. She loves both marketing and women’s wellbeing, and has worked to support mothers and children for over 15 years. Beth currently teaches pre and postnatal yoga classes along with children’s yoga (find her at Moon Mamma).
If you are passionate about nurturing women during pregnancy and postnatally, and offering holistic yoga classes with safe, appropriate and nourishing practices designed specifically for pregnant women and new mothers, you may be interested in our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training course. We also offer Online Extension Modules to enhance and further your learning in this area, covering topics including Perinatal Nutrition & Ayurveda, Prenatal & Postnatal Anatomy and Physiology and Pelvic Floor Anatomy and Physiology for Women’s Health.
Further Reading related to this topic:
- Prenatal Yoga for Anxiety (including Sequence) by Shannan O’Neill
- A Grounding Visualisation for Pregnancy with Anna Watts
- Safe Squatting in Late Pregnancy and Labour by Star Despres
- The Sweet Sounds of Birth by Ana Davis
- Chanting, Mantra and Mudra for Pregnancy and Birth by Jennifer Allen
- The path of surrender: a key to a ‘good’ birth by Beth Ivy Buxton