Congratulations! You made it to week 14 and are now through the first trimester. As most books (and probably some friends) will tell you, all of your adverse symptoms should now disappear and you will feel amazing the next 14 weeks. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
While certain things will probably improve, the second trimester comes with its own changes to navigate. But the good news is that most of the changes are pretty exciting. Like the fact that somewhere between weeks 16 and 22, you start to feel the baby kick. Suddenly a little nausea may not matter so much when you feel the first tiny bubbles of baby movement. Things are getting real!
The second trimester generally spans weeks 14 to 28. Energy levels improve thanks to a fully functioning placenta now nourishing and breathing for the baby. And for many people, nausea abates. Some call this the “feel good” trimester. But to be honest, it took me until week 24 to get my energy back, so don’t despair if it takes a while. Where the first trimester was about big changes for the baby, this trimester is about a lot of big changes for the parent—namely, the uterus expanding from the size of a grapefruit to an eggplant as it grows with your baby. In order to accommodate this growth, the organs relocate to the four corners of the abdomen. Some organs begin moving as early as week nine, but the shifts become more physically noticeable in the second trimester.
This includes an effect on the breath (as the uterus begins to press up into the diaphragm) and digestive issues, like heartburn (as the stomach is pressed upward). As your belly grows, you may find sleep more challenging. A growing belly also redistributes weight throughout the body, which when coupled with relaxin (a hormone secreted during pregnancy that loosens the connective tissue throughout the body to accommodate the physical changes and prepare for birth), can lead to aches and pains such as back and neck issues and round ligament pain (that is, sharp pains on one or both sides of the lower belly caused by the expanding uterus). Of course, you should always check with your healthcare provider at the onset of any pain to confirm that the pain is normal.
As energy levels return, and for some, even multiply, the second trimester is a good time to get back into movement, allowing for some accommodations for the changing body.
It is generally recommended that people stop lying on their backs during the second trimester. Exactly when this is appropriate will be personal. This is because the uterus places pressure on the vena cava, which runs from the heart along the right side of the body and is one of the main veins that returns blood to the heart. Lying on the back can lead to breathlessness and increased heart rate. It is recommended, therefore, that for supine resting poses such as savasana, pregnant people remain elevated on props like bolsters or blocks or that they lie on their left side instead of flat on their back.
In addition, second trimester parents may find that balancing poses become more challenging. And any pose that compresses the abdomen is typically no longer recommended at this stage of pregnancy. This includes deep rounding of the spine, closed twists, and prone poses.
But pregnant people still have lots of yoga options in the second trimester. This sequence will help you to take advantage of your rediscovered energy, to sharpen balance skills, and to build strength to support your changing body. As always, please listen to your body when engaging in any type of physical activity during pregnancy.
Props you will need: 2 blocks, blanket, bolster, wall.
1. Flowy Cat
One of the great second trimester benefits is the return of energy and movement. Flowing often feels really good again, as opposed to in the first trimester, when it may have only aggravated nausea. Some approaches to childbirth, such as Spinning Babies (an approach to childbirth that focuses on the baby’s position), teach that cat-like poses can encourage optimal fetal position, in which the baby is head down in preparation for the journey through the birth canal. This will be very important in the next trimester.
Begin in child’s pose with your knees wide and a block on the medium setting. On an inhale, lift your hips into tabletop and direct your chest up to the sky as you point your tailbone straight back. (Note: This is different from a traditional cow tilt in which the whole spine is arched. Because of increased mobility and the growing uterus, lumbar spine backbends like cow can exacerbate back pain for some people during pregnancy.) On an exhale, round your spine like a cat and simultaneously shift your hips back to child’s pose.
Flow through this dynamic sequence 8 to10 times or as many times as feels good!
2. Puppy Pose (Anahatasana)
Backbends are typically limited as pregnancy progresses—not only because hypermobility demands more caution, but also because overstretching the abdomen is often uncomfortable and can potentially destabilize the growing uterus and connected placenta. Therefore, we should look for chest-opening elsewhere wherever we can.
From tabletop, walk your hands forward, keeping your hips above your knees. Imagine your upper body is in downward facing dog. Resist your forearms away from the floor as you melt your heart toward it. Keeping your tailbone pointing back and lower ribs drawing in toward your baby will help to isolate the opening into your upper chest and back. Rest your forehead on a block or the floor, keeping the back of your neck long.
Stay for 15 breaths. Come out on an exhale by lifting your torso upright and returning to tabletop.
3. Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
One of the more humbling changes of the second trimester is losing and refinding our balance. This is due not only to the shift of body weight, but also to the increase of fluids. It is important to continue to work on balance even if it is challenging (but always feel free to use a wall).
Stand sideways with your left side next to a wall. Take a few breaths to get grounded through both feet. Bend your left knee and turn your left leg out, placing your left foot above or below your right knee. Bring your hands into prayer (or half prayer, using your left hand against the wall to brace yourself).
As you gain more confidence in your balance, try reaching both arms overhead with the arms separated at shoulder-width. Hug your right hip in toward your midline as you wrap your left buttock underneath you. Draw your belly in by lifting your frontal hip bones upward and your lower ribs downward. Keep your collarbones broad. You can gaze either at the floor or straight ahead, or even upward if you’re feeling courageous.
Remain for 10 full breaths. To come out, bring your hands to your hips and return your left foot to the floor. Switch sides.
4. Side Angle (Parsvakonasana)
Strengthening continues to be very important throughout pregnancy in order to help balance increased mobility, but it can also serve a deeper mental purpose as we move closer to giving birth. Standing poses such as warriors and side angle can teach us to breathe into discomfort and to persevere when there may be self-doubt.
Come to the middle of your mat and face the long side. Step your feet wide apart and bring your hands to your hips. Turn your right leg out so that your toes point to the short edge of your mat and angle in slightly your back foot, leg, and hip. Bend your right knee until your thigh is level with the floor, aligning your knee over your ankle. Inhale your arms to shoulder-height into a T and then reach your right hand toward your front foot, tipping your pelvis sideways over your right thigh; bend your right elbow, resting your right forearm on your thigh, with palm facing up. Reach your left arm toward the ceiling. If your arms are long enough, you may be able to cup your belly with your bottom hand, connecting to your baby. Gaze straight ahead, or if it’s comfortable for your neck, look up toward your left hand.
Remain here for 10 to 20 breaths.
Over the course of your second trimester, try increasing your stamina in these standing poses by holding them progressively longer.
Come out on an inhale, lifting your torso upright. Straighten your right leg, bring your feet parallel, and switch sides.
5. Side Plank (Vasisthasana) Variation
As a new parent, it’s just as important to have strong arms as it is to have strong legs! We will be carrying around a child for the next few years and all that lifting and holding must be supported. This pose is also a great way to engage the core muscles while the spine stays neutral.
From tabletop, step your left foot back and straighten your leg. Your left foot is flat on the floor with the toes facing the side of the mat. For a strong base, align your right shin and foot with the arch of your left foot, or you can bring your right shin and foot out to the right a little to serve as a "kickstand." Now press into your right hand and start to open your chest to the side. Rest your left hand on your left hip as you steady yourself. On an inhale, reach your left arm to the sky. Spread your right fingers and press your right hand strongly into the floor. Press down into your right shin and left foot as well, as they are also part of your foundation. Keep your front ribs drawing in to keep your spine in a neutral position. Lift up through your sternum to cultivate more length in your torso. Look up to the sky if that feels good for your neck, and remain in the pose for 10 full breaths.
To come out, release your left hand back to the floor and return to tabletop. Switch sides.
6. Supported Fish (Matsyasana) on Two Blocks
As the body changes to accommodate the growing uterus and baby, postural habits may change as well. In particular, our shoulders tend to round forward. Unfortunately, this habit may only worsen once the baby arrives and we are constantly holding it wrapped in our arms. The second trimester is a good time to reinforce good habits of chest-opening through gentle backbends.
Set up two blocks in the upper half of your mat. Generally, the first block (the one closest to your feet) is placed wide and on the medium setting, and the top block is on the highest setting and also wide (but you can adjust heights depending on your needs). For example, you may well lower the heights if your upper back is tight.
Lie down with your shoulder blades resting completely on the first block and the back of your skull on the top block. Start with your knees bent and feet on the floor hip-width apart. Have your arms by your sides, palms facing up.
Straighten your legs and let them fall open loosely. If you feel any tenderness in your lower back, return to bent knees. Once you are comfortable, remain in the pose for 25 long breaths.
To come out, bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Roll onto your left side and rest before pressing up to sit.
Please note: Lying on your back, even on something supportive, may become challenging as you progress in your pregnancy. If you feel out of breath or light-headed, that’s your signal to come out of the pose.
7. Wide Straddle (Upavistha Konasana)
When practicing hip-opening poses during pregnancy, there is a fine balance between encouraging opening and maintaining support. On the one hand, we want our hips open as the body gets ready for birth. On the other hand, we also need to build strength and stability to support the marathon that is labor. This pose is a great way to do both.
Begin seated in staff pose (dandasana) with both legs straight out in front of you. Have a bolster and two blocks nearby. Separate your legs about three to four feet apart. Keep in mind that you’re not trying to get into your deepest version of the pose here. Though your legs are apart, imagine hugging your outer hips in toward each other.
Place two blocks on the medium setting just shy of the width of the bolster and stack the bolster on top of them, creating a pillow for your head. The height will also leave room for your belly. Fold forward and rest your forearms on the bolster, turning your head to one side. If your belly is compressed against the floor here, raise the pillow setup.
Remain in the pose for 30 breaths, turning your head in the opposite direction halfway through. Come out slowly on an inhale, either rolling up your spine or coming up with a long spine and sitting quietly for a moment.
8. Side-Lying Savasana
This version of savasana is an excellent alternative to queen’s pose. It is also a good opportunity to feel your baby kick, as babies tend to move more when we are lying on our left side (because of the increased circulation there). What a lovely way to end your practice, spending a moment connecting with your little one.
Come to lie on your left side. Bend your knees and pull your thighs up to hip-height. Place a bolster or rolled blanket between your inner knees and shins, and a block under your head as a pillow. This will also help to prevent neck compression. You can rest your right hand on your belly, or, if you have access to a second bolster or blanket, you can pull it toward your chest and wrap your right arm around it. Rest here for seven minutes.
Take your time coming out of this pose. Press up to sitting slowly, letting your head come up last. Then find a comfortable seat and rest both hands on your belly. Take a moment to breathe down into your baby.
Keep In Mind
The middle part of pregnancy is an exciting time for both the growing parent and the growing baby. Enjoy your energy when you have it, but also honor when you don’t. The key to a yoga practice at any point in pregnancy (as at any other time) is listening to your body, as well as listening to your baby. Just as your baby is super active some days and quiet others, we are the same! Let your practice support you wherever you both are each day.
Photography: Andrea Killam