Welcome to the third trimester! You’ve made it to the home stretch. While it may feel as if the only thing happening is that you are getting bigger and bigger, there continue to be important developments throughout this period. All of them are in preparation for birth.
This final period generally spans week 28 to birth, which is generally expected to occur at 40 weeks. The gestation period, however, can vary quite a bit. In fact, research shows that only four percent of women actually give birth on their due date.
Some people feel ready to give birth as their body and energy slow down, well before that 40-week mark. Instead of fighting against the body’s own timing, why not use the third trimester as a special time to shift gears and prepare for baby? Babies do a lot of preparing themselves. As early as 36 weeks, their lungs and digestive system are fully functioning, and up until birth, the baby continues to gain weight and develop motor skills that are important for life outside the womb.
Other big changes occur in the baby’s position as it gets ready for birth. As early as week 28, babies begin moving into a head down position. It may take several weeks for the baby to be fully positioned, and many never manage to get into that position—for example, breech babies, where the baby is feet or butt down. Yoga and movement can be helpful to position the baby properly.
Another thing we must contend with toward the end of pregnancy is an increase in pelvic pressure as the baby drops into position. This can lead to sharp pains in the bladder and pelvic area, sometimes called “lightning crotch.” As always, speak with your healthcare provider about any new sensations in order to ensure they are in normal range. One of the positive aspects of the baby dropping down is that it creates more space in the area of the diaphragm! Enjoy the ability to breathe again before your baby arrives and you find yourself holding your breath for the next 18 years.
While we may not be able to do everything in our yoga practice at this stage, there is still a lot we can do. And as mentioned, movement is crucial in helping with baby’s position and preparation for birth, as well as for our general parental well-being!
The main considerations in a third trimester practice are making room for your belly and baby, honoring your energy as it slows down, grappling with increased swelling (which can lead to a host of issues, such as wrist sensitivity and edema in the legs and feet), and generally adjusting for any other pains or discomforts. For example, discomfort related to carpal tunnel syndrome is a very common complaint of pregnant people, so staying off the hands can be helpful.
At this point in pregnancy, movement of any kind can feel great, as well as be great for you. The following third trimester sequence is gentle enough that you can do it even on your lowest energy days, or you can repeat the poses twice if you’re feeling strong. It will help keep your joints lubricated, your spine lengthened, and your mind focused as you make your way to the finish line.
1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana) With Arm Strengthening and Wrist Rolls
A common complaint of people in the third trimester is wrist pain and sensitivity, particularly at night. The wrist rolls in this pose are helpful for alleviating some of that discomfort. There is also an element of perseverance in this variation, as it requires us to keep our arms raised for longer than we might prefer, which we can use as an opportunity to practice breathing through sensation—a very important skill to have in preparation for birth.
Begin by sitting on a blanket with legs crossed and your right shin in front of your left. Lengthen through your spine to avoid rounding forward, and align your head above your hips.
On an inhale, reach your arms out to the sides at shoulder height, palms facing forward, and make fists. As you exhale, soften the muscles of your upper back (the trapezius) away from your ears. Keep your arms outstretched for 10 full breaths. Breathe into the sensation. For an additional 10 breaths make small circles with your wrists in one direction, and then the other (five breaths each side). Your arms will be up for a total of 20 breaths per side.
Lower your arms, switch the crossing of your legs, and repeat.
2. Tabletop on Forearms With Hammock Rocks
We will continue to be sensitive to the need of the wrists with this pose: Coming to your elbows is a great way to avoid putting pressure on the wrists in tabletop.
This particular forearms and knees pose comes with a gentle hammock for your baby, which not only helps to relieve pressure off your own back, but can be soothing for your baby as you sway with your breath. Lastly, this pose can be a good alternative to child’s pose as your belly grows.
Begin to shift your body forward on an inhale and back on an exhale, rocking your baby with the breath. Rock for 20 breaths. Then pause on elbows and knees to rest for a few breaths before moving on to the next pose.
3. Upper Back Opener With Elbows on a Chair
Many big backbends are contraindicated during pregnancy, especially later term. This is because it can place too much strain on the linea alba, the connective tissue supporting the rectus abdominis and the lower back. But the upper back often gets incredibly tight in pregnancy as our center of gravity shifts forward. This heart-opener uses a chair (or ledge or sofa) to help create space in the upper back, while keeping space for baby, and it is gentle on the wrists.
Kneel in front of a chair with your hips over your knees and legs and feet hip-width apart. Place your elbows on the chair and bend them so that your forearms are perpendicular with the chair seat and your fingertips point up. Lower your head in between your arms, aligning your biceps and your ears. Press the back of your upper arm into the chair as you begin to melt your chest toward the ground. Use the hammock work of the previous pose to feel your belly and baby pulling up toward your spine. This will prevent overarching in the lower back and help you target the upper back. You can bend your elbows even further, resting your thumbs on the nape of your neck if you’d like.
Remain in the pose for 20 breaths, then use your core strength to come out: First exhale and lift your chest and head. Then lift your arms away from the chair and sit back on your heels for a moment before moving on.
4. Wide Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
One of the goals of a third trimester practice is preparing for birth. A recent study showed birth to be as physically strenuous as running a marathon—so they don’t call it labor for nothing! Labor is not just physical, but also mental. What better place to train our body and mind than on our yoga mat. Long holds in chair pose are one way to do this.
Stand at the top of your mat with your feet as wide as your outer hips. Inhale, reach your arms overhead in line with (or slightly forward of) your ears, and begin sitting back as you exhale, bending your knees into chair pose.
The key to chair pose is not how low you can go, but how far back you can sit—with the weight in your heels and your thigh bones releasing to the floor. Keep length in your lower back by anchoring your tailbone down toward the floor and drawing your front ribs down toward your pelvis. Broaden your chest and reach up strongly through your arms.
Try to stay for 25 breaths. If this is too long of a hold, start with fewer breaths and gradually build your way up to a longer hold. As you hold, rather than focusing on what feels painful or when you are going to get out of the pose, remind yourself that this is temporary. Train yourself to redirect your attention in the midst of discomfort by choosing another body part to focus on (e.g., aim for a stronger reach through your fingers or a softening of your face).
After your final breath cycle, firm your legs to straighten them and stand up. Release your arms by your sides.
5. Dynamic Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana) With a Hold
A common complaint from third trimester yogis, especially as they approach full term, is pubic pain and discomfort. The pelvic bones begin to move and widen in preparation for birth, but sometimes they move asymmetrically. This can lead to pain, especially when one side of the body is doing something different than the other is, like warrior II or simply walking up stairs. Symmetrical standing poses where both sides do the same thing can be very helpful for continuing to build leg strength, without overstraining the pubic region.
Stand in the middle of your mat facing the long end. Step your feet out a few feet apart. At this point in pregnancy, it is especially important to not go too wide in your stance as that can lead to more strain on the already unstable pelvic bones. Turn your legs out so that your feet are at 45-degree angles. Inhale, reaching your arms overhead, and as you exhale, bend your knees to about 90 degrees and lower your arms to about shoulder height, palms facing up and elbows slightly bent.
Continue to move with your breath, inhaling your legs straight as you reach your arms overhead, and exhaling as you bend your knees and lower your arms to shoulder height.
Repeat five times. After the fifth breath, hold the squat for 10 full breaths. Finish your final exhale and then firm the legs to return to standing. Parallel your feet and step them hip-distance apart to finish.
6. Seated Double Pigeon Variation
Hip pain and soreness are other symptoms of shifting pelvic bones and can be quite uncomfortable. Many of the go-to hip openers we know and love are not always accessible during pregnancy. This seated version of double pigeon utilizes props to help pregnant people experience deep release through their outer hips, while also accommodating their growing bellies.
Sit on your mat and bend your left knee, pulling your left heel toward your groin. Place a bolster horizontally in front of you and lift your right leg up, bending your knee and putting your outer shin on the bolster. You can stay seated if you prefer or begin to fold forward. Make sure the bolster is far enough in front of you to allow space for your belly. You can have your hands on the bolster as you fold or on blocks placed further out in front of you. Keep your spine lengthening by reaching your chest forward and releasing your trapezius away from your ears.
Close your eyes if you’d like, and settle in for 25 breaths. It can be meditative to count the inhales and exhales, which is good preparation for counting the breaths during labor.
After your last breath, come up slowly, lean back, and switch the position of your legs for the second side.
7. Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
Sure, your body is moving more slowly nowadays and energy can seem like a distant memory. But part of the benefit to this more languid pace is that it is a great time to get quiet and fuel up for the big new adventure coming your way. Forward bends are excellent poses to support this inward energy, though many can be a challenge with a growing belly. This wider-leg version of head to knee pose gives pregnant people the opportunity to fold in and get a great hamstring stretch, all the while leaving room for baby.
Start by sitting on a folded blanket on your mat with both legs straight. Bend your right knee and let the thigh fall open, pulling your heel just midway up your thigh. This is unlike the traditional shape where we would pull the heel all the way to the groin, because we want to leave a gap for the belly when we fold. Open up more space between the legs, bringing the legs apart. Walk your hands forward and place your fingertips on the floor on either side of your left thigh (or on two blocks if you need more height). Maintain a long spine. Use your inhales to crawl further forward, and exhales to fold more deeply. To avoid scrunching your shoulders, keep your neck lengthening. Close your eyes or gaze softly down toward the mat.
Stay here for 20 breaths. Come out slowly on an inhale, keeping your spine long. Switch your legs and repeat on the left side.
8. Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani) Variation on a Bolster
The belly is not the only body part that grows in pregnancy. Our feet tend to as well! Swelling in the feet (edema) is extremely common in the third trimester. While it may slow us down a bit and limit the shoes we fit into, most swelling will resolve itself after birth. (Of course, with any bodily changes, be sure to check with your doctor to make sure it is within normal range). Meanwhile, the following gentle inversion can be helpful for reducing edema.
Set yourself up in queen’s pose: About one foot from the wall, place a bolster vertically on an angle, with two blocks at ascending heights propped underneath. Double up a blanket and put it on top of the bolster to use as a pillow. Slide yourself in between the baseboard and bolster, taking your legs up the wall. It may take a few tries to find the appropriate distance for your proportions. Ideally, your sacrum and sit bones will be on the floor.
This pose should feel restful, as we will be here for some time. At this stage in pregnancy, if you feel any breathlessness when on your back, opt for lying on your side (as found in this second trimester sequence). Otherwise, begin to settle in here. Let your arms relax by your sides with palms facing up. Close your eyes if you’d like and let the props and wall fully support you. Start to slow your breath down, and when you feel fully relaxed, even let the conscious breath go.
Remain here for five to seven minutes if possible. (This pose is also a great stand-alone if you need a quick respite.) To come out, begin deepening your breath once again. Wiggle your fingers and gently turn your head from side to side. Slowly slide your legs down the wall, bending your knees, and gently roll off the bolster toward the left side.
Come up to a comfortable seated position and sit quietly for a moment, allowing the benefits of your practice to soak in. Allow a full breath in and out before resuming your day.
Keep in Mind
As the body slows way down in these final weeks of pregnancy, it can be an invitation for us to slow down as well. We’ll need all the energy we can muster once it comes time for the birth. Remember, they do not call it labor for nothing!