Pregnancy Yoga Stretches for Back, Hips, and Legs

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on July 21, 2016Written by Multiple authors
gentle stretches pregnancy

For pregnant women, stretching can offer many benefits. It can help you stay fit, relaxed, and prepare you for labor. More importantly, it can help ease some of the aches and pains you might be experiencing.

But there are some things to keep in mind before you get started. Relaxin is a hormone that’s present in the body. During pregnancy, levels of relaxin increase. It helps the body relax the cervix and ligaments during delivery.

Relaxin also lubricates and loosens the joints and ligaments of the pelvis, which can allow you to overstretch in activities like yoga. For this reason, stretching too enthusiastically can be dangerous, as it may cause injury.

To avoid any potential problems, try not to go deeper into poses than you could before pregnancy. If you’re a beginner, “gently and slowly” should be your mantra.

Be sure to get your doctor’s approval before practicing prenatal yoga. Certain pregnancy complications might make exercise dangerous.

Try out these poses for a relaxing routine that helps manage the aches and pains you might feel during your pregnancy.

Pregnancy stretches for sciatica and back pain

Cat-Cow

Cat-Cow Pose

This stretch will help gently strengthen your lower back, decrease hip and lower back pain, and help with round ligament pain.

It can also increase spine mobility. Increasing the circulation of your spinal fluid helps lubricate it all day long. This can help ward off new pain and ease what’s there.

Equipment needed: yoga mat

Muscles worked: spine, arm, abdominals, and back

  1. Begin on all fours. Keep the tops of your feet flat on the mat, shoulders directly over your wrists, and hips directly over your knees.
  2. As you inhale, drop your belly, letting your back arch, but keep your shoulders rolled back and down while looking forward and slightly upward. This is Cow.
  3. As you exhale, press into your hands and round your upper back, while looking in toward your belly. This is Cat.
  4. Continue moving on your arch on your inhales and round on your exhales.
  5. Repeat at least 5 times.

Seated piriformis stretch (modified Half Pigeon)

Seated piriformis stretch

This stretch is helpful for those with low back or sciatic pain. The piriformis muscle is a small muscle deep in the glutes that can spasm during pregnancy. This can often cause back and leg pain because of its close relationship with the sciatic nerve. Gentle stretching of this muscle can help decrease tightness and pain.

Equipment needed: chair

Muscles worked: spine, piriformis, glutes

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Cross one foot over the other knee in the shape of the number “4.”
  3. As you exhale, slowly lean forward keeping a flat back until you feel a stretch in your lower back and buttocks. Think about elongating your spine rather than curling your shoulders in toward your lap.
  4. Hold position for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on other side.

Child’s Pose

child’s pose

This resting pose is great for gently stretching those aching hips, pelvis, and thighs. You’ll also stretch the spine, especially the lower back.

Muscles worked: gluteus maximus, rotators, hamstrings, and spinal extensors

  1. Begin on all fours on the mat, with your knees directly under your hips.
  2. Keep your big toes touching. This will give your belly room to slide between your knees and avoid putting strain on your hips. You can also widen your toes if having them touching puts any pressure on your knees or does not provide enough room for your belly.
  3. Inhale and feel your spine grow longer.
  4. As you exhale, take your butt to your heels and lower your heads towards the mat while tucking your chin to your chest.
  5. Rest here, with your forehead on the ground. You can also fold a blanket or use a yoga block and let your head rest on it if the ground is far away. Keep your arms outstretched.
  6. Hold this for at least 5 deep, even breaths.

Pregnancy hip stretches

Bridge

Bridge

Bridge provides a gentle stretch for your hip flexors. It can also help strengthen your lower back, abdominals, and glutes. It will help relieve hip and lower back aches.

Note: Bridge is officially considered a backbend in yoga. You’ll want to avoid “big” backbends during pregnancy, but this gentle stretch can help with aches and pains and bring about pelvic awareness. This can benefit you during labor.

Equipment needed: yoga block (optional) for restorative or more challenging poses

Muscles worked: gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, rectus abdominis, hip flexors

  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. They should be approximately hip-width distance apart, but can be more spaced out if it’s comfortable. Keep your arms straight alongside your body and if possible have your legs bent enough that your fingers can graze the backs of your heels.
  2. As you inhale, curl your pelvis until your lower back is gently pressing against the floor, then gently lift your hips and back off the ground, pressing evenly into your feet, keeping a neutral spine.
  3. Hold for a few counts.
  4. As you exhale, gently roll your spine back onto the ground, one vertebra at a time.
  5. As you relax preparing for the next lift, be sure your spine is neutral. Your lower back should be slightly off the ground, respecting the natural curve of your lumbar spine.
  6. Repeat 10 times.

Take it to the next level

To take this hip stretch to the next level, you’ll want to have a yoga block handy. You will be resting your lower back on the block. This will give your hip flexors the opportunity to open up more.

  1. Begin by following steps 1 and 2 in Bridge pose above.
  2. When you get your hips above chest level, slide the yoga block under your sacrum. The block can be on any level/height. The main thing is that you need to feel stable enough to rest your pelvis’s weight on it.
  3. If you had relatively flexible hips before pregnancy, you can lift one foot, point your toes, and tuck them backward onto the floor. The top of your foot will now be aimed toward the ground.
  4. Once in place, relax completely and take 5 slow, deep breaths.
  5. Slowly untuck your toes and switch feet. Repeat on the other side.

Bound Angle Pose

Bound angle pose

This seated pose is a hip opener. It also stabilizes and helps brings awareness to your pelvis. You’ll stretch your inner thighs, back, and neck.

Try it as a supported pose with a yoga or birth ball for you to lean on.

Muscles worked: inner thighs, hips, and back

  1. Sit on your mat and bend your knees, bringing the soles of your feet together in front of you.
  2. Grab hold of your toes and draw your feet gently toward your pelvis.
  3. Inhale and sit up tall on your sitting bones, not your tailbone. You don’t want your pelvis tucked here.
  4. As you exhale, press your knees to the ground. Keeping your spine straight, gently begin to bend at the hips, taking your torso toward the ground.
  5. When you get as far as you can comfortably go, release any tension in your neck by dropping your chin.
  6. Stay here for 3 to 5 slow, even breaths. If possible, gently lean farther forward with each exhale, but be sure not to overstretch.

Lunge

 lunge

This stretch is helpful for those with tight hip flexors, the muscles that run along the front of your hip. These muscles can often get tight during pregnancy due to changes in the position of the pelvis.

Equipment needed: pillow or yoga mat

Muscles worked: hip flexors, glutes, core

  1. Begin kneeling on the floor with your knees on a yoga mat or pillow for comfort.
  2. Step one foot forward so that both your front knee and hip are at 90-degree angles.
  3. As you exhale, slowly lean forward, putting weight into your front leg. Square off your hips by rotating your back hip forward until you feel a stretch down the front of the hip and thigh.
  4. Hold onto a wall or chair for balance, if needed.
  5. Hold position for 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat on other side.

Pregnancy stretches for legs

Forward Fold

Forward fold

Hamstrings, the large muscles that run along back of your thighs, often get tight during pregnancy. Tight hamstrings can lead to low back pain, leg pain, and poor movement patterns.

Equipment needed: none

Muscles worked: hamstrings, low back, calves

  1. Begin standing on a mat with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed forward.
  2. Lean forward with a flat back and slowly lower your hands toward the floor.   
  3. Continue until you feel a stretch down the back of your legs. You can rest your hand for support anywhere that is comfortable, but avoid resting the hands on the knee joint itself.
  4. Hold position for 30 seconds.
  5. To increase the stretch, walk your hands over to one side, then the other until you feel a good stretch.
  6. Repeat 3 times.

The takeaway

Pregnancy is a time when many things are changing in your body, which may cause aches and pains. Muscle or joint pain during pregnancy can affect your ability to perform daily activities as well as decrease overall quality of life. Taking part in exercise during pregnancy, as well as seeking the help of healthcare professionals such as physical therapists and chiropractors, can greatly improve pain and allow you to enjoy pregnancy to its fullest.

Try doing these stretches every day to ease some of the most common aches associated with pregnancy. They may improve your flexibility and strengthen your spine and core muscles. Daily exercise may also help prepare your body for a successful labor. 

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