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Is It Safe? Hot Yoga During Pregnancy

Is It Safe? Hot Yoga During Pregnancy

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I recently found out I was pregnant – I love to workout, mostly running and hot yoga twice a week, but I am unsure whether or not I should continue the hot yoga? I have seen so much online that says I should not be participate in hot yoga when pregnant and in the first trimester, but my doctor actually said I should be fine as long as I don’t get light-headed. Is hot yoga safe? The room is humid and heated to 90 degrees. Please advise.

Thanks,
M

So blah blah blah I am not a doctor, and typically I skip these sorts of questions because there’s little I feel comfortable advising beyond “talk to your doctor.”

You already did that. And I’m going to have to disagree with your doctor.

Your online searching was correct: hot yoga (Bikram) is strongly discouraged for pregnant women. Please don’t do it, particularly in the first trimester. The risks and dangers of overheating a developing embryo and fetus are very real, and many medical experts liken hot yoga to things like hot tubs, saunas and electric blankets (which pregnancy women are also to avoid completely, not just in the first trimester). And while there haven’t been any large-scale studies (mostly because…um, nobody is gonna ask a ton of pregnant women to sign themselves and their fetuses up as guinea pigs), there are plenty of trusted medical sources out there that strenuously advise against it, including the Mayo Clinic and Motherisk Team at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto,

Here’s a layman’s language take on the Motherisk Team’s study and analysis, which found that women who suffered from hyperthermia during pregnancy (from fevers, hot tubs, suanas, electric blankets, etc.) were TWICE as likely to have a baby with a neural tube defect (spina bifida or anencephaly). The dangers of excessive heat are real, yo, and while regular sweating during a regular workout isn’t going to pose a problem, pushing yourself in a 90-degrees-and-humid environment definitely increases your odds of raising your core temperature too high.

(You know who DOES encourage hot yoga during pregnancy? JENNY MCCARTHY.)

Generally the “exercise during pregnancy guideline” is that pregnancy is a bad time to start some new, challenging routine or activity you’ve never done before, but anything you were doing before is just fine to continue. (Provided you stay in tune with your changing body and accept that you may have some new limits.) So running, for example! Keep running! Running is awesome and perfectly safe. But because of the heat and the change in your body temperature, hot yoga is a different animal. The heat is the issue, not the exercise. (Note that even experienced yoga instructors in this thread caution against Bikram during pregnancy and anecdotally report that they themselves stopped the activity during their own pregnancies, just to be safe.)

Naturally, there are plenty of anecdotes out there (mostly on websites affiliated with Bikram or Bikram studios, hmmm) from women who continued doing hot yoga while pregnant and were JUST FINE and WHATEVER. And that’s great! And I’m definitely willing to concede that a lot of the fears and warnings we hurl at pregnant women about RISKS TO UR BABYYYY are vastly overstated. But in this case, I just don’t think it’s worth taking the risk. There are other forms of yoga that are perfectly safe during pregnancy and beneficial to the mother…and they don’t come with the possible risk of hyperthermia. Just because you skip the Bikram doesn’t mean your only other choice is sitting on the couch doing nothing for nine months, you know?

I would strongly encourage you to switch to a prenatal or “regular” yoga class, with these guidelines in mind, at the very LEAST until you’re in your second trimester and the baby’s neural tube has closed (around the 28th day of pregnancy). And keep running! Just, you know, in non-100-degree temperatures.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Lauren

    Great advice as usual, Amy, but I think it’s important to note that not all “hot” yoga is bikram yoga. Many different kinds of yoga including vinyasa can also be practiced in warm rooms. In bikram, I believe the room is often heated to over 100 degrees and the style of practice is quite intense. I have done vinyasa yoga in heated studio (typically 80-90 degrees) for years and both my doctors and my instructors said I could continue to practice while pregnant, as long as I stayed hydrated and took frequent breaks. I know “M” did not specify what kind of hot yoga she practices, and of course, everyone should speak with their doctor. 

  • Kaylo

    Actually audibly snorted when “JENNY MCCARTHY” was placed into evidence that this is unlikely to be a scientifically supported practice.  Bless.  

  • Tiffany

    My hot yoga studio (moksha, not birkham) won’t allow pregnant women to participate in the hot classes (they offer special prenatal classes, though). Obviously, you’ve got a couple months where you could keep going before you show, and some of this may be for liability issues (although, I’m in Canada, so this doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue as it can be in the States) Either way, I feel like if M is asking despite her Doctors assurance that it’s okay, she’s not feeling 100% sure about it, and sometimes you’ve got to go with your gut.

  • MD

    Dehydration is a very real risk, as well. Even mild dehydration can cause contractions. When I was pregnant, I had to undergo a nonstress test because I was having strong contractions. They made me chug several liters of water, and boom…the contractions stopped. I had no clue I was dehydrated. It was a hot spell, weather-wise, but I hadn’t been doing anything vigorous, just hanging out around the house. The nurse told me they always have a bunch of women admitted for contractions caused by dehydration every time there is a heat wave. It was  very expensive and frightening. Anyway, my experience with hot yoga is that it is very dehydrating on a good day, so it seems risky to do it while pregnant.

  • Holly

    Please add this information about the heating pads and electric blankets to the Pregnancy Calendar. I knew about not using saunas and hot tubs, but had never heard about not using heating pads, which are my go to remedy for menstrual cramps. This letter was well timed for me, I am 5wks pregnant and have been using a heating pad for the cramping. 

  • Laura

    I say listen to your doctor and your body on this one as I don’t think the heat of a 90-degree hot yoga studio is in and of itself a danger. But both heat and the hormonal changes of early pregnancy contribute to low blood pressure so you definitely shouldn’t push yourself if you’re at all uncomfortable or lightheaded. Take it day by day and don’t feel bad if some days you’d rather take a nap than exercise.

  • Traci

    Can we also throw out there that hot yoga does nothing more for you than regular yoga except put you at risk for dehydration and hyperthermia? Given that there is very little, if any, benefit to hot yoga vs. normal yoga (based on scientific study), it seems unwise to put yourself at risk let alone a baby. Normally I’d say to each his own and shake my head at people who push so hard for very little extra benefit, but it’s a whole ‘nother ball game when another life is involved. Just do regular yoga while you are pregnant and give yourself peace of mind. You can go back to exercise martyrdom after the baby is born.

  • June

    You may feel fine with it now but as you progress it may get really uncomfortable. I am always freezing yet with my pregnancies I ran really, really hot starting around five months. That, coupled with a hot humid room would’ve made me feel like crap. I also second the whole hydration issue. It is so easy to get dehydrated while pregnant, let alone adding extra heat. If you do continue remember to stay as hydrated as possible.

  • Ali

    I’m not a yoga practitioner, but do exercise a good bit.  My doctor is an exercise fanatic, and her advice was don’t get overly hot and don’t do anything where you are gasping for breath.  Based on that, I cut out interval work and ran at a slower pace than I typically run.  I ran until 28 weeks (first pregnancy) and 32 weeks (2nd), but had to move to lower impact exercises late in each pregnancy when my hips bothered me.  I say hold off on hot yoga–why risk it when there are good alternatives (like regular yoga)?  Yay for exercise during pregnancy—at least for me, I am convinced it made my labor, delivery, and recovery MUCH easier!

  • Oh hey! This is actually something I know about (as opposed to most Ask aAmy posts where I’m frantically taking notes, TEACH ME AMY I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING)

    Soooo: ACOG recently updated their guidelines about pregnancy and exercise (Dec 2015) and for the first time specifically mention “hot yoga and pilates”— as in, don’t do them. This is a big deal as the guidelines have actually gotten much more lax/liberal over the years, but hot yoga is not advised.

  • Julie

    Another risk of hot yoga is slipping and falling on someone else’s sweat (or your own!). Not worth it. There’s lots of great prenatal classes and videos out there that will help you strengthen and stretch where a pregnant mama needs it most (and not all are singing to your fetus while gently cupping your belly, haha!).

    I loved the prenatal classes on myyogaworks.com!

  • Jessie

    GD MF Jenny McCarthy, man.

  • K

    Jessie’s comment LOL. Also, while I am all for exercise while pregnant, I’m with all the folks that recommended switching to not hot yoga (there are a million kinds I swear). I too experienced dehydration (and I was drinking water and NOT exercising a ton!), and it resulted in two expensive ER visits. Now, my body wasn’t great at pregnancy, so I’m sure there was that (whatever “that” is that makes some women miserable during pregnancy and others amazingly glowing and so forth) BUT – it’s easier than you think to get dehydrated and it’s no fun to get those ER bills or get put on extra restrictions because you tried too hard to keep doing things your non-pregnant self could do 🙂 Just switch it up for awhile, maybe for the peace of mind.

    • Kim

      Seriously! Most rational people wouldn’t take grocery-bagging advice from JM. Why are we listening to her about medical advice?