When pregnant, strong backbends are contraindicated. As the pregnancy progresses, the lordotic curve (inwards curve) of the lumbar spine becomes exaggerated due to the increased weight of bubs in the belly. If we then add a backbend to this already compressed lumbar spine, we could run the risk of spinal injury, vertebrae or disc damage.
Additionally, it is also integral to engage the core in all of our backbends to ensure proper pelvic and lumbar spine alignment. However, when pregnant, we are trying to avoid compressing the abdominal region where the baby is growing so it would be unsafe to attempt any strong backbends.
However, there are a few lovely backbends that are safe during pregnancy and ones which I tend to modify with. I have demonstrated these below:
Bitilasana (Cow Pose)
This is a great option for any prone asana (lying on the tummy) such as Salabhasana (Locust Pose), Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) or Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) etc. Here we try to open through the chest by bringing the gaze upwards and opening the chest forwards between the upper arms. Usually, we would dip the spine toward the mat, however, this could cause hyperextension in the lumbar spine region so it is safest to try to maintain a flat lumbar spine and neutral pelvis here. It's also a good idea to try to relax through the rectus abdominus (our ‘six-pack’ muscles in the front of the abdomen) and try to focus on gentle engagement of the side abdominals (transverse abdominis and obliques) instead.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose) Variation
Here we still get the benefit of opening through the chest and front upper body but without compromising the lumbar spine and over engaging the rectus abdominis. If you feel comfortable the head can be released backwards for the cervical spine extension opening through the neck and massaging endocrine glands located in the neck.
Salambar Supta Baddha Konasana (Supported Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
Here, there is a gentle yet supported and restorative backbend with the added bonus of a hip opener. Hip openers are a great way to prepare the body and pelvis for labour and birth. This pose also opens through the chest and front of the shoulders which helps to counteract the common hunching posture we gain when working at a desk, driving, lifting kids etc. This chest opening and posture is also very important postnatally when there may be a lot of upper body endurance needed when picking up bub, breastfeeding, hunching to change nappies etc.
Salambar Matsyasana (Supported Fish Pose)
This is a little stronger on the lumbar spine and could be uncomfortable late in pregnancy due to the reclined position (2 bolsters in a T-shape would be more appropriate for the 3rd trimester) but is a lovely alternative to a regular Fish Pose. Here we are safely extending the spine with that added support of the bolster. Be careful when coming out of this pose, ensuring we roll to one side and then use the arms to support the body to sit up, rather than using the abdominals to sit up immediately from lying down - a good one to remember when getting out of bed in the morning as well!
So if you are pregnant but still want to explore that extension in the spine and some of the benefits of backbends, give these alternatives a whirl!