From the rapid changes in the months of pregnancy to the multitasking demands of motherhood, all you feel like doing is slumping over on the couch at the end of the day. But there are things you can do daily to help improve the pains and strains that come with postural changes that the body goes through.
Common changes you may see during pregnancy and after birth include:
Forward head carriage as a result of changes in the spinal curves lower down.
Increased curvature of the upper back (thoracic kyphosis) as a result of the increase in breast size and weight.
The pelvis angle tipping forward (anterior pelvic tilt) along with an increased curve at the lower back (lumbar lordosis) as a result of the belly growing forward and outwards.
This can lead what is commonly referred to as ‘upper crossed syndrome’ and ‘lower crossed syndrome’ which shows how tightness in one area generally leads to lengthening and weakness in an opposing area. Here, we see:
tight chest muscles (like the pec muscles), coupled with weak and lengthened upper back and neck muscles (head/ neck flexors)
tight hip muscles in the front (hip flexors) and lower back (such as the lumbar segment of the large erector spinae muscle) as well as weak / lengthened muscles at the back (hip extensors like the glutes).
So where to start?
The areas of tightness and weakness can impact and change how the body moves in day to day activities, even with simple processes like breathing. If you're experiencing challenges with tightness and pain during pregnancy it is optimal to address at this time to avoid these musculoskeletal issues compounding and causing further issues down the track.
During pregnancy and in the post-natal period, some things you can do to improve posture include:
Understand how breathing techniques impact pelvic floor health (for example, breath holding or bearing down whilst exhaling may overload the pelvic floor muscles)
Practice pelvic floor exercises – not only in one position but many positions that the body moves through in day to day tasks.
Practice engaging deep core muscles like the Transverse Abdominis, and reduce the extent of abdominal separation by avoiding overloading muscles like the Rectus Abdominis (good ol' abs).
Practice diaphragmatic breathing and re-train your breath to work synergistically with the deep core and pelvic floor muscles, especially before returning to exercise in the post-natal period.
Know the level of monitoring and support you may need to heal abdominal separation (diastasis recti) - keep in mind that almost all women experience this by the end of the third trimester!
Use appropriate stretches for the upper chest and shoulders, and strengthening exercises for the upper back to reduce rounding of the shoulders.
Use appropriate stretches for the hip flexors, and stabilising/ strength exercises for the glutes.
(More to come on Mummy Moves on all these daily strategies!)
With all that in mind, we know as mums that the first priority is our kids, and thinking about how we breathe may not be at the top of the to-do list. For most women, the medical check-up that usually occurs for baby at around 6 weeks post-partum is a good opportunity to seek support from the GP. This may be a good time to address concerns with recovery, or seek referral to a women's health physiotherapist who can assess and create a support and management plan that caters to your individual needs. Just as every women is different, every pregnancy, birth and recovery also depends on many variables.
My mantra as a mum, especially with a newborn and toddler, is to remind myself of what the real priorities are - being at my best so I can give my best. It is hard to give your best to your kids when you are running on low battery. Take note of the things that have you feeling this whole motherhood thing is a tedious task that has you curling up into a ball at the end of the day - and do less of those things. Of course, some days, this is unavoidable. But MAKE time for rest, or a nice relaxing bath before bed (once the kids are finally down!), talking to a friend, prayer, seeking medical support – what ever it is for you that helps you to pull your shoulders back, breathe deeply and keep your head high. Keep reminding yourself that time to heal is just as important (actually more important) than a mopped floor or a neatly folded pile of washing. There is alway another day for all that.