Having a baby or young child enter your family is a dramatic change! From lifestyle to routine to what happens/happened to your body – all of it impacts your overall health. From strictly a physical standpoint (which is the goal of this blog post today), there are some main areas of attention that moms need most after having a baby. And one of the cool things is, even if you’ve become a mom through adopting a baby or young child (one you’d regularly be carrying or holding), these principles can apply to you too!
First, we need to focus on breathing well. I’ve posted about this before as the #1 thing you can do for your postpartum body. You can read more there about the many benefits of breathing. Here I’ll focus on physical benefits in more detail. When we breathe, our muscles around our lungs expand, so that impacts ribs, belly, chest, pelvic floor. If we breathe properly (360 breathing, evenly, up down and all the way around), we expand and contract all of these connected muscles/parts evenly. If we do not breathe properly (e.g., lifting ribs or shoulders, only belly expansion, shallow breathing), certain muscles tighten (often the paraspinal muscles in your back, sometimes pelvic floor too) and other muscles weaken (in a postpartum woman, often the core, and for any moms holding young babies, you can easily become one-sided, depending on how you carry the child). So to help with this, we learn to breathe properly (and gain awareness of how/where we aren’t) and work to strengthen core and release tight back muscles. Core is a little complicated, so I’ll save that for a future post. But, there are a couple of exercises I recommend to release tight back muscles in the previously mentioned post, so be sure to check that out!
Second, we need to think about posture. Did you just sit up straight? I usually do when someone mentions posture. So posture is more than sitting up straight. We want to think about head-to-toe alignment, while still not being rigid in how we move around throughout the day. Head should be in line with the spine, not pressed forward or with your chin overly tucked or lifted. Shoulders should be back but not so much that you’re squeezing your shoulder blades together all the time. Ribs should be over the pelvis, not lifted or tucked down (many postpartum women find they have a tendency to lift ribs to breathe, which is related to not having any other way to breathe at the end of pregnancy when the baby was taking up space…and women, regardless of whether or not they were pregnant or adopted a child, can find a tendency to carry the child on one side of the body, which can promote lifted or flared ribs on one side…also not the best for breathing). Also, when carrying a child, many women find themselves leaning their torsos backwards, putting pressure on the low back and changing how they breathe. Next, moving down to the pelvis, we want the pelvis to be in a neutral position. Think of it as a bowl: we don’t want it to tip forward or backward; it needs to be neutral to keep everything where it is supposed to be. Check out my Instagram or Facebook for a video this month on how to check for anterior vs. posterior pelvic tilt, and thus how to find neutral. Moving down the body from the pelvis, knees need to point forward and be under the hips. Feet also need to point forward, carrying even weight across three points (ball of foot, near base of baby toe, heel). It’s a lot to think about! And that’s why I say we don’t want to be rigid in how we move throughout the day. Without appropriate strength throughout your body, having “good” posture is difficult. Really, helping improve our posture is part awareness (which now you’ll be able to pay attention to more, since you have a few things from this post to think about) and part strengthening your body where it needs strengthen to support this proper posture position (then you won’t have to think or work hard at it because it will become more natural).
Third, we need to balance our core muscles. Remember how I said core was complicated? I’ll add this to my list to post at a later date, but in short, we have many types of ab muscles. When they are all doing their part, we move well and breathe well. Sometimes, however, some abs take over and others don’t step in to help. When this happens, the pressure within your abdomen changes and can cause or contribute to issues you may have experienced, like leaking, back pain, or diastasis. For example, if you grip your upper abs with regularity, pressure is forced downward which can cause more pelvic floor challenges. Weak transverse abdominals (lower abs that are like a corset around your body) can make it hard to heal diastasis. Also, when you lean backwards to hold your child (thus putting strain on your low back), this is usually due to core weakness (no judgment, it’s super tough to add 10-40 pounds to the front side of your body (in the form of a kid)!). That said, there are exercises to help re-balance your core. Let’s talk about one today for weak TAs; I like to start by finding them…so you know how to engage them and strengthen them. So, try this now:
Find your transverse abdominals and create tension in your abs:
Lie on your back, knees bent and feet planted on the ground, and slightly tuck your pelvis under (narrowing the gap between your low back and the floor). Take a deep breath in, relaxing your pelvic floor. At the bottom of your exhale, squeeze your pelvic floor (contracting it, like when you do a Kegel) and when you can’t squeeze it more, start to engage your lowest abs. To check that this is happening, place your fingers on your hip bones and then move them inward about half an inch. You’ll feel the abs underneath your fingers step in to help your pelvic floor as it contracts. While this tension is there (in pelvic floor and lower transverse abdominals - under your fingers), inhale and exhale slowly. Then release. Try again, and take a few breaths this time. The goal is two-part: 1) Find the lower transverse abdominals and become aware of how to engage them separately from surrounding abs, and 2) Learn to breathe while hold tension in these abs (this is key to maintaining proper pressure…if you have to hold your breath while holding tension, you will add pressure from this area and force pressure up and out, which can cause other issues). You can advance this exercise once you have mastered these goals in a ton of ways!
Lastly, because our body is interconnected, we need to look elsewhere in our bodies for where we might need release or strength to balance our muscles (often referred to as the kinetic chain, meaning when we work one area of the body, we can and do impact other areas). I think it’s so fascinating to hear stories about people strengthening their feet and arches, which resulted in being the key to resolving their pelvic floor challenges. This can be highly individualized but supports the case for total body exercise and working with someone who specializes in women’s health. When I work with individuals, I look at the full picture, from how they breathe and stand to how they move in various exercises. It’s a puzzle to figure each person out, and there are a lot of great exercises to get you started. If you want to dive a little deeper, message me with your questions so I can post at a later date, or let me know that you want more information on working together individually. I can help in person or virtually!
Whew! Lots of info in this post, and I hope it’s helpful. Before we part ways, let’s pause together briefly, take a deep breath, and reflect on all that our bodies do for us, and all that we can be grateful for.