Guest post! Last week Zeena Dhalla shared her story of adopting her daughter from India, and today she’s sharing her professional expertise. Zeena is a former Pilates instructor and her current practice focuses on improving her clients’ posture, with all the myriad health benefits that brings. She’s offering tips for those of us who spend days and nights hunched over a baby, or a computer, or both. Read on and feel better! (And then high-five yourself for being so awesome at self-care.)
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You’re barely sleeping. You’re still recovering from delivery, and any “core” muscles you once had are a distant memory. Both breastfeeding and bottle feeding cause you to hunch over for long stretches of time. You bend over to rock the baby, you twist and turn to get the baby out of the car seat, and you tiptoe into the room like a ninja and cower over the crib to make sure the baby is breathing in the middle of the night.
Suffice it to say, as a new mom, your posture sucks.
And this isn’t just a vanity thing; almost all new moms suffer from some sort of body pain, be it back, neck, abdomen or hips. (It’s probably even worse if you spend significant amounts of time typing on a computer.)
Plus it can be incredibly hard to get into a workout routine to counteract the body issues that come with caring for a new baby.
In my case, before I became a mom I was used to working out regularly as I loved the way it made me feel. But the lack of sleep once my daughter came home left me too fatigued to get back into a routine. I actually developed tendonitis in my wrists as a result of picking her up so much! “You need to work on your posture as it affects the nerves in your hands and wrists” my Physical Therapist said to me, not exactly knowing what I do for a living. I couldn’t tell him my profession, as I was embarrassed in that moment to admit that my career was to fix other’s people’s posture.
So I’ve been there. And I want to help other moms improve existing pain, plus prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are some easy exercises you can do at home – with your baby if you like – to help you feel better and look better.
Incorporate better bending into your everyday movements.
Most people bend wrong. It may sound basic, to simply bend over and pick up your kid, but doing it wrong can create wear and tear on the spine. How many times have you heard of someone bending over to pick up something as benign as their laundry and throwing out their back? Yep, that really happens, and it’s serious. Luckily, it’s easily prevented.
Instead of bending from the spine, the key to proper bending is to learn how to hip hinge. Bending from the spine can compress the vertebrae and force you to use the weaker muscles to lift. Bending from the hip join allows the bigger muscles, such as the glutes and hamstrings, to do the heavy lifting, and keeps the spine intact. You can hip hinge when bending into the car, over the crib, and even learn to hip hinge when picking something up off the floor.
Place your hands on the crease between your upper leg and pelvis. Stick your butt backwards and stick your chest out. It may feel silly, but hold this position, then begin to bend over making sure you bend from this crease. As you bend over further, make sure your back stays in the same position and doesn’t start to round. You should feel a mild stretch in the back of your legs.
Pull your shoulders back, even if you’re holding the baby.
The default position while holding a baby is to hunch forward. The cradle position is biomechanically designed to create a “cradle” around the baby with your shoulders. However, this is not the only way a baby has to be held. If a “cradle” is the most comfy for the child, grab the opposite wrists, instead of elbows, to make the cradle. This separates the arms a bit and allows you to pull the shoulders back more easily.
Holding a baby face out in a sitting position is an alternative to the cradle position and much better for your posture. Holding on one hip is clearly popular for moms as it frees up one hand to do many tasks. However, hip holding can be disastrous for the body’s alignment, especially if you’re not careful to change hips. It’s important when standing with a child on one hip to ensure you are not sticking your hip out to the side and standing unevenly.
Finally, a front baby carrier is often a popular way to hold a new baby. The weight in this position can bring the shoulders forward, however this is a great opportunity to use the resistance of the baby to actively work the back muscles. Once your bundle is securely attached in the carrier, take the hands behind you and actively feel what muscles is takes to pull away from the baby and squeeze your shoulders together. Most moms will want to place their hands on the baby in front of them, however if you take some time to open up, and pull your arms behind you, your back and neck will thank you in the long run!
Do posture exercises at home with your baby.
Once you have the clearance to exercise, strap your baby into a front carrier and use her as extra weight to help your strength training! Here are a few to start with.
- Shoulder Openers
Stand with good posture holding weights (3 to 8 lbs) with the elbows bent at the sides and the palms face up. Keep the elbows locked into the sides of the body as you open up, separating the hands away from each other. Be sure to gently squeeze the shoulder blades behind you. Slowly return the arms to the starting position, and repeat for 10 to 15 repetitions.
- Towel Pull
Stand with your arms behind you, the two ends of a towel in each hand, and the palms facing away from the body. Be sure that the arms are at least shoulder width apart. Keeping the arms straight (don’t bend at the elbows). Pull the two ends of the towel away from each other, creating resistance while your arms are behind you and your hands moving away from each other. Release gently.
- Baby Deadlifts
Stand with the feet hip width distance apart and the knees slightly bent. Hold your baby, but be sure that your shoulders are still pulled back and that you are not rounding forward. Hinge from the hip joint while sticking the butt backwards and the chest forward. Hinge until you feel a mild stretch in the back of the legs. DO NOT let the upper or lower back round forward at all. Stand back up slowly as you straighten the legs, and repeat for 10 to 15 repetitions.
- Walking Lunges
Stand with the feet hip width distance apart and the hands holding the towel behind you. Step forward with one leg, and lift the back heel so you are balancing on the ball of the back foot. Bend both knees (you will dip down), slowly keeping your back straight. Make sure the weight is in the heel of your front foot. Rise back up and bring the back leg to meet the front. Repeat on the other side and complete 10 to 20 repetitions total.
There are a myriad of exercises you can do with the baby in the carrier, but the most critical piece is to make sure that you are not allowing this front carrier to bring your shoulders forward! Remember that it’s important to take care of your body, and good posture is critical to good health!
Zeena Dhalla is a Certified Posture Specialist and self proclaimed posture GEEK. She specializes in helping people feel less pain and look leaner though exercise and stretch routines. Learn more at www.VerticAlign.com.