For 15 years I have worked in the fitness industry. My entire business is about pre- and postnatal fitness. But it isn't until you're in the role of a mom that you realize how hard motherhood is on your body. Ask any physical therapist or chiropractor and they are likely to say that new moms are one of their most seen populations.
Although new moms are not likely to spend a lot of time thinking about their body mechanics, this is when their ligaments are instable and their spine is more vulnerable to injury. It's ironic that when a woman is at her weakest and most out of alignment, she has to take on her most challenging physical role as a mother.
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Workouts for new moms should consider the changes that took place during pregnancy and labor, but they also should take in to account maternal movement patterns. Moms need to learn good lifting, carrying and holding techniques, in addition to a postnatal workout.
Feeding / Nursing
New moms feed their baby every one to three hours for the first few months of baby's life. Some of the biggest postural strains come from poor feeding positions. Some moms sit down anyplace, anywhere to feed their babies. Make sure to use a good chair with back support. A footrest can take strain off the back and increase blood flow.
The most common feeding position is for mom to lay baby on her lap and literally hunch down to reach baby. The upper back rounds over and the shoulders roll forward. Instead, use a nursing pillow which brings baby up towards you. Depending on your size, you may even need additional pillows to raise baby so that you can feed in a neutral spine position. You are going to be in this position a lot so it's important that you use good posture whenever you can. If you talk on the phone while nursing, you will undoubtedly crook your neck to hold the phone. Instead, use a headset to keep your neck in neutral alignment.
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Babies like to be held and moms do a lot of it! It seems natural to always hold baby on same side of body. Just think about the muscular imbalance that will be created if you hold a weight on one side of your body every day. Not to mention that moms usually juts their hips out as a baby rest. Muscles, ligaments and discs will all be strained by this asymmetrical posture. You should do your best to hold baby equally on both sides.
It will feel awkward at first, kind of like writing with your non dominant hand. But it is possible and you will get used to it. When possible, hold baby in the center of your body using both arms. You will naturally hold baby with shoulders rounded forward and stretched upper back muscles. This is the primary reason for spasms that many moms experience in their shoulder girdle.
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Do your best to keep shoulders down and back, and abdominals strong, while holding baby. Hip holders are available to distribute weight of baby so you do not have to push hip out as a baby rest. Carpal tunnel is a common condition during and after pregnancy due to edema around the median nerve. Moms often crook their wrist around baby to give baby more support as she moves about her day. This repeated wrist position can exacerbate or create pain in the wrist area. If you experience carpal tunnel syndrome, you must be hyper aware of the repetitive motions of baby care and adjust your wrists accordingly.
Baby carriers have been around for thousands of years. They used to be simple pieces of fabric that literally strapped baby to mom. Now, there are countless models available. There are slings, backpacks, frontpacks and wraps. All are wonderful at soothing baby and freeing mom's hands. They also have some advantage in terms of dispersing the load on the body. All can be very tough on the back. It is almost impossible to keep the chest from collapsing and the spine in neutral alignment.
Consider that you are moving about your day, often sleep deprived with this weight load on your spine. Be very careful about your posture and your movement when using a baby carrier, particularly when doing twisting motions. Focus on lifting your chest and bracing your core (abs) when using a baby carrier, and always bringing your shoulders back.
The weight of baby can actually be very effective when doing scapular retractions, lunges or squats. Always make sure that baby is secure first and foremost! Look for baby carriers that have ergonomic design in mind and offer padded and adjustable straps to make the fit as good as possible.
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