Decent Mom Posture, Step One: Stretch what's tight

So I started last Monday begging you not to hunch over your stroller (or grocery cart) and haranguing you to sit up straight at the computer.

Why yes, I HAVE turned into your mother!

Remember, mothers are always right! (I can say that now that I am one.)

Today, we're going to talk about stretching muscles that tend toward tightness in pregnancy. As noted in the previous post's comments, stretches specifically for nursing mothers that focus on neck and shoulders can be found here.

In attempting to list stretches for transitioning your posture out of the childbearing slouch, I need to generalize, so focus on what is true for your body and realize that if you try the stretch, adjust it a couple of times and it still doesn't do anything for you - hurray! It's possible you don't have a tight muscle there! Go you!

(Or it could mean that that particular stretch doesn't work for you or that I don't know what I'm talking about, which since I haven't worked as a Pilates instructor or massage therapist in years, is entirely possible.)


Stretching your shortened, tight muscles and strengthening the long, weak muscles will make good posture the best kind of habit: effortless, healthy and attractive. By stretching the tight muscles first, you create more space for your joints to align differently and allow the weak muscles to work more easily and safely.

Before any stretching, you should warm up your whole body. Imagine your muscles are taffy: just as warm taffy is more pliable than cold taffy, so too are your muscles. So start by taking a ten minute walk around the block/your house, go up and down a flight of stairs ten times, jog in place for 5 minutes, or dance around your living room to two really great songs (my current favorite warm up songs: "She's Got Me Dancing" by Tommy Sparks and "I've Been Thinking 'Bout Somethin'" by Hanson) (Yes, that Hanson.). Warming up your muscles increases the blood flow to them which allows them to stretch more safely and effectively.

The muscles that generally get tight in pregnancy due to changes in gait and postural stresses include:

1. iliopsoas (hip flexors, deep muscles in the front of your hips)
2. quadraceps (knee extensors, muscles on the front of your thighs)
3. lower back muscles (partiucularly a lovely little guy we'll call the "hip hiker")
4. hip external rotators (deep butt muscles that turn your leg out and result from and/or cause a waddle)
5. hamstrings (backs of thighs)
6. calf muscles (back of calves)
7. pectorals (front of chest))
8. internal rotators of the shoulders (front of shoulders)
9. shoulder elevators (tops of shoulders)

Let's start with the pelvis because it sure goes through the wringer in pregnancy. It's also the center of good posture.

Imagine your pelvis is a bowl. When you're pregnant, the weight of the baby pulls your pelvis forward, spilling the bowl toward your toes. Your abs lengthen and your hip flexors shorten - both significantly. This is called an anterior pelvic tilt (the top of your hips are in front of your pubic bones), and what we hope to achieve is a return to a neutral pelvis (the top of your hips are aligned over your pubic bones).

Image snatched from this website, who swiped it from somewhere else, no doubt.

To address the front of your hips, I like a lunge stretch, and do it often when I'm helping pick up legos, or playing with my kids on the floor, or watching TV.

(What can I say? My kids, husband and friends are all used to me stretching at random intervals.)

Lunge Stretch: Do this either on a soft carpet/mat or with a pillow under your knee. (Notice my house is bit of a mess. I left that all there on purpose. Because this is how it really is: I leave the mess and I stretch on top of bits of playdough and dog hair. Priorities!)

Pictures helpfully, if not totally perfectly, taken by Z.

The most important part of this stretch is how you're aligning your back as you do it. As you sink forward and breathe deeply into the stretch, pull your navel in to support your spine and don't lean back. You should feel this stretch in the front of your hip. Do both sides, imagining that with each breath, the front of your hip gets more and more open.

Now if you want to add some intensity, and a stretch for your quads (the front of your thighs), try bending your back knee and grabbing your foot.

Make sure the pressure is above your kneecap, NOT on top of it.

Next up: Lower back muscles.

As your hip flexors shorten during an anterior pelvis tilt, so do the muscles in your lower back - it's a lovely tug of war. Plus if you have any toddlers/lazy preschoolers (*COUGH COUGH * Z * COUGH*) in your life, you're probably also used to balancing a child on one hip while you cook dinner/shop/fold laundry/talk on the phone/ETC.

Cat/cow from yoga is an easy, gentle way to get your whole spine moving. Repeat a bunch of times, and go slow so you can feel all the spinal joints moving. Remember to keep your shoulders away from your ears and use your belly to pull your navel into your spine as you move into cat.



Rest in child's pose when you're finished.

Next, a gentle twist wrings out your spine.

The most important thing to note about this stretch is to focus the stretch through the whole spine, NOT your neck. The top of your head should be reaching taller and taller as your twist, rather than cranking you around.

From this seated twist, let the top ankle stay crossed over the bottom knee and drop the top knee open (this anchors your hips, increasing the following side stretch.)

Notice that the hip on the side I am stretching is kept down by the weight of my foot that's crossed on top. If you are flexible in this direction, you'll be able to get your elbow down on the ground, otherwise, just side bend and put your hand down. Keep your body stretching just to the side, no leaning back. Pretend you are being pressed between two panes of glass.

From here, transition to a glute stretch by slowwwwwly moving your body around toward the front of the room. (If this is too tight or uncomfortable on your knees, place your "top" foot on the floor in front of the "bottom" foot.) Keep your spine reaching long and your shoulders relaxed away from your ears.

Breathe into your butt. Yes, really.

That waddling duck walk from pregnancy with your feet turned out? Yeah, that certainly tightens up the deep rotator muscles in your butt. That last stretch will address one aspect of that waddle. The next one gets different muscles from different angles.

Start here:
Feet wider than shoulder-distance.

Cross one ankle on top of the opposite knee and drop that knee into toward the center of your body, trying to keep your hips down on the floor. Once again, breathe into your butt.

As part of pregnancy gait, our stride often shortens, which can significantly shorten your hamstrings and calves.

I like to lie down when I stretch my hamstrings (E likes to help me with this one!) You can grab your foot or use a belt. Use your other hand to help keep your waist long and your hip down. After a few breaths where you're pulling your foot toward the same side shoulder, angle your leg across your body, aiming for the opposite shoulder, for a few breaths.

Last up, a slow calf stretch at the wall.

As for the upper body stretches- check out that post I did about Reversing your Baby Holding Hunchback. That's the stuff right there.

Happy Stretching!

(Next up! Strengthening!)


KG said...

These are such great reminders!

And I LOOOOOVE that Z took the pictures! What a great job she did!

Anonymous said...

wait. Z took the pics? Amazing! I love this post. I really need the reminder to stretch out my hips/butt. Two other stretches I'm loving just out of the fourth trimeter (thank god!): wide-legged forward bend with head heading toward floor (this is my starting point for everything); twisting my forearms outward (to reverse the cruel demands placed on my thumbs and wrists.)

BTW, I used your pilates for the people during my second post-natal month.


grammalouie said...

As I began reading this post, I automatically started sitting straight up (which I had not been!).
Thank you for this. Even though I have not been pregnant for over half my life (and you know how long it's been), these stretches are valuable and helpful to me.
Go Z - what a great photographer!
lots of love from me

parkingathome said...

When I started going to a chiropractor for my mutant spine issues, the necessity of stretching ALL THE TIME finally clicked for me. I happened across the butt stretch with one leg on top of the other, and I have an intimate relationship with that one. I will sit and work each side for what seems like forever, until my chest finally makes its slow way down to the ground. I love how you can take something as simple as tucking your chin in a little and suddenly all these muscles you didn't even know hurt are sighing with relief. I need to work on the "working them into daily life" thing instead of the "when I get up and before I go to sleep, sometimes" thing.

Also, I love your faces in the pictures. Some of them are like "come on, honey..." and some are like "did you get it?..." and some are like "you know I'm sexy with my tall neck and my straight spine." (Perhaps I made up that last one, but I covet your spine)

Stephanie said...

This post = Awesomeness.

Cortney said...

Thank you! As a chiropractor in my former life, you'd think that I'd be on top of all my stretches. Nope. In my current sleep deprived state (i.e. enter my toddler's canine teeth!) I really forget to stretch and breathe. Thanks for the friendly reminder, I feel much better now.
P.S. I love those shelves and wall color!

Marie Green said...

Z did a great job with the photos! And I'm loving this series... though I will admit to thinking about my posture the second I see your name or think of you. As if you are watching me! :)

Since I'm currently pregnant, I'll be sure to look these up when I have my body back.

Bronwen said...

I'm a little creeped out -- are you reading my mind and then writing posts accordingly? Just the other day I was thinking about how I need to search your blog for good stretching ideas for moms.

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