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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Next up! Strengthening!)