4/4/11

How to stop walking/sitting/standing like a pregnant lady

So you had a baby. Maybe it was a few months ago, maybe it was a few years ago. Either way, your body is yours again.

So how about we make sure you're not still walking/sitting/standing like a pregnant lady?

First off, I need to inform you that I am NOT a doctor of any kind. My training is as a Pilates instructor and massage therapist, so please understand that I can neither diagnose any medical conditions nor give actual medical advice. If you are in pain of any kind, I beg you to see a doctor before listening to me (or any other wacko on the internet). Pain should not be ignored and doctors/chiropractors/physical therapists are qualified to help you.

With that said, can we all agree that doctors are awfully fond of medication and surgeries and not so good at subtlety and health improvement? And what I'm interested in (and vaguely qualified to talk about) is taking careful stock of your body post-baby and improving your muscular balance so that good posture is easy. So if you've already seen a doctor, or you aren't in any pain, let's proceed.

Actually, one last caveat: I am just as in need of this advice as anyone else, so please don't assume I have perfect posture. I have had to adjust my posture 8 billion times in the writing of this post alone!

If you've ever been pregnant, I don't have to tell you that your body undergoes tremendous change during pregnancy - and after. Your posture changes, some muscles tighten, others weaken, your stance and gait are altered both by the weight of your baby/babies and the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. Your entire body - just like your life - gets turned inside out by childbearing. Unfortunately, many of the less desirable bodily changes remain after your babe vacates the womb, when you are the least inclined and able to focus on yourself.

In my next post I will be helping you identify which of your muscles are tight and how to stretch them, because when one set of muscles is tight (such as your lower back), the muscles immediately opposite (like, oh say, your abdominals) have a much harder time working properly and progressively weaken. So we'll start with the tight muscles and then a follow up post will help you identify which muscles are weak and some of the best ways to strengthen them.

In the meantime, the first rule of good posture is this: your function becomes your form. That is, how you use your body directly shapes how it looks and feels. When we are children, a slouch can be fleeting, leaving not a single mark behind. The older we get, the stiffer and more restricted our joints get, the more those momentary slouches form your body into that shape until it's uncomfortable - or, even, virtually impossible - to sit up straight.

How you use your body when you are pregnant, or any other time of postural stress, can stick with you. A waddling walk, a poochy stomach, a hunched I've-just-been-nursing-a-bowling-ball posture, can stick around for years, or your whole life, if you don't do something to stop it. Simply sitting up straighter - pelvis underneath your ribcage, head in line with the rest of your spine - is a start. Consider adding a reminder alarm on your computer to remind you to check your posture at regular intervals.

Before I sign off for today, can we talk about walking with a stroller for a second? Ladies, listen up, this is important: your stroller is NOT A WALKER. (And NEITHER IS YOUR GROCERY CART.) You are not an infirm, elderly lady who needs to lean on top of your stroller for dear life. Function becomes form, remember? So hunching over your stroller, for however many minutes/hours/years you do it, molds your upper back into a less than pretty, not to mention potentially damaging, position.

Drop those shoulders, put your elbows in by your waist and let the forward momentum of your whole body propel the stroller rather than the top of your shoulders. Your arms should be relaxed, elbows bent by your sides, as the muscles of your arms and shoulders are not the prime movers of the stroller. Rather, imagine your arms are a passive extension of the motor that is your lower body.

Your assignment: If you push a stroller or a grocery cart in the next few days, drop those shoulders, let your legs and the forward momentum of your pelvis - your whole lower body - propel you both forward.

Lord knows we'll all be pushing walkers soon enough.

9 comments:

Stephanie said...

I look forward to this series! I am not so bad about using carts/strollers as a walker, but my upper body is all out of whack after six-plus years of carrying a child almost exclusively on my left hip and carrying a too-full purse/diaper bag almost exclusively on my right shoulder. You'd think the two things would balance out, but they don't. My right shoulder is actually noticeably lower than my left when I stand straight and look in the mirror. Do you . . . have an exercise for that?

Sarah Filchak said...

Thanks in advance for the upcoming posts! I have one week left in my pregnancy and I can only hope that my body returns to some normalcy in the upcoming months.

I do have one question for you, do you have any stretches that you can recommend for neck/shoulders for those early days of breastfeeding. With my daughter I just remember feeling so tight and really in pain those first days (probably too from looking down at her with a mom's love!!), but if I could have had a permanent masseuse to rub my shoulders and neck, I would have. I guess I'm hoping you can recommend something I can give a try.

Thanks!

Sarah Filchak
filchak@sbcglobal.net

Bird said...

So I practiced this today! I found that if I pushed the stroller out a little further ahead of where I usually push it, it was easier to keep my shoulders back and stand straighter.

Keep 'em coming!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Stephanie- That's a complicated question and one that is best answered by someone who can view your posture and assess what's going on. But I will say that addressing your pelvis first is a good idea. In the next post, I'll show some stretches for your lower back/hips that may help address some the pelvis issues and then the shoulders may line up better as a result (Though it's common for many of us to have one shoulder noticably higher than another- due to use, usually.)

Sarah- Welcome! Congrats and good luck on your last week of pregnancy! Whee!!

I hear you about the strain of nursing on our backs and necks. I actually posted specifically about post-nursing stretches here: http://cluelessbuthopeful.blogspot.com/2009/07/reversing-baby-holding-hunchback.html . Try them and let me know how they work for you!

Bird: I ran into a friend at the grocery store today and we both were standing NICE AND TALL with our shopping carts, oh yes we were!

Your experiment interests me because I notice that, for me, I need to cozy right up to the cart/stroller because my arms are short. Do you have long arms?

(I'm also one of those people who have to sit right up next to the steering wheel to reach it comfortably without slouching and would possibly be entirely suffocated by the airbag, should it ever deploy.)

grammalouie said...

Today as I pushed a cart through Wegmans, I tried my hardest to stand straight and tall. As I glanced around, though, I was amazed at how many people I saw who were slouched over their carts. I guess we all need to be watchful and mindful of this.

Sarah Filchak said...

Thanks so much for the link to the stretches!

parkingathome said...

I use the stroller as weights. When we're walking up a hill, I push the stroller forward like it's a barbell and then walk toward it, over and over. You can get a good amount of reps in and it breaks up the monotony of a walk a little. I look like a dork though, but what else is new?

clueless but hopeful mama said...

parkingathome- Hahaha! I'm always looking like a dork (lunges with the stroller anyone?) so I'll have to try your stroller push-ups. My only concern would be being able to do it without hunching over. Maybe it works as long as you're not too tall for your stroller.... hmmmm... will investigate! Thanks!

parkingathome said...

That's why I do it only when going up hills. gives you more room between yourself and the stroller, and you can't hunch over it because you're pushing it away from you!

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