It is difficult enough to keep up with the demands of motherhood when your body is feeling good. Tight shoulders, headaches and low back pain can drain your energy and your patience. Recognizing poor posture and working on using correct alignment as you move can help you avoid excess strain on your muscles.
Your posture affects you in every movement you make. In fact even the non-movements you hold are affecting how your body feels. Joint and muscle pain, tendonitis, back pain, fatigue, breathing problems, even poor digestion will occur when the body is not aligned. For new mothers paying attention to proper alignment is crucial to regaining proper muscle tone and organ function as well as preventing muscle tiredness and injury.
Posture vs. Alignment - Why it matters
Posture is the relative position of a body part or an expression of how the body looks. Alignment is the orientation of each part of the body working together. When the body is in alignment, each part is working correctly so the whole body can function properly. Consciously correcting your posture and moving with your body in alignment can protect you from injury and leave you with more than enough energy to use throughout your day.
The proper function of your core depends on your alignment. In fact, if you are trying to exercise your core muscles, the Transverse Abdominis and Pelvic Floor can’t contract correctly if you are not using proper alignment. Maintaining “neutral position” of the spine and hips aligns your skeleton so that each muscle can work properly with the least amount of effort. Paying attention to your posture just after you have your baby (when your core is weak) will help re-train your core muscles to work properly in alignment with each other. When you fall into bad habits of posture you begin over-strengthening muscles (like the Internal Obliques) and not strengthening others (like the Transverse Abdominis). This counteracts proper core function and creates a dangerous pattern of compensation that leads to imbalance, tired muscles and injury.
Working on posture and alignment
To help you recognize correct patterns of alignment in your everyday movements start by being more aware of one body part, your head. Let’s start with a common movement - browsing on your smartphone. If your head weighs 12lbs, and is positioned over your shoulders, hips and feet then that weight is distributed across your spine and you can carry your head around all day without getting tired. When you bend your head forward as commonly seen while texting it becomes exponentially heavier; 12lbs of weight, has become 60lbs that your back muscles have to hold, not to mention the increased force on your upper thoracic spine that is now pressing on your intervertebral discs.
The further away your head is from midline the heavier the strain becomes on your back muscles. Now apply this principle to your low back, but you also have to add the weight not just of your head but your upper body as well. In a 140lb female her upper body is about half her weight = 70lbs. So as you bend forward at the waist, your back muscles must take up the strain of not just your head but your upper body as well. The resulting forces on the low back the further away from midline the head moves increase exponentially to an estimated load of nearly 1000lbs per inch – if the core is not activated. With proper core activation this weight is distributed across the length of the spine instead of directed at, for this example, the lower back.
As you see, part of protecting your spine is having a core system that is working. To keep each part of core system working properly you must have good alignment. Your posture and the alignment you when moving make your body either work to support your spine or direct forces in ways that can cause injury. Here are a few suggestions to help you work on your posture, and some techniques to improve your alignment with everyday movements.
Stand Tall – If you were to stand against a wall your heels, buttocks, shoulder blades and back of the head should all touch the wall. Many people find that their shoulders roll forward, this brings the head forward, flattening the low back and leaves them in a hunched position. With weak core muscles you fall into this posture because there’s not much holding you up. Instead, start from the bottom of the torso, allowing the hips to rotate forward returning the curve in the lower back. This helps bring the shoulders back. Add to this movement by straightening the chest and lifting through the back of the head. Then slightly draw in the belly. Now your heels, hips, shoulders should be aligned. You can check yourself using the wall test described in Phase One. Standing, compared to sitting, reduces stress on your low back by about half.
Work Tip: Create an option to raise your work platform to accommodate a standing position at least some of the time.
Sit like a Lady (not a slouch) - Lead with your backside when you sit down. Sit up on your sit bones (ischial tuberosities) by rotating your hips forward, then back into neutral position. Straighten your chest by rotating your shoulders back and away from your ears. Then tip your chin down a tad. Lift through your spine to the top of your head. Have your feet flat on the floor. Now take several deep breaths, allowing your belly to go out as you inhale and drawing your lower belly in with the inhale only slightly. Nice. Now relax…wait! How? Bolster behind your low back with a pillow while sitting on a couch or driving a car. Adjust your seat in the car, at the table or on the couch to support your body in this correct posture. While breastfeeding, use a nursing pillow to lift the baby up to you so you can relax your upper body. At your work desk, adjust the height and back of your chair. Are you straining your neck or constantly leaning forward to reach your work? Your computer screen should be at eye level, and your keyboard just above your waist. If you experience wrist, back or neck pain or even cold feet – these may be signs you need an ergonomics evaluation.
Work Tip: Most workplaces have someone trained to evaluate your work desk to make sure it fits you well. Ask your human resources department if you do not already know who this person is.
Bend and Lift like a weightlifter (or a Yogi) - Instead of reaching for something, move your feet closer and hold the object close to your body. Keep your head over your hips and lift with your legs. While your core is weak after childbirth you should avoid repetitively bending forward at the waist. Once your core is activated, as you bend forward keep the neutral curve in your low back (like in yoga or if you were doing a Romanian deadlift) and use your imagery to activate your core prior to bending. You use the same alignment when lying your baby in his crib or doing the dishes.
Recognizing signs of poor posture and misalignment – like neck and shoulder muscle pain or frequent tiredness, pain in your low back or ribs, popping of your hip, abdominal weakness, even incontinence (leaking urine), can alert you to address your posture in everyday tasks of motherhood from rocking your baby to sleep or lifting a laundry basket, to cheering on your ball player from the stands. Your medical provider or chiropractor can assist you with persisting alignment discomfort. Once your spine and pelvis are aligned, exercise like those done in Mommy Ready Postpartum Program can strengthen your core system and help keep your body aligned and well!