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Functional fitness for new mums

The movements required by motherhood are demanding and often not recognised or considered when mums undertake post-natal exercise. Ligaments are unstable, the spine is more vunerable to injury, and mum’s are not likely to spend a lot of time thinking about their body mechanics. Its ironic that when a woman is most out of alignment, she has to take on her most challenging, physical role. So, here we look at ‘maternal movement patterns’ and relate them to proper lifting, carrying and holding techniques.

Feeding & nursing

Some of the biggest postural strains come from poor feeding positions. Mums should make sure they use a good chair with back support at feeding times and the use of a footrest can take strain off the back and increases blood flow back to the heart. Often mums lie the baby on their lap and literally hunch over but this causes the upper back to round and the shoulders to roll forwards. Ideally mum should use a nursing pillow to bring the baby towards her. If you’re using the phone at the same time use a headset so you can maintain cervical spine alignment and aren’t crooking your neck.

Holding the baby

Mums do this a lot and it seems natural to hold the baby on the same side of the body. However, this habit creates a muscle imbalance and puts strain on the muscles, ligaments and spine, especially when mum juts her hip out as a baby rest! The baby should be held equally on both sides of the body and when possible held in the center of mum’s body with both hands. Although it will feel awkward at first, it will become automatic and is the easiest way to allievate the muscle spasms that mums experience around their shoulder gridle. Mums need to do their best to keep their shoulders down and back and their abdominals activated when holding the baby.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition during and after pregnancy due to edema (swelling) around the median nerve. Mum will often crook her wrist around her baby to give more support as she moves about her day. This repeated wrist position can excacebate or create pain in the wrist and so mum needs to be aware of her repetitive motions of baby care and adjust her wrists accordingly.

Baby carrier

In the form of slings, backpacks, frontpacks and wraps, baby carriers are soothing to the baby and disperse the load on mum’s body. They can, however, also be very tough on the back as it is almost impossible to keep the chest from collapsing. A sleep-deprived mum moving about her day should be very careful of her posture and movements when using a baby carrier, particularly when doing twisting motions. The use of a carrier with the weight of your baby can be a very effective tool for exercising, i.e. shoulder blade retractions, lunges and squats, as long as the exercising mum focuses on bracing the core and using controlled movements. Look for baby carriers that have ergonomic design in mind and offer padded and adjustable straps to make the fit as good as possible.

Pushing a stroller

One size does not fit all!!! The stroller should be tall enough so mum can walk with good form, i.e. she shouldn’t have to bend down to hold the handles and should be able to take natural strides, even when running. A common posture when pushing a stroller is the shoulders rounded and elevated with the head jutting forwards, this can cause neck tension, pain and headaches. Mum should aim to lead with the chest to keep the shouldes back and keep the chin tucked in, with her wrists in a neutral position. If you use a double stroller then alternate the children’s seats regurarly otherwise you will always be pushing a heavier weight one side, again leading to further musclar imbalance.

Toys

When you are picking up baby toys or car seat carriers etc, aim to perform a perfect squat every time. Ensure you bend from the knees, with your abdominals activated and clencing your butt muscles to stand, as this will protect your back and exercise your legs and core too! Remember the further an object is away from the body, the heavier and harder it is as well, so make sure objects are brought close to the body before lifting! It’s the repetitive motions done incorrectly and seemingly harmless that end up reeking havoc on the body.

Functional fitness is about training movement and not just muscles. If the dramatic physical changes that occur due to pregnancy and your new role of motherhood are not taken into account then imbalances and possible injury will last far beyond childbirth. Make sure you look after YOU as well as you look after your baby.

Courtesy of Kelly Marshall at The Body Project

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