How to help your body feel and function better!
I don’t know about you but I felt like a total celebrity during my pregnancy! No, not because the paparazzi wouldn’t leave me alone or because I rocked my baby bump in designer gowns. I felt like a celebrity because I had an entire team of people trying to keep me from falling apart. There was the chiropractor, massage therapist, naturopath, doula, and midwives, the whole nine yards. Okay, well maybe it wasn’t as glamorous as Beyonce’s pregnancy, but all that attention did feel great. It wasn’t until after my first son was born that I started to realize that I couldn’t purely rely on the professionals to keep me feeling good. It was something that I would need to be aware of and work on everyday… all on my own.
Pain is just a normal part of pregnancy, right?!
A woman’s body undergoes a ton of changes during pregnancy and it is incredibly common for women to experience pain and discomfort. Most women just assume that pain is a natural part of pregnancy; that it’s par for the course. What’s interesting is that most women move into pregnancy with some existing physical imbalances, that they may not even be aware of, and are then exacerbated by the fact that they are carrying around another human…. All. Day. Every. Day. These pre-existing imbalances may contribute to common issues we associate with pregnancy.
“It’s not actually pregnancy that is causing these issues but the fact that our body is already misaligned and then compounded with extra weight and pressure.”
Here’s the thing – the way we use our body on a regular basis GREATLY affects not only the way our body FEELS but also how it FUNCTIONS. By making a few changes to your alignment, you can reduce the amount of tension and pain you experience and even positively affect the way your body works during labor.
NOTE: This is NOT to say that there isn’t a DEFINITE need for health care and wellness practitioners! Sometimes a treatment, adjustment or a massage is exactly what our bodies need!
“We absolutely possess the ability to create change in our body and I firmly believe that we need to be engaged in our own health and wellbeing, not solely relying on the professionals. And here’s a little secret: the professionals are relying on you to do your part so they can celebrate your success with you!”
Now let’s look at the most common misalignment we fall into during pregnancy and postpartum and how it affects our body.
For the sake of a visual I’ve added a couple pics of my two-year-old son and I so we can take a look at a very common posture that both pregnant women and new moms (and really anyone who carries around a bunch of weight out in front of them) tends to slip into.
Take a look at my legs in the photo on the left. Notice how the line starts at my hip (the outer hip bone, also known as your greater trochanter for the anatomy enthusiasts) and falls down in front of my knee. This shows that my pelvis is not properly stacked on top of my legs and that I’m actually pushing my pelvis forward. This is a very common stance during pregnancy and postpartum because women are carrying a lot of weight out in front of them and generally we don’t possess the strength and support needed to counteract the weight of a growing or wiggly baby/toddler.
This misalignment can:
- Wreak havoc on our body because it overloads certain areas of the body while other areas become underworked and a little bit lazy. When we are properly aligned, our weight is evenly distributed through our feet, legs and pelvis, but this pelvic thrusting posture places excessive pressure on the front of the foot, the hips and lower back. As a result this excessive pressure on our body contributes to joint and muscle pain as well as some other major issues including plantar fasciitis, decreased circulation, varicose veins and diastasis recti.
- GREATLY affect the function of the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles act like a sling to support our internal organs and keep them in place while also working to keep us continent which is just a polite and fancy way of saying, it helps us not pee our pants! They also create stability and support for our pelvis and spine, they’re kind of a big deal.Both the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles naturally undergo increased strain during pregnancy (as they are meant to) but poor posture can work to increase this pressure. The pelvic floor muscles also play a HUGE role in childbirth and postpartum healing so reducing the amount of pressure and tension in the pelvic floor is incredibly important!.
- Cause long lasting dysfunction. Not only does this pelvic thrusting posture place excessive pressure on the pelvic floor but it can also shorten the muscles. The pelvic floor muscles attach from the tailbone at the back and to the pubic bone in the front so when your pelvis is pressed forward it pulls the tailbone forward slightly as well and shortens the pelvic floor muscles. Over time, short and tight muscles become stuck and stiff and can’t function very well.We’ve all experienced this in one way or another, like tight hamstrings from walking more than usual or a stiff lower back after moving a lot of heavy objects. This tension coupled with the excessive pressure placed on these muscles (not to mention the 30, 40, or 50 extra pounds of baby weight) can lead to incontinence, organ prolapse (falling down), back pain, pelvic pain, pubic symphysis (the separation of the two halves of the pelvis), compromised breathing, diastasis recti (the over separation of the abdominal muscles) as well as unyielding pelvic floor muscles.
- Cause mum bum. Ah, the infamous Mum Bum. A lot of my friends and clients complain that somehow after the birth of their babies they “lost” their bum. Well good news is, it’s still there. It’s just hiding. Or more accurately, it’s being squished! Like I said above, when we press our pelvis forward our pelvis tucks under and therefore our glutes get flattened a bit. We also tend to grip our glute muscles in an attempt to create some support because our body is being pulled forward when the pelvis is thrust forward like this, further con
tributing to tight flat bums. Read on to find out how you can help get your bum back!
So what do we do about all of this?!
It can feel a bit overwhelming for sure! Wouldn’t it be so much easier if there was a nice quick fix?!?! Unfortunately and fortunately, it’s not that simple. The great news is that we absolutely DO have the power and ability to make changes and affect the way we feel and how our body functions! Helping your body move toward a neutral alignment is key so here are a couple of tools that can help you assess your own alignment and help with your awareness of your pregnancy posture or postpartum posture.
How to improve your alignment: A Step-by-Step Guide
- Grab something you can use as a plumb line. A phone charger, laptop cord, or a dog leash can work. Something that is long and has some weight on the end. Now walk around, don’t think too much. Just walk. Then stop and settle into your natural standing posture, again try not to make little adjustments or stand how you think you “should”.
- Take your belt to the bone that sticks out on the side of your hip and let the weighted end of the belt hang down. How does the belt fall? Does it look like mine did in the picture on the left, with the line falling in front of your knee and leg? Ideally the line should fall straight down so your hipbone, knee and ankle are stacked vertically. This is not how the majority of us stand so don’t worry. Now you know and now we can begin to work on it!
- Bring your awareness down to your feet and notice where your weight falls. If you feel the majority of your weight is on the balls of your feet, shift the weight back to your heels. Not so much that you feel like you’ll fall backwards, however, it may feel very odd to you as your body is not used to being in this position.
- Let’s check in with the positioning of the pelvis as well. Now that we’ve got a good neutral alignment going on with our legs stacked vertically, which will reduce the amount of pressure on the legs, abdominals and pelvic floor, let’s check that your pelvis is in neutral alignment as well. Take the heels of your hands to the two bony protrusions on the front of your pelvis (this is referred to as your ASIS or more commonly as your hip bones). Let your fingertips point down toward your pubic bone. Check to see how your hands are aligned. We’re looking for your hands to be vertically aligned. Notice if your fingertips are in front of the heels of your hands or if your fingertips fall behind the heels of your hands.
Of course we cannot maintain perfect alignment all day everyday!
Nor should we. Our bodies are resilient and made to work in a variety of different positions BUT we often slip into habitual postural patterns without being aware of it. By starting to take notice of your alignment is HUGE! You’ll begin to:
- reduce the weakening of the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles
- reduce back pain, pelvic pain, neck and shoulder tension
- encourage lengthening of the pelvic floor muscles, allowing them to work better throughout pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period
If you found that your body tended to slip into that common forward thrusting position here are a few next steps to work on:
- release tension that is pulling your body out of alignment
- strengthen certain areas to help keep you in better alignment
- check in with a pelvic health physiotherapist to assess the function of your pelvic floor and core muscles
We will look at these next steps in more details in the coming weeks so that you have a better idea of how to do those things. For now, just start to notice your alignment as you move through your daily life and hopefully you’ll begin to feel a bit better. Finally, I want to add that, if you’re looking for some TLC, booking yourself a massage and having someone take care of you is never a bad thing!
‘Til next time – move well, feel well.