Carry, feed, rock, push, soothe – repeat. Looking after a baby in the first year of their life requires equal amounts of love, patience and strength! Breastfeeding can be particularly challenging – as a mom of two I’ve been there so I understand the rollercoaster ride. As a Pilates instructor and founder of BodyLove Pilates, an online Pilates studio created by a mother for mothers, I know that it doesn’t matter how easy or complicated you find feeding your baby – breast or bottle – it’s all bad for your back and wreaks havoc with your spinal alignment. It comes as no surprise then that back and neck pain is one of the most common complaints I hear from new mamas – you spend a huge amount of time in a rounded upper spine position feeding, rocking, pushing and carrying your little one!
I like to take a 4 step approach to improving postnatal posture & relieving pain;
1. Spinal Mobility & Stretching
2. Focused Deep core exercises
3. Finding correct back extension
4. Back & Arm strengthening
It is the combination of all four steps that will ensure you are finding length, strength and important core connection so you can look good but feel better.
*Top Tip – Make sure you are supporting yourself when you feed your baby. I loved the support cushion – My Brest Friend – I also put, what my husband refers to as my “useless” pillow collection to use! Getting in the right position from the get-go will have great benefits for your back.
Here are a few of my fav Pilates posture exercises & stretches:
Spinal Mobility & Stretching
1. The Rag Doll rolldown
SET UP – Standing with feet hip bone distance apart, soft bend at the knees & arms reaching up by your ears.
INHALE – Through your nose and nod your chin toward your chest.
EXHALE – Out your mouth as you feel a lift in your pelvic floor and scooping out of your belly begin to roll down toward the ground. Imagine you are a rag-doll. Heavy arms, no neck tension, slowly drooping over a barrel.
INHALE – Again when you reach your the ground (bending the knees more if you need to)
EXHALE – Out your mouth as your first pull your belly button to your spine, tilt your sitting bones down toward the ground and slowly rebuild your spine. Articulating each vertebrae at a time as your roll back up.
REPS – x3
2. Chest Stretch
TIP – As you stretch your chest try and keep the ribs closed at the front. This will increase the stretch.
REPS – X3 + Hold the stretch for 8 breaths.
Deep Core Exercises
1. Plie Thick Shake
* This is a lower body exercise but today we will focus on pelvic floor activation.
SET-UP – Standing with legs wide apart and your feet externally rotated (think 2nd position in ballet) – knees tracking over the second toes.
INHALE – Through your nose, bend your knees & lower your body down in the Plie. Imagine pelvic floor muscles releasing and stretching.
EXHALE – a long slow even breath out your mouth like you are fogging up a mirror and lift the PFM as you stand back up. Imagine there is a straw between your thighs and you are sucking up a thick shake as you stand back up to the start position.
REPS – 3 sets of 8
Challenge – hold the plie for 8 breaths – release and contracting your PFM with your breath. Repeat this 3 times.
2. Belly Button to spine
SET-UP – In the All Fours Position – Wrists under shoulders, knees under pelvis and your spine and pelvis in neutral. (If you find the all-fours position too hard start by doing this exercise from a seated position.)
INHALE – through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air and your stomach muscles to completely relax.
EXHALE – a long, slow, even breath out your mouth as you imagine your TVA wrapping around your mid-section, pulling your belly button in all the way to the spine, knitting the two sides of the abs together.
Rep – 20
CHALLENGE – Practice floating the knees an inch off the mat with your Exhale.
Finding correct spinal extension
The repetitive nature of caring for your new one often causes an exaggeration of curve in the thoracic or mid spine and appears like a rounding of the mid back. This can be painful and lead to on-going back problems. To counter the rounding forward it’s important to include lots of spinal extension – but finding correct spinal extension that targets the mid back can be tricky.
Try this position to make sure you are moving the thoracic spine!
SET-UP – Child’s pose – Butt on heels, toes together, knees far apart. The forehead is on the mat and the hands are flat on the mat next to the shoulders.
Inhale – Through your nose, as you begin to feel your shoulders melt down your back.
Exhale – Out your mouth as you first gently lift the pelvic floor, pull your belly button to your spine, then imagine you roll a marble with the tip of your nose and watch it off the end of the mat as your head and shoulders float up and forward. Imagine you have a spotlight on your heart and that is what is shining forward,. Try and keep your neck long and do not over lift the chin.
Inhale – again and maintain the position.
Exhale – again and lengthen back down to the mat.
REPS – 8
CHALLENGE – Hold the back extension and float the forearms off the mat to be in line with the
shoulders – Hold this position for 4 breaths. Remember to keep the belly in and don’t
sink between the shoulders.
Back & Arm Strengthening
SET_UP – Sitting up tall on both SITZ bones evenly, knees are slightly bent, feet flexed and the stretch band around the base of your feet.
INHALE – through your nose
EXHALE – a long, slow, even breath out your mouth as you first pull your belly button to your spine to stabilize and then slowly bend your elbows and draw them back behind you.
REPS – x10
TIP – Do not allow the spine the round forward as your elbows draw back by your side – instead imagine you are actually growing taller.
Ali Handley is a Pilates instructor, mother of two young children, and the founder of BodyLove Pilates – a online studio with 300+ video workouts dedicated to Strong Mamas – Pregnant, Postnatal & Beyond to ensure they work out smarter, safer and more effectively during this important time in their lives. BodyLove-Pilates.com