Our bodies experience many changes during pregnancy and childbirth, followed by a dramatic change in our daily activities. Today more than ever, we are enjoying higher levels of activity and fitness during pregnancy and soon after delivery. In an effort to keep up with this activity, our bodies often adopt new ways of moving which are not ideal for how the joints and muscles should function. Sometimes these changes cause issues during pregnancy or immediately postpartum, and sometimes take years before something in the system breaks down.
Fortunately our bodies are always adapting, and we can intervene at any point to learn how to move better!
Here are 5 exercises that you can easily incorporate into your daily activities to help your body move more optimally and balanced at whatever stage of motherhood or womanhood you are.
Want updates on useful info and strategies to help you move and feel better as a mom?
We hear a lot about the benefits of proper breathing - stress relief, higher energy levels, etc. Did you know it also helps your pelvic floor, posture, and core strength? The diaphragm is a postural muscle that coordinates with the pelvic floor to aid in “core stability”. Therefore, a shift away from balanced breathing can contribute to increased pressure on the pelvic floor, overactivity of these muscles, neck pain from chest breathing, etc. Here’s how to begin balancing your breathing:
Sit on either a physioball or chair. Choose a height that allows your hips to be slightly higher than your knees, and your pelvis tilted forward (ie, not slouched).
Place one hand on your ribcage and one on your belly.
Inhale through your nose for a count of 3.
As you inhale, feel your ribcage expand outward and your belly gently rise as your diaphragm lowers. Also, check in with your pelvic floor. Are you gripping it tight? Or can you feel it relaxing down towards the ball or chair? Avoid your chest and shoulders rising, or a large expansion of your belly. The majority of the movement should be occurring with your ribcage expanding outward.
Exhale through pursed lips for a count of 3. As you exhale, feel your ribcage closing together and feel your pelvic floor gently lifting up and away from the chair or ball.
Perform this for 1-2 minutes, daily. (Bonus: it’s a great way to start the day!)
2. Transverse abdominus (TA) draw ins
Transverse what??? you may be asking… This important ab muscle works together with the pelvic floor muscles to provide stability and another component of our “core”. Our “six-pack” and oblique abdominal muscles get most of the attention with typical fitness, but getting the TA onboard is essential to a strong base for running, squatting, lifting as well as prevention and treatment of abdominal and pelvic floor issues (ie diastasis, incontinence, pelvic pain).
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Your back should feel comfortable, so use pillows under your head and/or shoulders as needed.
Place your thumbs just inside of your ASIS (pointy bones on the front of your hips) and your fingertips just above your pubic bone. Allow yourself to inhale as you practiced in exercise #1.
As you exhale through your mouth, draw in your transverse abdominus and pelvic floor as if you are zipping up the top of the zipper on a tight pair of jeans. You should feel a tensioning under your thumbs and fingers as the transverse abdominus engages, as well as a gentle pulling up and in of the pelvic floor. Hold for a count of 3, and coordinate with breathing for 1 minute.
3. Balanced weight shift
Bringing our bodies into a more balanced state where our muscles are available to do their best work is essential after pregnancy and throughout caring for babies and children. Use these techniques to help promote this balance.
Throughout the day when you are standing, pay attention to where your weight is positioned.
Do you stand more on one leg than the other?
Do you tend to shift one hip to the side when you're standing at the counter?
What about when you’re holding a baby or a child on one side?
Do you feel your weight more in your heels or your toes?
Next, stand next to a counter or chair back to aid in balance on a pillow of medium thickness, balance pad, or something similar.
Start in your “normal” standing position.
Shift weight from right to left, thinking about bringing pelvis and ribcage over one leg and then the other, rather than leaning. Perform this for 1 minute, then find “neutral” or in the middle of the extremes of right and left.
Next shift weight forward and back, from heels to balls of your feet. Keep hips and knees straight. Feel your pelvis and ribcage shift forward and back for 1 minute, then find a neutral position where your ribcage feels neither behind or in front of your pelvis.
Practice this daily and you will find you are more aware of times you are operating with a posture of asymmetry.
4. Corner or doorway pec stretch
There are so many positions and activities in life that pull us forward - looking at phones, working at the computer, feeding babies, crouching down to talk to small kids, etc. This stretch feels so good to negate these effects, open up the ribcage, and optimize our breathing.
Stand either in a doorway or corner (depending on lengths of your arms and what space is available.)
Start in staggered stance with ribcage pulled in over pelvis (avoid arching your back.)
Place forearms on doorframe or wall, with elbows at comfortable angle below shoulders.
Inhale (practice your breath from #1!) and as you exhale, lean forward into a pec stretch. Allow your shoulder blades to slide down and back as your ribcage opens up.
Hold for 10 seconds, 3x. Perform at least 1x/day (ideally after getting up in the morning and at the end of the day).
5. Sidelying half windmills
Pregnancy and spending much of our time moving forward causes our trunk to lose its full rotation (twisting) mobility. This rotation is essential to running, reaching, etc. Without regaining this motion, our bodies find ways to cheat around it rather than using our strongest movers to do their best work!
Lie on your side with head on pillow.
Bend top leg and hook the toes behind the knee of the bottom leg. *Modify for low back pain with this alternative: bend both legs and keep knees, feet, and hips stacked.*
Inhale (there’s that breathing again!) and as you exhale, reach the top arm up and over at a 45* angle.
Stretch with the exhale until your top knee begins to move away from the floor. You should feel a stretch through your chest and midback.
Continue with comfortable breathing for 10 seconds, then repeat 4x.
Perform on both sides. If you find one side is more restricted than the other, perform more reps on that side.
***Disclaimer: These exercises are intended as general techniques only. Do not perform if pain occurs. For a whole-body movement assessment and individualized plan, visit www.ShePT.co to learn how to work with Jill.
About the Author
Jill Heath is a licensed physical therapist and owner of She PT, LLC. She received a Doctorate of Physical Therapy and B.S. in Exercise Science from Northern Arizona University. During years of practice helping individuals of all ages recover from a variety of conditions, she developed a passion for working with women. She opened She PT, LLC with the purpose of meeting not only the unique physical needs of women, but also empowering women to take charge of their well-being by making care accessible.