I vividly remember toting my 2-week old newborn and 2 year old out of the house on a serious mission. It was a MOPS meeting (Mothers of Preschoolers) and the theme for the day was "spa day". While our children were being watched by childcare, we could hang out with friends, eat brunch and get chair massages. For a mom of a newborn and a 2-year old, this was the equivalent of winning the lottery.
I'm pretty sure I had knots the size of softballs lodged between my shoulder blades that were shooting lasers of pain through my body. When the rest of my body was trying to recover from childbirth and adjust to nursing a baby, the last thing I needed was one more area of pain.
All Hunched Over
Between snuggling, rocking, nursing and sitting, your posture can quickly go down the drain once baby arrives. This hunched-over position frequently creates serious pain in the form of knots and stiff muscles. Aside from getting a good massage (which I highly recommend!) there are other strategies that you can implement between feedings and naps.
The areas that are the most effected in the days following childbirth are your upper back, lower back and hip flexors. When you lay, sit, nurse and hold your baby, your shoulders slope forward placing stress on the upper back, especially between the shoulder blades. Your lower back and hips become stiff in a hinged position, creating issues for the front of the hips and the low back.
Your goal should be to manipulate your soft tissues into a neutral position as much as possible to counteract the hunching. Once you feel up for it, you can even perform some strengthening exercises to hold your joints in the neutral position.
In the first week following childbirth, some of these techniques may be too difficult to perform while your body is still healing. However, as your body begins to heal and you feel more mobile, begin to implement as much of these techniques as you can.
Self massage (self-myofascial release) Myofascial release is a form of manual soft tissue therapy intended to manipulate the fibrous fascia (a web-like wrapping surrounding the muscles, organs, and skeleton), encouraging them to realign into a more functional and flexible fashion. When you get those nasty "knots", it's usually in the fascia. When this myofascial system (the muscle and fascia) is bound up tight, it can lead to soreness as well as imbalances. The body will be pulled in different ways according the patterns of tightness.
The most obvious form of myofascial release is getting a massage. I definitely recommend scheduling a thorough massage with a good massage therapist during the first few weeks to months following birth, or at least enlisting your spouse or a friend to give you a good back rub.
There are also ways to perform self-myofascial release, or massaging your own myofascial system...you just need to use some tools. A foam roller and a tennis ball become magical instruments for sore muscles.
The following foam rolling videos show the most important body parts to focus on, but you can certainly try this complete foam rolling routine to touch every area.
Foam rolling your upper back muscles. Be careful here, as this may place a bit too much pressure through your abs. You can try supporting your head with your hands.
Foam rolling your quads and hip flexors. This will loosen the muscles and fascia that get tight in a seated position.
Foam rolling the inner thighs. Your "adductors" are part of the hip flexor system, so it's also beneficial to foam roll this area of your hip.
A tennis ball to release the tissue on an even deeper level feels incredible, so you may want to keep a tennis ball handy. This is completely practical to perform during the first few days/weeks after birth because you won't need to lie down or maneuver your sore body on top of a foam roller. You can completely control the amount of pressure you apply into the ball, releasing the knots that can build up along your shoulder blades and the base of your neck.
Stretching Once the knots and constrictions are released in the soft tissues from massage, you should perform some very specific stretches. Again, your focus should be on finding neutral with your neck, upper back and hips. The following stretches are ideal for targeting the culprit areas.
When stretching, ease into the stretch to the point of slight discomfort and tightness. Your body is still healing, so your goal should not be to drastically improve your flexibility here. Once you feel the stretch, hold the position for 4 to 5 deep breaths. Allow your muscles to literally release and "melt" with every long exhale.
Upper trap, SCM, Levator Scapulae, Pectorals, Rhomboids, Latissimus dorsi stretches. These are easy and accessible in the first days and weeks postpartum. And they feel amaaaazing!
Hamstrings and piriformis stretches. These are gentle and easy to perform in the early days postpartum. They target the muscles that innervate your hip structure and help release the tightness that builds from sitting.
Kneeling quad and hip flexor stretch. If you can easily maneuver yourself into this position, it provides immediate relief for your back and hips. This is probably my all-time favorite stretch!
Inner Thigh (adductor) stretch. As mentioned above, your inner thigh muscles intertwine with your hip flexors, so it's important to release these muscles, too.
Pigeon hip (piriformis) stretch. This stretch targets the deep hip rotator muscles. Did you ever get that deep, dull ache or even a zing in your hip during pregnancy? This stretch does wonders for that exact spot.
Posture Pay attention to your posture. When sitting, do your best to sit symmetrically instead of slumping to one side. When standing, walking and moving around, it's important to maintain a neutral body as much as possible. Don't tip your hip out to one side, slump your bum under, or arch your tail back.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your pelvis level and directly below your rib cage.
Here's a quick video explaining good posture...
Targeted Strengthening Once you feel up for it, probably by the end of the second or third week following birth, you can try some basic strengthening exercises to encourage and maintain good posture. The goals of these strengthening exercises are to open your chest up and pull your shoulders back, strengthen your glutes and gently engage your core.
Wall angels. Perform 8-15 repetitions, focusing on your breath and rib cage.
Bridges. Perform 8-15 repetitions. Move slowly and purposefully, pressing down through your heels to engage your glutes.
Biped thoracic rotation. Perform 8-15 repetitions per side. This exercise gently engages your core while working to mobilize and lengthen your upper spine and shoulder.
Prone swimmers. Perform 8-15 repetitions. This specifically activates the muscles surrounding your shoulder blades and teaches you how to pull the head of your shoulders back into proper positioning.
So much better!
After purposefully doing some self-myofascial release, specific stretches and targeted strengthening, the knots down your neck and spine will begin to release and your body will feel put back together.
These exercises are marvelous for the postpartum momma, however they're the exact same exercises that I recommend for anyone that's suffering from poor posture and neck/shoulder/hip strain. Whether you have a baby in your arms or you're sitting at a desk all day, the remedy is the same.
Put these into your regular rotation and you'll feel so much better!
More Postpartum Guidance
If you're pregnant or recently gave birth, don't try to navigate your first year alone. There are very specific things you should and shouldn't be doing for your body during this time. Click here for a FREE Postpartum Guide that lays out the entire first year postpartum.
More Hips and Core Strengthening
If you'd like more direction on strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors and core muscles, click here for the FREE Strong Hips and Core Two-Week Program. Follow along with me as I teach you the groundwork for tuning into your deep abdominals, core and hips.
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I'm Megan, and I'm a Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach and a Certified Nutrition Coach that also happens to be a mom. Applying top-notch training and nutrition strategies to the often-mundane life of motherhood is my passion. I also truly believe that "in Christ we live and move have our being...", so pursuing health from a grander perspective is my mission. I hope you learn and grow with Strong Mommas!