Are you feeling a bit like Quasimodo lately? Feeding baby does not have to become a literal pain in the neck, nor does it have to leave you with the posture of a Jungle book character. A quick and simple conditioning program can keep you pain free and standing tall. Here we discuss the stresses placed on your postural muscles during breastfeeding and then outline a quick daily routine you can do to prevent fatigue and pain and avoid looking like you belong in the bell tower at Notre Dame.
Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, supporting baby for optimal positioning and comfort places your spine, shoulders and neck in less than ideal alignment. “There are some parenting activities that are stressful no matter how they are performed” says Kinesiologist Rob Williams, BSc, developer of the Parent Posture Exercise Program. Below are the alignment concerns Williams sees when baby is held on mom’s lap with it’s head resting inside the elbow of one arm:
- The lower back (lumbar spine) is flexed
- The upper back (thoracic spine) is extremely flexed and is usually laterally flexed
- Mom’s head is forward with neck flexed and slightly rotated.
- If bottlefeeding, the shoulder holding the bottle can also be in a position of excessive abduction and internal rotation.
Holding these positions for extended periods causes excessive strain on tissues supporting the neck, back and shoulder joints. Unless a preventative or corrective strategy is implemented you can significantly alter the natural resting lengths of the muscles that support these joints.
In order to prevent or correct posture problems it is important to understand the nature of muscles. Muscles have a tendency to do one of two things: they weaken and become lengthened or they become tight and shortened. Generally where a muscle becomes weak or over stretched an opposing muscle picks up the slack thus overworking to become tight and shortened. Poor posture occurs when there are over-stretched muscles on one side a joint and over-worked muscles on the other.
With new moms the upper middle back & neck muscles tend to become overstretched and weak from hunching frequently and over long periods to support baby while feeding. These muscles need to be strengthened! Here is a simple exercise that can be done at home, in minimal time with a resistance tube.
Strengthening exercise: Seated row
Sit upright in a chair gripping the handles of a medium resistance exertube in each hand. (Your tube should be anchored at chest height to a heavy piece of furniture or in a doorway) Palms face each other and arms are outstretched. Inhale. Pull the handles towards you in a rowing motion until the upper arms are next to the body, exhaling as you do so. Complete the movement by drawing the shoulder blades together at the back. Hold 1 second and slowly return to the start position. Perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions.
With new moms chest and shoulder muscles tend to become overworked, tight and shortened. These muscles need to be stretched!
Stretch #1: Chest opener in a door frame
Stand next to a wall or door frame. Extend one arm with the elbow bent so that your arm forms a right angle (upper arm is parallel to the ground). Place your forearm against the wall or frame. Rotate your body away from the wall with a special emphasis on pushing your chest through the turn, so that you feel the stretch in your chest.
Hold 20-30 seconds. Breathe.
Stretch #2: Chest opener on a ball
Lie face up on an exercise ball ensuring your back is fully supported. Relax your hips and head and let your arms fall out to the sides until you feel a stretch in the chest.
Hold 20-30 seconds. Breathe.
Performing these simple stretches and strengthening exercise each day will go a long way to offset the muscular tension that develops when feeding baby. A personal trainer can guide you in developing a complete full-body routine to address the additional posture troubles associated with caring for a child.
So stand tall and be the proud Mommy you really are!
Shair Feuz is a kinesiologist and personal trainer. She is the manager of Mixx Co-Fitness Studio in Coal Harbour. Shari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.