By Ros Gilfillan, FGHG Remedial Massage Therapist
Pregnancy by its very nature creates new postural patterns as the body compensates for a change in weight and shape. On it’s own this can be totally manageable, but many pregnant women have pre-existing postural issues, developed long before pregnancy and will need additional exercises to minimise muscular aches, pain and long term consequences.
Most people spend each day repeating other postural patterns caused by the lifestyle they live, i.e. sitting or standing for long periods of time at work and time spent repeating limited movements in our daily life. But it’s the bad habits developed over a long period of time that can be detrimental to our general wellbeing, taking years to undo.
If you are more aware of your posture during pregnancy and take measures to stretch and strengthen your muscles, you can avoid long term postural issues that can develop during pregnancy.
What happens to your posture during pregnancy?
So many things happen to affect your posture during pregnancy! Here are just a few:
- Your organs will go through some changes in shape, size and positioning in order to make room for the growing baby, ensuring that everything still functions adequately.
- As you expand, your centre of gravity shifts and the orientation of your posture adjusts with a compensatory pattern.
- Your ligaments soften during the gradual increase of load, which we hope is being beautifully cupped by the subtle spreading of your pelvis. All of this softening is what starts to alter the curvature of the spine through the rib section, the sway-back in the lower lumbar area and a more pronounced anterior (forward) tilt to the pelvis.
- The second half of the pregnancy is probably when those niggling pains start to set in, where the back muscles shorten and the abdominal muscles lengthen with the pelvis tilting forward due to weakening of hips, gluts, and even the surrounding muscles of the shins. Sometimes this can lead to mums becoming ‘knock kneed’ and why addressing these changes early on with tailored strengthening exercise and stretching is essential.
What can be done to avoid problems with posture during pregnancy and beyond?
As difficult as it is to find lifestyle balance, just being a little mindful of the way we carry ourselves each day and by starting to incorporate good postural habits early, we can move through life avoiding a myriad of unpleasant conditions that can come back to haunt us later in life.
Stretching and strengthening exercises are so important to maintaining good posture; avoiding slouched shoulders, forward head and curvature of the thoracic and lumbar spine during pregnancy and in fact, all through life.
Stretching increases the range of motion and resting length of muscles while resistance exercise strengthens the integrity of the prime movers and their smaller assisting muscles, contributing to better posture. It’s important to try to make small adjustments to how you carry yourself daily and mix it up with some pilates, gentle yoga, swimming, or a brisk walk outside.
Massage during pregnancy can also assist by releasing some of the pressure on your posture as the baby grows. Offering relief for sore and aching muscles, it also helps to release tension in restricted muscles, lengthening them and increasing blood flow. Everyone feels “ironed-out” after a good massage!
10 Posture improving tips you can start right now:
- Stand straight. Imagine a string attached in the middle of the top of your head that “the puppeteer” is pulling on upward.
- Try dropping shoulders naturally. If your head is first in the right position with your ear aligned with the centre of the shoulder at the AC joint, you will have no trouble dropping the shoulders.
- Gently pull in your abdomen. This will counteract the sway-back and pouched out belly stance.
- Activate your buttocks and pull inward. The centre of gravity should sit centred directly over your hips.
- Avoid locking your knees. Stand with knees at shoulder width and knees ever so slightly flexed. And try evenly speeding weight in your feet. Think of a triangle between the big toe, to the little toe and the centre of your heel with even distribution.
- Don’t stand for too long. Good blood circulation can become impeded. If you’re forced to stand. E.g. in a cue or on public transport, try to lift your knee and rotate your feet occasionally in circular motions.
- Sitting posture during pregnancy. Make sure your chair has a hard upright back, and place a small pillow across your lumbar back, positioning your feet squarely on the floor, and use a foot stool if necessary.
- Never cross your legs. This can cause circulation problems and varicose veins. Get up and walk frequently, and if sitting, use a foot stool and keep up the foot twirling exercise.
- Optimum sleeping position. Your body will let you know when to stop lying on your back. Side sleeping is best with a supportive pillow under your head and neck, and also between the knees. Some ladies also like to cuddle a pillow between their arms to square up the shoulders too. Sleeping on the left side is better for digestion, and enhances circulation to the placenta.
- When changing positions. Shift slowly, extending and using arms and bending knees to maintain your centre of gravity. Try activating the big dynamic muscles in your legs and buttocks.
If we consider the enormous change a pregnant woman’s body goes through during the gestation of a baby, you can understand why it is common for mums to get all kinds of pain, especially in the lower back. With just a little awareness, some simple exercises and the occasional massage your posture will survive the pregnancy and be ready for the fun times ahead when the baby arrives!
Ros Gilfillan is an experienced remedial massage therapist who enjoys working with a myriad of people from all backgrounds and ages. Her skills have been developed through treating conditions ranging from muscular, skeletal and postural issues, pre and post sports treatment for athletes and management of pain linked to injury, degenerative conditions and mental health.
Ros has also developed a special interest in working with women through their pregnancy journey and beyond. She considers the incredible changes in a woman’s body that accommodate and nourish the life of baby, to be both magical and a time that should be enjoyed given the right support system.