As a mother and a fitness expert, I've always thought it unfair that a woman takes on one of her biggest physical challenges – motherhood – when she is at the weakest point in her life. In pregnancy, our bodies go through tremendous hormonal, anatomical and metabolic changes. These changes may cause us to lose strength and cause new postural problems. Then, we have this new bundle of joy to carry around at all times while we're sleep-deprived and still recuperating from childbirth.
In fact, many aspects of motherhood are hard on the body. I know many women who experience more aches and pains post-birth than they did during pregnancy. That's why it's important for all mothers, and especially new mums, to learn to move properly and use the correct muscles in everyday activities.
Start with making sure that you do three common tasks – nursing, carrying your baby and pushing a pushchair – safely and effectively, using the tips below.
How to Carry Your Baby
Babies like to be held, and of course we love to hold them. But any time we carry extra weight, we risk injury and muscle imbalances, which in turn can cause pain. Do your best to carry your baby close to you and towards the centre of your body. Try to avoid carrying your baby on your hip, a position that can lead to problems with your shoulder, hip and spine. Focus on keeping your spine straight whenever you carry your baby. Pull your shoulders back and support your spine by engaging (activating) your abdominal muscles when lifting or carrying your baby.
When Pushing the Pram
A pram ride is a great way for you and your baby to get out and about without you having to carry your baby's weight. However, proper form is essential to avoid injury and gain desired strength. First, make sure that you are pushing a pram that allows for good posture. For example, if your pushchair is too short for you, you will have to hunch over to push it. Keep your wrists in a neutral position: flat and not bent either way. As you walk, lead with your chest and pull in your abdominal muscles. Keep your feet and knees facing forwards, and press your shoulders down and back (remember, your shoulders are not earrings!). Avoid locking your elbows and hunching over – the two most common postural mistakes when pushing a pram.
The Big Picture
As you're working on becoming stronger, don't forget to appreciate all that your body has gone through to create this little miracle. Continue to eat, exercise and rest as if you were still fuelling a life. You and your baby depend on your good health. This is a time to replenish, not deplete. Focus on drinking lots of water, eating nutritious, whole foods and getting moderate activity every day.
Once you get the green light from your health provider, begin exercising slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workout. Don't give up if you can't find the time or energy for a traditional exercise session. Instead, fit in short walks or a few stretches where you can. And it is never too soon to start pelvic muscle exercises/Kegels – exercises where you squeeze the muscles that stop the flow of urine – to help tone the pelvic-floor muscles.
Your goal is to restore and maintain what may have been lost in the transition to motherhood. That tiny baby needs feeding, umpteen nappy changes, constant love and attention – and a strong mother who can do it all.