Why WISE Body Mechanics in Postpartum Can Help You Feel Better and Look Better For Years to Come!
by Patricia Ladis · 17 Jun 2021 · 13 min read
When women are in their third trimester of pregnancy, the hormone Relaxin is pumping through the body. Relaxin is a hormone produced by the ovary and the placenta, and this hormone helps to relax the ligaments of the body and soften the cervix in preparation for birth. After the baby is born, the body stops producing Relaxin and slowly begins to tighten up again. As the body tightens, collagen, which helps with joint health and mobility and provided essential protein to the baby in utero, re-organizes. The re-organization process spans 18 months, so how you hold yourself, rest, carry, and complete daily activities with and without baby in this postpartum period matters because it teaches collagen how to re-organize, defining your posture and alignment for years to come.
The weeks and months following postpartum can be the window of opportunity to make lasting changes for the better OR poorly impact alignment and increase your risk for future injury.So, how do we mitigate risk and take advantage of this time to optimize posture and improve our body mechanics? In my book, The Wise Woman’s Guide to Your Healthiest Pregnancy and Birth, I outline the basic rules of good postpartum body mechanics and tips to adopt in postpartum (or really any time for a period of 3 to 18 months). While this may seem like a lot of work, the good news is that once you implement these improved ways of moving and carrying yourself for about 2-3 months, they become automatic, and you won’t have to be quite as mindful moving forward.
The weeks and months following postpartum can be the window of opportunity to make lasting changes for the better OR poorly impact alignment and increase your risk for future injury.
The basic rules of good postpartum body mechanics are:
◆ Always favor pushing an object (e.g., carrier, stroller, etc.) instead of pulling it toward your body. Try practicing without your baby at first, then practice with your baby when you aren’t rushed.
◆ Avoid twisting. Face your baby straight on when at the changing table or during playtime.
◆ Bend from the knees and hips and keep your spine in neutral. Engage the legs with a flat back when bending to pick up your baby. Be mindful not to curve your spine or jut your head forward! When bending and lifting, keep your feet wider than your hips — this will give your body a wider base of support and provide more low back and pelvic stability.
◆ Hold everything near, not far. Hold your baby (or anything, including baby gear) as close to the center of your body as possible. Think of having short dinosaur arms that can’t reach. Get your body close to objects requiring lifting/pushing and utilize your center and extremities in good alignment.
Getting back into the swing of things and establishing an everyday routine can take a while, so it’s important to give your body time to heal and rest. But once you are ready, try some of these exercises and pointers to help strengthen your body and prevent injury while completing daily tasks like loading the dishwasher, picking up heavy items and carrying heavy bags.
What an All-Purpose Squat Can Do for You
When bending to pick up baby, tie your shoes, lift a light object up, descend your pelvis to the toilet, etc. you must perform a flat back squat. Here is an exercise to train your body to do it properly:
EQUIPMENT: Chair, optional.
PURPOSE: To strengthen legs and core, and to practice neutral spine mechanics. You will be utilizing this flat back squat with functional activities with and without baby.
START POSITION: Stand tall with your hands by your sides or on a countertop or chair back for balance.
STEP 1. Inhale and gently bow forward with a flat straight spine as your knees bend over your second toes. Allow the front of your hips to crease and fold backward.
STEP 2. Keep your chin down as if you are holding an apple at your chest, and look
out at the floor in front of you. This should keep your head in-line with the rest of your
body, and your ears in-line with your shoulders.
Hold this position for an exhale and another inhale, feeling your legs carrying
STEP 3. On the exhale, press gently through the legs and rise up to standing. Perform 5 to
10 repetitions as tolerated with your breath coordinated.
Mastering Dishwasher Mechanics
Once again, you will maintain a flat back squat even when placing the lightest dishes and silverware in and out of a dishwasher.
STEP 1. Stand in front of the dishwasher with feet shoulder-width apart. Use the flat back (neutral spine) squat to open the dishwasher door and roll the bottom or top rack out.
STEP 2. Standing up, hold the dish with a nice, upright posture and get close to the dishwasher.
STEP 3. Stand in front of the dishwasher tray and place the dish in the compartment. Never twist when you are bringing dishes in and out of the dishwasher, although it may be a tempting shortcut.
You run the risk of a strain, but you also miss out on an opportunity to do your flat back/neutral spine squat exercise!
STEP 4. Stay in your flat back squat as you roll the rack back in and close the dishwasher door.
STEP 5. Stand tall, with side body long and the crown of your head lifting to leave the kitchen.
Practice a Golfer’s Lift to Pick Up Items Properly
Try to limit lifting anything during the first forty days. However, if you must lift anything light off the floor, using this lift can prevent injury. If the object you want to pick up is too heavy for this motion, you may not want to lift it at all. Later on in your postpartum recovery, you should safely be able to lift more again utilizing your flat back squat.
STEP 1. Stand tall, close to the item you want to pick up.
STEP 2. Swing one leg back behind you as you bow forward with a flat back.
Your body will swing like a pendulum so that your hand effortlessly comes
forward to the object.
STEP 3. Grasp the object and allow for momentum to swing you right back
up to an upright standing position.
How to Properly Carry a Diaper Bag and a Baby
Always hold your newborn baby right in front of you: do not ever keep your baby at your side. Your ligaments still have laxity. If you lean into your hip/pelvis when you position your baby on your hip to the side, you are predisposing yourself to potential injury or ligament strain, or you may overstretch the side of the hip muscles—the very same muscles we need to strengthen to restore proper spine and pelvic control. By leaning into/stretching them, you are making it harder for the muscles to be trained to support you again.
When you need to leave the house, hug the baby close to your chest and abdomen and cradle under their buttocks and back or neck/head. The closer the baby is to your center of mass, the less pressure you will feel on your body, especially as it grows and gains weight. Having the baby in a carrier strapped to your center is another option that can help free up your hands. Once your baby is in the proper position, you can then lift up your diaper bag. Get into the habit of keeping the bag on a high surface or chair seat so you don’t need to bend to get it.
Most diaper bags have shoulder straps; some have cross-body straps. A backpack is another option, but it is not a popular one. Keep the diaper bag straps short and the bulk of the bag at your side, close to your center of mass. Do not let the bag hang to land below your pelvis, this will cause unnecessary strain on the spine and pelvis. If you still feel the bag’s weight on your body, the bag is simply too heavy, and you should lighten your load.
Maintaining Proper Posture When You Go Back to Work
If you are returning to work or working on a computer from home, continue to practice good posture. Most desk chairs are too deep for women to sit in properly. When you are sitting in front of a computer, use a vertical pillow(s) to support your lower back up to your shoulder blades. Sit in the chair keeping your knees at approximately one hand-width distance from the seat. The pillow can fill the space between your back and the back of the chair. Make sure that both feet are on the floor or a stool. This positioning will keep your weight more grounded through the legs and will reduce spinal tension.
Make sure to keep your chest open, arms supported with your elbows bent at roughly 90 degrees, and the screen at a comfortable level to keep your neck in line with your spine, chin down, with the upper portion of the screen at eye level. If you have a laptop, it will be a bit more challenging to get your arms at an angle that is comfortable and your head in line with the computer. You may need to use an external keyboard and put your screen on a book(s).
When you are standing for a while, like when working at a standing desk, instead of sinking into one hip or the other, feel your weight evenly on both feet or put one foot up on a book or step stool in front of you.
While there is always time to perfect your body mechanics, it’s beneficial to practice better habits sooner rather than later. It may seem insignificant to occasionally slouch or improperly unload the dishwasher, but poor habits can make you vulnerable to injury, muscle stiffness, and fatigue and can lead to years of pain and discomfort. Ever wonder why you feel so exhausted after a long day of just sitting in a chair without exerting yourself? It’s because you are sitting improperly and as a result, your posture and alignment aren’t allowing your body to function to the best of its’ ability. So, to enjoy a high-functioning, injury-free postpartum period and beyond, start incorporating proper body mechanics into your life today.