Learn to avoid and treat the common injuries of motherhood through simple strength exercises, easy stretches, and posture tips.
Many moms are surprised to find that day-to-day living with babies and toddlers can cause a lot of physical wear and tear—shoulder strain, neck tightness, tension headaches, knee pain, and lower back stiffness. Micky Morrison, a licensed physical therapist and author of Baby Weight: The Complete Guide to Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness, shares how to strengthen your body for life with baby.
The Baby Ache: Straining your lower back and knees as a result of lifting your baby or toddler from the floor after playtime.
Pain Prevention: When lifting your baby from the floor, bend your knees to squat down, keeping your back as straight as possible. Lift and pull your baby close to your body before straightening the knees to stand.
Strengthening Move: Wide Leg Squats With a Chest Press
How to Do It: Stand with your feet wider than your hips, and your toes turned outward. Hold your baby facing you, close to your chest. Exhale as you bend your knees, keeping your spine straight, and press your baby outward. Inhale as you return to standing while bringing baby back toward your chest. Work your way up to 15 repetitions.
The Baby Ache: Getting your baby into and out of the crib multiple times a day can strain your lower back.
Pain Prevention: When you're putting your baby to bed, hold him close to your chest, and spread your feet approximately hip-width apart as you stand facing the crib. Bend your knees to squat slightly before lowering the baby down. Avoid twisting, and tuck your tailbone under and tilt your pelvis so you activate the abdominal muscles and protect the lower back.
Strengthening Move: Standing Pelvic Rock
How to Do It: Stand with your knees slightly bent and hands on your thighs above the knees. Inhale to lift the tailbone up toward the chin, then exhale as you return to the starting position. Aim for 10 repetitions, three or four times a day. This move helps protect you by strengthening your pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles.
The Baby Ache: Hunching over to nurse or bottle-feed can lead to neck pain, headaches, and even numbness in the arms or hands.
Pain Prevention: Place a small pillow or rolled towel behind your lower back to help you sit up straight while feeding your baby, and use a pillow to bring the baby up to breast level.
Strengthening Move: Corner Stretch
How to Do It: Stand facing a corner, then lift your arms so that your elbows are at shoulder height and place your hands on the wall. Exhale as you lean into the corner, letting your chest open and your shoulder blades come together at the spine as your head turns further into the corner. Take 10 deep breaths before releasing the stretch. Repeat three times throughout the day.
The Baby Ache: Pushing a stroller can lead to shoulder, neck, and upper back strain or tension.
Pain Prevention: Walk close to the stroller and keep your elbows close to your body.
Strengthening Move: Neck Release Stretch
How to Do It: Stand or sit with a straight spine, then drop your left ear toward your left shoulder, keeping the right shoulder down. Gently place the left hand on the right ear, but don't pull—just let the weight of the hand and forearm increase the stretch. Hold the stretch for five deep breaths, then release and repeat on the opposite side. Aim to do this three times a day.
The Baby Ache: Wearing your baby can be wonderful, but if you use a carrier incorrectly or don't readjust it as your baby grows it can lead to upper or lower back pain.
Pain Prevention: Adjust the straps to balance the weight of your baby between your shoulders and hips, and hold baby close to your chest.
Strengthening Move: Thread the Needle
How to Do It: Get on your hands and knees, then inhale as you lift your right hand out to the side then up toward the sky, turning your gaze to look up at the hand. Exhale as you bring your hand back down to the floor. Repeat the move five times. Bend the left elbow as you move the right hand under the chest and left armpit; lower your right ear to the floor. You'll feel a stretch behind the right shoulder blade. Hold for five breaths; repeat on the opposite side. This will strengthen the thoracic postural muscles and provide a heavenly stretch to the muscles between the shoulder blades.