Manual labor is a huge part of a mom's job description. As if lifting and carrying your child 24/7 weren't enough of a challenge, you also have to lug a jam-packed diaper bag and tons of gear every time you and your little one leave the house. Minor muscle aches are practically inevitable -- but you may pay a major price if you don't treat your body with the same TLC as you would your baby's, says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. He told us which of the everyday moves moms make are potentially harmful, and how you can easily stretch away those painful sore spots.
You save a second by reaching for your baby without lowering the crib's side rail, but you're not doing your back any favors. Bending and reaching compresses your spinal disks unevenly, causing achiness and even long-term back problems. (In the future, lower the railing and slide your baby to you before lifting him.) Try these moves to ease the pain.
Get down on all fours with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips, neck in line with your spine. Slowly round your back by tightening your abs and tucking in your pelvis (above); hold for five seconds. Then allow your back to sag toward the floor as you lift your chest and head; hold for five seconds. Repeat the combination 10 times.
Come into the same starting position as you did for the cat-camel stretch. Keeping your abs tight, raise your left arm palm-down in front of you as you extend your right leg behind you. (Your body should create a straight line from fingers to heel.) Hold for five seconds; repeat on the opposite side to complete the set. Do two to four reps.
He may not move fast, but simply walking with your kid requires more strength and balance than you'd think: You're actually standing on one leg 60 to 70 percent of the time, says Comana. And when your foot hits the ground, the shock travels up, tightening your hip flexors. If you never stretch them, your pelvis may start to tilt forward, triggering back pain.
Hip Flexor Lunge
Come into a lunge position with your left leg forward, knee over your ankle, and your right knee on the floor. Press your hips forward so you feel a stretch in the front of your right thigh (but not so far that your left knee travels beyond your toes). Hold for 30 seconds and repeat two to three times, then switch legs and repeat.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart, heels slightly in front of your knees. Rest your arms palms-down at your sides. Inhale and pull your belly button in toward your spine as you slowly curl your back off the floor, pressing your feet into the floor to engage your glutes (below). Exhale at the top and press your pelvis toward the ceiling. Hold for up to five seconds, then slowly roll down to starting position. Repeat two to four times.
Whether you're giving your child a bath, changing her diaper, or picking up toys, slouching hurts -- and over time, you can get stuck in that position! Rounding your shoulders creates a muscular imbalance: Your chest and upper back muscles tighten, and the backs of your shoulders weaken.
From a seated or standing position, place your hands behind your head with your elbows pointing out to the sides. Press your elbows forward (left) until they touch in front of your face, then squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull your elbows back until they're behind your ears. Do up to 10 reps.
Lie on your back with your elbows bent so your fingertips point toward the ceiling. Slowly let your forearms fall back alongside your head; try to rest the back of your hands on the floor (below). Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then press your palms toward your feet without lifting your shoulders or elbows off the floor. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds; repeat two to four times.
Unless you're a celeb mom with an army of personal assistants at your service, having children means you'll be toting their toys, snacks, and much more wherever you go. Just be careful that you're not making one shoulder do all the work, warns Comana: "That overburdened shoulder may actually become higher than the other because you have to keep it shrugged to hold the straps in place." Plus, shoulder pain travels -- you could end up with an achy neck and back as well.
Neck and Shoulder Stretch
Sit on a backless chair with your feet on the floor (you can also sit on the floor in cross-legged position). Place your left arm behind your waist and grasp your left wrist with your right hand; gently pull your left hand toward the right side of your body (left), then look over your left shoulder. Keeping your shoulders level, squeeze your shoulder blades back and together. Hold for up to 30 seconds; release and switch arms.
Get down on all fours with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips; keep your neck in line with your spine. Slowly walk your hands forward without moving your hips, then gently drop your forehead to the floor and allow your neck to relax (left); make sure you keep a slight curve in your lower back. Press your palms into the floor and stretch through your arms as you pull your hips back toward your heels, feeling your spine lengthen. Hold for 30 seconds.
Originally published in the November 2008 issue of Parents magazine.
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