In my Pilates practice I teach all different clients but I have a niche in teaching pre and post-natal women. My post-natal classes have been running for 3 years now! The post-natal women show up in class with clear goals of: getting their abdominal muscles working and finding their pre-pregnancy figure again. But then reality hits and each week the most pressing issues the moms have to deal with are back, neck, shoulder and wrist pains.
To care for babies and small children we:
- carry them, sometimes for extended periods of time and sometimes in uncomfortable positions;
- bend over to look at our gorgeous baby for feeding or snuggling;
- hold baby for feeding;
- multi-task with baby in arms or carrier.
As you read this list you are probably nodding your head and maybe adding to the list but it all comes down to the fact that caring for small children is physically demanding.
Why are parents of small children plagued with pains?
- New moms are lacking in abdominal strength after pregnancy so all of the effort of carrying a child is made using the neck, shoulders and upper back. Arms are used too but women just don't have as much upper body strength as men. So any kind of regular lifting can get to be painful.
- Repeatedly doing the actions listed above and putting our child's comfort before our own works for a short while but over time, pain inevitably sets in;
- Just as sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day doesn't do anyone much good, leaning over a baby for feedings and snuggles repeatedly can block neck and back similarly.
So, now what can be done to avoid these aches and pains?
When caring for your child be mindful of how your body feels and try to put your comfort first, your child will adapt.
Be aware: Regardless if the client is pre-natal, post-natal or a regular adult I've found that once a person becomes aware of his or her tendency to have pain in a certain area the battle with pain is almost won. Being aware of what you do to create tension in your own body is the first step in releasing it.
Then next step is finding new, healthy patterns and that can involve building strength in your body to avoid over using the part that is prone to pain.
Feeding: Use a nursing pillow and/or other pillows to prop up baby in a comfortable position for both of you;
- If breast feeding,get tips on various positions to nurse in at the maternité, from a lactation consultant or from a Message Breast Feeding Support expert.
- If bottle feeding,prop baby up on nursing pillow and your lap so that you have both of your hands free one for bottle and one to hold baby's hand (or wipe spit-up, or tend to other child, or grab phone, etc....);
If holding baby to feed pay attention to prop yourself up so that your head and neck are supported, also make sure your wrist is straight, not bent, to avoid putting pressure on it.
- Use a baby carrier instead of your arms, even in the house;
- Try to use the stroller outside of the house rather than carrier;
- Just like in feeding make sure your wrist is straight, not bent to avoid putting extra pressure on it;
- Pull baby towards you into your center of gravity to be able to use your abdominals (you'll find them) to help you with the weight;
- Try to switch arms a bit, easier said than done!
A Few Exercises to Try to Avoid and Alleviate Pain
An osteopath friend of mine taught me this massage technique when I had wrist problems while caring for my baby girl. This can be done as a self massage but it feels even better if someone can do it for you, they will be able to apply more pressure than you can yourself.
- Wrap thumb and index or middle finger of opposite hand on bottom of wrist forming a circle around the forearm.
- Applying pressure pull the fingers up the forearm towards the elbow. Repeat a few times until tensions seem to dissipate. Repeat on the other arm.
- Do the massage regularly to avoid the setting in of excess tensions.
Photos and detailed explanations are available in the linked articles for the following exercises:
Standing Spine Stretch : This exercise is good for decompressing the spine and releasing tension in back and neck.
Arm circles and Shoulder Rolls : These exercises are specifically for mobilizing and release tension in the shoulder girdle (arm, neck, shoulder area).
Taking it Further
Some more suggestions to permanently keep aches and pains away are:
- to get in shape with the type of exercise that you enjoy and that doesn't exacerbate your tension something that strengthens your core is ideal;
- focusing on breathing will help you release tension while exercising and on a daily basis;
- body working sessions: massage, osteopath, cranio-sacral work, or a chiropractor can help you to eliminate layers of tension, exercise and body work are a great combination.
The better and stronger you feel in your body the happier you and your whole family will be!
Photos © Bruno Rizzi
This article was written for " Message " a non-profit group for English Speaking Parents in Paris and published in its Winter 2016 Magazine.