Another blog based on questions my clients ask.
I was recently teaching my Myofascial Self-Care Stretching Workshop and was asked the following question: “Is myofascial release helpful for pregnant women?”
Rather than just saying YES, of course, it’s great for everyone (because it is)! I did my usual, well, let’s talk it through.
Women’s bodies are designed for childbirth. Pregnancy and childbirth are some of the most natural parts of existence, so we would expect the process just to happen and happen smoothly. However, if you’ve ever been pregnant or known someone who has, you know that’s not the case. We know that it can be uncomfortable, painful, and require tremendous stamina.
With all the advances in modern medicine, you might think that we would have pregnancy “down to a science.” But the fact of the matter is that the modern American woman doesn’t move around enough, to begin with. Here is the problem. We don’t use our bodies the way they are designed to be used. Women in our culture are far more sedentary than in other cultures. Even when we do move, most of our exercise choices are very linear (i.e., treadmills, walking, biking) and do not include a wide range of motion. Stretching isn’t something that is encouraged. Very few healthcare professionals are paying attention to posture. And to top it off, women in our culture are expected to keep their knees together which creates tension in the inner thigh muscles and fascia. All this can considerably impact the tension in our bodies increasing discomfort during pregnancy and making the delivery more challenging.
The sedentary trend is now affecting children at very young ages. With television, tablets, and video games, children are moving less than ever. We know this is a problem, but most people aren’t thinking about the effects this could have on future pregnancies. As girls reach childbearing ages, no one is telling them to work on their posture, to get started stretching their hips, or make sure their pelvic floor is not too tight or too loose just in case they decide to have a baby. As a result, women of younger and younger ages are developing tension in their bodies.
This tension can be anywhere in the body, but trends I have seen in women are turned knees, tight hips, weak cores, and too little or too much tension in the pelvic floor. All this tension and misalignment in the body creates a very different baseline for childbirth compared to women of yesteryear or from cultures who move their bodies more naturally than ours. (For more information about incorporating natural movement into your life, check out my Move Better course on teachable!)
Of course, we can’t send all women of childbearing years out into nature to recreate the best possible baseline for a natural delivery. So, what can we do?
Here’s what I would suggest to for any woman thinking about becoming pregnant.
- Talk to her about the importance of good posture and body alignment.
- Teach her the importance of squatting to keep the lower body (including the pelvic floor) mobile, balanced, and strong.
- Teach her functional methods of improving core strength.
- Teach her about mindfulness and mediation to reduce stress.
- Sign her up for at least one myofascial session per month to address any tension in the body with a focus on the lower body.
Myofascial release takes the tension out of our bodies, creating space for all our other systems to work properly, including our reproductive system.
If we put an expectation on our bodies, especially something as demanding as creating and birthing a child, we owe it to ourselves to create the best possible baseline for that to happen successfully. Building a strong baseline will help the birthing process, recovery, and child-rearing.
For many women, the discomfort and pain don’t stop at childbirth but can continue into postpartum. Your posture while holding your new baby and during breastfeeding can make or break your body in the first year. For all of the wonderful breastfeeding resources we have these days I’m not sure there is much talk about posture. I certainly wasn’t warned before welcoming my 8 lb. 5 oz. bundle of joy. I had no idea what to do back then, so my upper back and neck hurt so much. I wasn’t an occupational therapist and posture fanatic yet. Luckily for my daughter, by the time she started having children, I was. She experienced a lot of the same pains I did, but this time I was able to help.
The bottom line is making space for a new baby isn’t just about the home or external environment. Space also needs to be made in the baby’s first environment; inside mom! It’s never too late to create more space in your body or to start focusing on your fascia.
Amy Mayer OTD, OTR/L, RYT
I always ask my brilliant daughter to read over my blog posts before they are released into the world. This one sparked some great conversation and we decided it would be great for her to share her perspective.
Here’s another momma’s perspective by Kasey Bennett.
I was blessed with a relatively drama-free pregnancy. I had my fair share of morning sickness and stretch marks, along with a baby who favored some interesting positions. Now I hate to brag, but I experienced almost none of the usual aches and pains of pregnancy: the back and the feet. I like to give all the credit to my mother and posture expert, Amy Mayer. She helped set me up for a surprisingly comfy experience with all of her advice, guidance, and support. Two long weeks after my due date, I gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby boy, with my mom by my side.
Once my baby arrived, I was determined to master breastfeeding. Anyone who’s ever attempted this knows that for an act that is as old as human existence itself, it’s awfully darn tricky! I had several lactation consultants, joined support groups, and googled until I could google no more. I had a wealth of resources at my fingertips, and I can tell you that not once was posture brought into the equation.
Before long, I was hurting all over. I was hunched over my new baby every two hours like a mama bear protecting her cub from an attack. It was no longer about me or my comfort; I just wanted to get my baby fed. It was a struggle, and anytime something worked, I tried to recreate it at any cost. I would’ve breastfed upside down from some monkey bars if it had worked!
Finally, after several months, I got the hang of things and started to relax more with my son at dinnertime. It was only then that I finally confessed to my mom: I’m hurt, help me! Being an OT, she had to observe me in my natural environment. With her guidance, I was finally sitting pretty, literally!
A few years later, my daughter came along. Round 2 wasn’t perfect (it never is), but it was so much better! I found my groove much quicker and experienced much less discomfort. She breastfed until she was 18 months old! So I can say, from first-hand experience, that posture is important and that a few helpful tips took me and my babies a long way. Thanks, mom!