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  • Apr 26 2014

    Posture & Alignment During Pregnancy and After Childbirth


    After giving birth, most women find their resting posture has been compromised by the stresses of pregnancy.

    Helene Byrne, a fitness coach specializing in prenatal and postpartum health (at BeFitMom), gives a brief rundown of what happens to the spine during pregnancy:

    Though subtle, the postural changes of pregnancy have profound effects on many areas of your body. As the weight of your baby grows and the uterus expands, the pelvis tips to counterbalance the load. The pubic bone and tailbone move backward, thereby increasing the arch in your lower back. In fitness terminology, this is called an anterior tilt of the pelvis or a lordotic posture.

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    Because the spine is a dynamic structure, alignment changes in the pelvis have a ripple effect on the rest of the spine. The thorax, or upper back, increases its curve, which rounds the shoulders forward and collapses the chest. In response to the increased thoracic curve, the head to slides forward. Too much curve in the upper back vertebrae is referred to as a kyphotic posture. So during pregnancy, women experience a compound alignment problem; a kyphotic/lordotic posture, which augments all of the natural “S” curves of the spine.

    These postural misalignments have a series of adverse effects including:

    • Compression the vertebral discs
    • Increased strain on the articular surfaces of the spine
    • Reduction of lung capacity
    • Loss of height
    • Ligament strain
    • System wide changes throughout your muscular system

    As pregnancy advances, the ribcage also expands dramatically, providing needed additional space for the lungs as the uterus expands and fills the abdominal cavity.


    Muscular Imbalances of Pregnancy

    To compensate for these postural deviations, specific muscle groups must work harder to support the body in the upright position. Over time, these muscles shorten and become hypertonic, or chronically too tight. Opposing muscle groups need to work less to support the body, and weaken and atrophy, or become hypotonic. These postural and muscular changes tend to be self-reinforcing. As the belly expands, the postural deviations worsen, which in turn, further augment muscular imbalances.

    However, you can prevent or lessen most of these conditions with a prenatal exercise program that focuses on counterbalancing these effects by:

    1. Stretching muscle groups that tend to over-tighten
    2. Strengthening muscle groups that tend to weaken
    3. Choosing core strength and stability exercises that incorporate the neutral spine position


    Muscles that Tighten during Pregnancy

    • The hip flexors, or iliopsoas
    • The thighs, particularly the long muscle of the thigh, the rectus femoris
    • Deep muscles of the lower back quadratus lumborum
    • The pectorals; chest muscles
    • The internal rotators and elevators of the shoulders: the rhomboids, levator scapulae, and the upper fibers of trapezius


    Muscles that Weaken or are Over-Stretched during Pregnancy

    • Buttocks; gluteals or hip extensors
    • Hamstring muscles; back of the thigh
    • Abdominal muscles*
    • Mid and lower fibers of the trapezius in the upper back
    • The external rotators of the shoulder
    • Serratus anterior; Scapular depression:
    • Neck flexors, frontal only
    • Pelvic floor muscles
    • Intercostals; ribcage muscles

    Unfortunately, these conditions don’t just go away after birth. The postpartum body has been trained for 9+ months to assume this compromised position in order to carry the baby, so in order to recover a good posture and eliminate back and shoulder pain, the body must be actively retrained.


    Yoga practice, Pilates exercise and stretching with guidance by a trained instructor or therapist, are ways to positively help re-align the body.  Click here for Roxanne’s post-partum yoga fusion practice, a series of yoga, pilates and alignment exercises to strengthen and stretch the body once you’ve had doctor’s clearance!


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