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Mommies Don't Get Workers' Compensation

My girlfriend Abby recently went through a rough few weeks; baby Josh
hit a point where he had to be walked and rocked to go to sleep,
sometimes for over an hour. At four months old, Josh seemed too young to
his parents for sleep training, so Abby toughed it out, carrying him
around until he finally went to sleep.

Unfortunately for Abby’s back, Josh is a little sumo wrestler so it was
no surprise that Abby woke up one morning immobilized with back pain.
The pain quickly went from excruciating to near-unbearable and she was
at a loss as to how to put one foot in front of the other, much less
care for a newborn and a toddler.

Around that same time, we had Maddie sleeping in our room in a
pack-n-play while her room was under construction. The change in her
routine coupled with a developmental spurt ruined her night sleep
patterns and she began waking several times a night, so I spent almost a
week bending all the way over to the floor and dead-lifting 16 pounds
up. Again – no surprise that I, too, began feeling back pain.

Mommies everywhere have to deal with a near-impossible set of
circumstances: recovering from either major surgery (cesarean) or a
major physical marathon (labor), dealing with hormonal surges as some
hormones leave and new ones come in, learning a new physical action
(nursing) and doing it over and over again, picking a baby up out of his
crib and putting him down dozens of times a day, walking a teething
baby, and so on and so on and so on. All this takes its toll on our
bodies, which are still reeling from the “how the heck do I function
with all this relaxin and 40 extra pounds!” thing. Being a mommy is an
incredibly physical job; if it were any job in the workforce, we’d have
hundreds of hours of training before ever being put “behind the wheel”.
But it’s not, so it’s sink-or-swim, with too many mommies perilously
close to drowning.

Abby was lucky; she had me to call. Physical health is my career, I’ve
worked in the rehab industry, and I’ve studied working with pre- and
post-natal women. I was able to talk her through some things she could
do for immediate relief, as well as call on my circle of referrals and
get her in touch with the appropriate medical professional to help her
out quickly. But not everyone has a friend to turn to for this sort of
thing, so listen up.

First off – no surprise – a mommy’s physical health starts during
pregnancy. Your body’s going through a major change, not the least of
which is a significant added weight load and a shifted center of
gravity. It’s not called the pregnancy waddle for nothing. If you are
pregnant, talk about an exercise program with your OB; it’s vital you
stay in great shape, both for the (relative) sprint of labor and for the
marathon of mommyhood. Trust me, after the baby comes you’ll be lucky to
be exercising once a month, so stay on top of it now.

As a pregnant woman, one of the most important things you can do for
your future body is take care of your abdominals. Learning to hold your
pregnant belly with your deep abdominal muscle (your transversus) will
give that muscle invaluable training to help support your back later on.
Please, if you only read one book on physical health your whole
pregnancy, please read Maternal
. Julie Tupler explains in detail how to strengthen that
muscle, and gives great advice on trying to stay bio-mechanically
correct with your new weight distribution. Don’t breeze through my
article, see “strengthen your abdominals” and lie down and start to do
crunches. Typical abdominal exercises are a big big no-no; they can
cause your stomach muscle to split in two (called a diastasis). You
really need a professional to guide you through a correct abdominal
workout, either by the book or in person.

Pretty equal with the abdominal muscle is keeping your pelvic floor
strong. Do your Kegels. If you’re uncertain, check out Maternal
. I promise, Kegels only get harder after the birth. You
might as well do them now.

And finally, keep your upper back strong and your upper posture great.
Your breasts are getting heavier and dragging your shoulders down. Your
stomach is way up in your lungs, your boobs are resting on your belly
button, and everything’s crammed together. Your boobs will only get
heavier when your milk comes in, and your chest will simply close in on
itself with multiple nursings unless you get a strong upper back and
make good posture a habit. Again, Maternal Fitness is a great

Many pregnant women also experience low back pain. You’ve got several
things contributing to this, but one of them is the fact that all your
joints are looser from the relaxin coursing through your body. Your SI
joint in your lower back is looser, which can cause the muscles around
it to tighten up in an effort to stabilize. Many pregnant women find
relief from this by wearing a pregnancy SI belt. The SI
from OPTP is my favorite; if you’re experiencing low-back
pain talk to your OB about whether you should invest in one of these

And a last word on the pregnant body. Because your joints are all
loosening up, your muscles will start tightening in an effort to hold
the boat together. Calf and foot cramps are common because of this. So
in spite of the fact that your joints are more mobile and you can
finally get in the splits again for the first time since high school,
you need to stretch. Every day. Stretching your hamstrings and quads is
vital. Neck stretching will keep your shoulders from aching, and calf
stretching will help prevent charley horses in the middle of the night.
Again (big surprise) I direct you to Maternal Fitness. Stretching
incorrectly can actually cause problems for your body; if you’re hanging
in the joint and stretching the ligaments rather than the muscles, your
body can be permanently damaged. So read up before diving in. And if you
weren’t doing the splits in the months before your pregnancy, don’t do
them now.

There are several more precautions for exercise and a pregnant woman;
I’m not listing them all here because I don’t want you to think this
blog is all you need to put together a safe and healthy exercise plan.
But talk to your OB about what you can do, and if at all possible seek
out a fitness professional that’s trained in pregnant women for at least
a couple sessions, to make sure you’re doing things right. Julie Tupler
offers classes in her technique across the country; I highly recommend
them. Check out her website
for more info.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about what to do if the pregnancy boat’s sailed and
it’s time to deal with an aching body and an eight-week-old.

And I’m sure it goes without saying, but here’s my big disclaimer. I’m
not a medical professional. I did not go to medical school. I’m just a
chick on the internet who had a baby and happens to be in the fitness
field and have a penchant for obsessively researching everything she
does. So for heaven’s sake, don’t take my word for anything. Talk to
your doctor and if anything she says contradicts what I say, whom do you
listen to? Your doctor? That’s right.


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