We all have different tendencies for breathing, posture and movement. The common habits described below are not wrong, but it might be worthwhile to try different strategies to build resiliency in our bodies to assist in symptom management and healing during pregnancy and postpartum.
Do you tend to hold your breath with workouts or doing everyday activities? (e.g. carrying laundry, lifting car seat/toddler, doing a hard workout). When you hold your breath with lifting or everyday activities, the pressure that you’re keeping from escaping upwards may have a tendency to travel down into the pelvic floor. This can lead to symptoms like leaking, pressure or pain.
Try working on remembering to fully inhale and exhale while doing these movements. A great way to start working on this is exhale on exertion – breathe out during the hardest part of the movement. Another way to think of it is “blow before you go” (learned from physiotherapist Julie Wiebe) - before you pick up the car seat, take a deep breath in, start your exhale and then pick up the car seat as you continue to exhale.
Don’t get too wrapped up in when and how to breathe. Sometimes focusing too intently on it can have a negative impact on symptoms. When in doubt, just breathe!
Do you find yourself sucking in or gripping your abdomen all the time? Sadly this has become a cultural norm with women wanting to make our bellies appear smaller. Do you also find yourself squeezing your glutes all the time? This is another common habit, especially in standing (such as doing the dishes!)
Holding tension in your abdomen and glutes may lead to holding tension in your pelvic floor muscles as well. This can lead to symptoms like leaking, pressure and pain.
Whenever you think of it throughout the day, catch yourself and relax your abdomen and glutes. Imagine them melting like butter. While you’re at it – relax your neck, shoulders and jaw too!
My favourite position for working on pelvic floor relaxation is z-lying! Try this position 2-3 times throughout the day for 1-2 minutes at a time, or 20 deep breaths.
It is common with pregnancy to tuck your butt under and thrust your ribcage forward due to the weight of the baby. Often this posture continues when carrying your baby postpartum. This posture is not “wrong” or “bad”, but any posture/position done repeatedly many times throughout the day can lead to symptoms/ pain.
Try to focus on keeping your ribcage over your hips to put less strain on your abdomen and pelvic floor. Our bodies love movement and variety, so the best thing you can do is change your posture throughout the day (i.e. you don’t need to stand in “perfect posture” all the time – vary between your “habit” posture, ribs over hips, sit, stand, weight on one hip, then the other etc).
Pressure and Movement Strategies
Do you have a tendency to breathe into your abdomen? Repeated breathing into the abdomen can lead to added pressure on the linea alba (the connective tissue between your ab muscles). This tissue becomes stretched during pregnancy to make room for the baby. Working on evening out your breath can help minimize added pressure going into an already strained abdomen.
Another common habit is bearing down into your pelvic floor with movements (push down like you’re taking a poop). This habit, when done repeatedly, can put added strain on the pelvic floor muscles which may lead to symptoms like leaking, pressure and pain.
Practice the “umbrella” breath or 360 degree breath to more evenly distribute pressure in your system. Breathe into abdomen, ribcage and back evenly on your inhale. You can practice this in lying, sitting and standing. Practice 10 breaths 2-3 times a day.
The true learning comes in when you can incorporate all of the above into your movements – in workouts and everyday activities. This comes with practice!
If you’re having symptoms with movements or exercises throughout the day, try playing around with some of these strategies to see if it changes your symptoms. Sometimes it’s just a few minor tweaks that will make a big difference!