Relaxation, Breathing and Correct Posture
Some feelings of anxiety regarding lifestyle changes, adjustments to pregnancy and anticipation of the future are common for new families. The art of relaxation will be one of the most valuable skills you will learn for dealing with the challenges of pregnancy, birth, and life with your baby. Keep the relaxation exercises simple and practice often. There are many techniques for relaxation. Two good resources to start with are the books:
“The Relaxation Response” by Herbert Benson, MD, and
“Visualization For An Easier Childbirth" by Carl Jones
In addition, there are numerous relaxation tapes and CDs available in music stores and at Newborn Connections.
Deep abdominal breathing is the most efficient method of breathing for you and your baby. This technique assists you to relax and begin preparing for birth. The benefits of this type of breathing include:
- a more efficient air exchange
- decreased tension
- strengthening of the abdominal muscles
Though newborns naturally breathe this way, our lifestyles and years of incorrect posture and stress cause most of us to breath shallowly in our upper chest. Like breaking any habit, it takes time to convince the body to change a routine it has performed for years.
The best time to practice deep abdominal breathing is when you are relaxed, usually in the morning or late in the evening when you are sleepy. Other muscles are less likely to want to work, and true isolation of the abdominal muscles can be achieved.
- Lie down on a comfortable surface with your knees bent or on your side with a pillow between your knees.
- Relax your body as much as possible, allowing your weight to sink into the surface on which you are lying.
- Gently put your hands on your abdomen, close your eyes and notice your breathing. Feel your hands rising as you inhale and falling as you exhale.
- Continue to breathe slowly while focusing on your breathing. It is not unusual to feel movement only in your chest, indicating shallow chest breathing. Be patient and continue to breathe slowly, focusing on the movement of your hands and abdomen.
- Focus on performing the two actions in unison. When the exhalation or breathing out is completed, your abdominal muscles are fully contracted or tight. Practice making your abdominal movements smooth and easy, directed by your breathing.
Don't give up. Initially, the practice exercises will seem slow and choppy Eventually they will smooth out. As abdominal breathing becomes easier for you, gradually incorporate the practice exercises into your daily routine -- while crossing the street, talking on the telephone or whenever you can. Be patient and eventually you will breathe this way without thinking about it.
Pregnancy and Posture
One of the most important contributions to a healthy pregnancy is good posture. Proper alignment can decrease low back and neck pain, and fatigue. However, during pregnancy several things occur that work against maintaining correct alignment. These guidelines will help you maintain a healthy posture throughout your pregnancy when standing, sitting and lying down.
The Effect of Pregnancy on Your Body's Alignment
The weight of the baby causes your lower back to sway as your center of gravity moves forward.
Poor Posture (occurs naturally)
- Your abdominal muscles become stretched as the baby grows. These muscles are less able to contract and keep your lower back in proper alignment.
- Hormone levels increase in pregnancy and cause joints and ligaments to loosen.
Corrected Posture (requires practice)
In order to counteract the increased low back curve, straighten your upper back so that your ear, shoulder and hip are aligned. Tuck your pelvis under using the pelvic tilt.
Maintaining a Healthy Posture While Standing
- Maintain the pelvic tilt at all times, so that your lower back does not sway forward.
- Contract your abdominal muscles and buttocks to act as a natural "corset" for your lower back.
- Keep your chin tucked in. Your ears should be in a straight line with your shoulders.
- Avoid standing in one position for long periods of time.
- Avoid high heels, as they cause your body weight to shift forward even more. Wear low heeled, comfortable shoes.
- When doing any task where you are standing for a prolonged period of time , such as ironing or doing dishes, put one foot up on a step stool or sit on a high stool. This will decrease the sway in your lower back. (see example to right)
- Consider wearing a maternity support belt (available at Newborn Connections).
Maintaining a Healthy Posture While Sitting
- Maintain the pelvic tilt and avoid slouching.
- Sit into the chair so that the length of your thigh is supported by the chair.
- Sit so your knees are level with your hips.
- Don't cross your legs. This position decreases circulation.
Maintaining a Healthy Posture While Semi-reclined
- Stack pillows to elevate your head and keep your knees bent.
Maintaining a Healthy Posture While Lying on Your Side
Sidelying is a good position to take stress off your lower back without inhibiting the blood flow to the placenta and your baby.
- Place a pillow between your legs to support the weight of your top leg and to decrease low back strain.
- A pillow under your abdomen will help support the weight of your uterus.
- Place a pillow behind you for back support.
Maintaining a Healthy Posture While Lying on Your Back
Avoid lying on your back for long periods of time, after the first trimester. The weight of the baby and your uterus can compress the large blood vessels and reduce the blood flow and oxygen to the placenta and baby.
- If you do lie on your back, elevate your head and place a pillow under your knees or keep your knees bent in order to tilt your pelvis and flatten your back.
Strategies for Lifting and Bending
You are more susceptible to back strain during pregnancy and following delivery as the pregnancy hormones have softened your ligaments and joints.
- To reach or lift low objects, spread your feet apart with one foot ahead of the other and bend your knees.
- Bring the object close to you as you straighten your knees and lift. This allows you to use your thigh muscles for lifting rather than straining your back muscles.
- When moving an object, push it instead of pulling. Use your legs, not your back and arms.
- Never bend at the waist with your knees straight, even if it is only a slight bend. Instead, alter your position so that you are sitting, squatting, kneeling or bending at the knees while leaning forward at the hips.
- When getting in and out of bed or a car, turn your hips, pelvis and back in the same direction while maintaining a straight back. When getting out of bed, first roll to your side and then use your arms to push from the bed.