There is no doubt that pregnancy is an incredible time. However, it is also a trying time, in which it places a heavy toll on your body in a myriad of different ways.
It is for this reason that so much emphasis is placed on rehabbing your body and regaining your strength after pregnancy, while also trying to keep your exercise levels high throughout the entire pregnancy period.
But what is often less discussed is postpartum posture
How posture is affected during pregnancy and postpartum
Does pregnancy change your posture?
During pregnancy, your ligaments become lax to allow your pelvis to change shape. It is this process that facilitates birth. Additionally, some muscles lengthen, while others become tight, providing the support necessary to allow this change to occur.
However, while this process is necessary, it can have a significant impact on your posture (Betsch, 2015; Schröder, 2016).
First and foremost, as pregnancy progresses, your postural position will change in such a way that you start to lean forward. As a result, your lower back will begin to arch to help keep your head in a nice upright position.
Then to make matters worse, your upper back begins to round, and your shoulders shift into a more forward position.
This excessive arch of the lower back is known as lordosis, and the excessive rounding of the upper back is known as kyphosis.
What causes curved back after pregnancy?
I have already mentioned that pregnancy can lead to pretty significant changes in spinal position during pregnancy. However, it is important to note that many of these changes remain after pregnancy has been completed.
But why is this the case?
Kyphosis after pregnancy
During pregnancy, the additional weight on the front of the body contributes to excessive kyphosis by dragging the upper back and shoulders forward. This leads to the upper back muscles becoming weak, and all the muscles at the front of the chest becoming tight.
It is for this reason that kyphosis remains so apparent after giving birth – because pregnancy leads to some pretty significant musculature changes.
Lordosis after pregnancy
In a similar fashion to kyphosis, lordosis often remains after pregnancy, although not quite to such a significant degree.
This is because lordosis is primarily driven by two things.
- The abdominals becoming separated and weak, and
- The muscles of the lower back and hip flexors becoming tight
As pregnancy progresses, the abdominal muscles begin to separate. This impairs their ability to help stabilize your lower back and keep your spine nice and safe. In response, the muscles of your lower back and hip flexors tighten up to provide this lost stability.
Sometimes after pregnancy, the strength of the abdominals returns, and the other muscles relax slightly – although often some lordosis remains.
Lower back pain after pregnancy
Now if we look at all changes in spinal position associated with pregnancy, it should become apparent as to why lower back pain during pregnancy – and after pregnancy – is such a big issue (Dumas, 1995).
Because the muscles of the trunk become weak, all the muscles of the lower back become extremely tight. This essentially drags the lower back and pelvis into a hard arch, which increases lower back pain significantly.
In short, lower back pain during pregnancy is driven by the poor posture associated with pregnancy.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – because it means that we can fix it.
Exercises to improve posture during and after pregnancy
See, given that both poor posture and lower back pain appear to be caused by the development of muscular imbalances, we can act to correct them both through exercise. With this in mind, I have provided a list of my favorite exercises for both during and after pregnancy.
Pregnancy posture exercises
The best pregnancy posture exercises are those that strengthen the muscles of the upper back and core, while also stretching the front of the chest. Moreover, they need to be safe, and relatively accessible.
As such, my favorites are:
- Seated row: this is a great exercise that can e completed with a band or a cable machine if you have one available. Simply grab the handles or the band with a neutral grip, and row towards you. Try and drive your thumbs into your armpits and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement. Hold for 2 seconds and repeat. I like these for three sets of 15 repetitions.
- Pallof press: this is a great core exercise that can be done with a band. Simply anchor the band to a doorframe or a pole and stand at a 90-degree angle to its anchor point. Proceed to take a wide stance, and slowly extend your arms while holding onto the band. When your arms are fully extended, it should feel like your abdominals are contracting hard to keep a nice and stable spinal position. I use these for 3 sets of 12 repetitions per side.
- Pec stretch: lastly, we have the pec stretch. Simply stand in a doorway and rest your arm up on the door frame (as if you are giving it a high five). Apply pressure into the frame. You should feel a nice stretch through the front of your chest. Do these for 2 sets of 60 seconds per side.
Postpartum posture exercises
Now onto my favorites postpartum posture exercises!
In a similar fashion to the above, these aim to improve core strength and stability, while also improving your spinal position. I would actually use these three exercises in conjunction with the three listed above, as they complement one another very nicely.
- Plank: Start on your hands and elbows (in a commando position) and proceed to lift your hips slightly. From here, squeeze your glutes and your abdominals as hard as you can to create a powerful core contraction. I like this one for 3 sets of 30 seconds.
- Bird dog: With this one, start on your hands and knees, with your core braced. Proceed to slowly elevate and extend one arm and the opposite leg, while maintaining a stable spine position. Once both limbs are fully extended, return to the start position. Perform these for 3 sets of 15 per side.
- Hip flexor stretch: This is the perfect stretch to help return your postural position to normal and alleviate lower back discomfort. Start in the half-kneeling position, with the toes of your back leg driven into the ground. Proceed to contract the glute of your back leg as hard as you can. You should feel a strong stretch through the front of your hip. Hold this for 2 sets of 60 seconds per side.
If you keep up with these six exercises well into the postpartum period, I can assure it will make a massive difference!
You might like: Exercise in the Postpartum Period: The Practical Applications
What happens if I don’t fix my posture after pregnancy?
With all this information, you might be wondering what happens if you do not correct your posture after pregnancy? Well, there are some pretty common long term effects of bad posture that are worthy of mention.
Obviously chronic lower back pain becomes a serious possibility, as do long term joint issues, such as shoulder, neck, and hip pain. There is also some evidence to suggest that chronic kyphosis can lead to the onset of tension headaches, which is not a good thing (Fortner, 2018).
Moreover, research has shown that performing sport and exercises with poor posture has the potential to increase your risk of injuries occurring. This means that if you choose not to correct your posture after pregnancy, your risk of injury during every other aspect of your life is increased (Watson, 2001).
So, what does this mean?
Well, pretty simply, you should probably take the time to improve your posture after giving birth.
Pregnancy places a massive toll on your body, including some pretty significant postural changes. Moreover, given that these changes can lead to pain and discomfort, we want to avoid them where possible.
So, take the time to implement the exercises listed in this article and keep your posture in good shape –it will make a huge difference in the long run!
Betsch, Marcel, et al. “Spinal posture and pelvic position during pregnancy: a prospective rasterstereographic pilot study.” European Spine Journal 24.6 (2015): 1282-1288.
Schröder, Guido, et al. “Impact of pregnancy on back pain and body posture in women.” Journal of physical therapy science 28.4 (2016): 1199-1207.
Dumas, G. A., et al. “Exercise, posture, and back pain during pregnancy: Part 2. Exercise and back pain.” Clinical Biomechanics 10.2 (1995): 104-109.
Fortner, Miles O., Paul A. Oakley, and Deed E. Harrison. “Alleviation of chronic spine pain and headaches by reducing forward head posture and thoracic hyperkyphosis: a CBP® case report.” Journal of physical therapy science 30.8 (2018): 1117-1123.
Watson, Anthony William Sharpe. “Sports injuries related to flexibility, posture, acceleration, clinical defects, and previous injury, in high-level players of body contact sports.” International journal of sports medicine 22.03 (2001): 222-225.