A foam roller has many uses, but these are three specific, yet simple, ways to improve your thoracic (upper back) mobility. This should allow your back and maybe even your neck to feel better as a new momma. Whether you are nursing or bottle feeding, it really doesn’t matter. After all fed is best. With both though, you are at risk for neck and upper back pain due to the forward head and rounded shoulder postures that feeding your baby inevitably tend to pull you into. Babies eat 12-14 times per day at first leading to a lot of opportunity for poor posture. When tracking the number of hours I spent nursing my first child, it was between 5-6 hours per day most days in the early weeks. Not only is that a long time to be sitting and immobile, but admittedly, most of the time I was too tired to even care about what my posture looked like or felt like while I was feeding him. As a result, I frequently dealt with tension headaches or neck pain.
You don’t have to make the mistakes I did though. Perform these three moves regularly to help get you moving and feeling better.
THE BIG THREE
#1 Massage your scapula-thoracic muscles
Why: These muscles between your shoulder blades need some extra love right now. Massaging with a roller device reduces muscle soreness and promotes a higher pain pressure threshold in the affected muscles.
How: Give yourself a big hug which pulls your shoulder blades apart and gives you access to roll over them better. Lift your hips slightly off the ground and slowly roll up and down on the roller. Repeat 8-12 times.
#2 Extend through your thoracic spine
Why: Your spine needs to move in the opposite direction (extension) since it is spending most of its time forward (in flexion) when feeding your baby so it doesn’t tend to getting “stuck” forward. Use the foam roller as your fulcrum.
How: Place it at about the level of your bra line. Put your hands behind your head, keep your hips on the ground, and gently arch back and over the roller. Be mindful of keeping your ribs from splaying open too much while you do this. Think about drawing the inner borders of the bottom part of your ribcage together by contracting your abs gently. Repeat for a total of three times then slide the roller up your back towards your head just slightly to the next level of your thoracic spine. Repeat until you reach the part of your spine between your shoulder blades.
#3 Rotation through your mid-back
Why: You want to be able to turn side to side, without feeling stuck, don’t you? One example of when thoracic rotation is necessary is in order to reach back to hand your baby their pacifier when you’re sitting in the passenger seat.
How: Lie on your side. Place the top knee on the foam roller. With your bottom hand, hold your knee down in order to limit the movement through your hips/low back. This allows you to isolate your midback during the movement pattern. With your top arm, straighten it and turn it so your thumb is pointing down near your knee. Inhale, and as you slowly exhale, lift and turn your arm moving it so it ends up near your ear with your thumb facing down again. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Return hand to start position down by your knee. Follow your hand with your eyes to include cervical rotation too. Repeat 5-8 times per side.
*Bonus Tip: Gluteal Foam Rolling
Why: The glute muscles are deeply in need of some extra attention in the post-partum stages. They often get shut off either due to excessive butt clenching as a compensatory strategy to handle your changing body and growing belly during pregnancy. To help wake-them up, use the foam roller to bring awareness to the area by increasing blood flow to the muscles.
How: Sit on the roller with your right foot crossed over your left knee. Rotate slightly so you are more on the right buttock. Roll back and forth massaging the muscles on that side 8-10 times. Switch legs and repeat on the opposite side.
If you are more of a visual learner, check out these videos for a further explanation.
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Use these four tips to help your body recover in the early stages post-partum and beyond. It’s never too early to start gentle mobility work unless indicated by your doctor. Spend a few minutes a day working these patterns to counteract that time spent feeding your baby in order to prevent forward head posture or rounded shoulders from permanently plaguing your posture.
The traditional foam roller comes in a variety of sizes.
For more intense soft tissue work, there are block or choppy foam rollers.