Grown ups need tummy time too!
When I see clients for postpartum bodywork, one of the main areas we commonly work on are the upper back, neck and shoulders. That's of course no surprise.
Postpartum is basically one big slouch-fest of holding and lifting and curling your upper body around your baby to feed, hold, soothe and otherwise adore them.
For a variety of reasons it’s hard not to spend most of your days looking down at your baby with your chin tucked and arms wrapped around them, and you know what...? This actually makes for a very strong chest and front of your neck. Strong, but also short.
What that means for the backside of your neck and upper back and shoulders generally is that they're being pulled too long and tight, like a rubber band that just gets tighter and tighter the more you stretch it. You may not know this but muscles are often actually sore and tight from OVERSTRETCHING!
So what’s the solution? Since most people can't get a massage every day, the answer I usually give to people is to sneak in lots of chest openers during the day. Rather than trying to relieve their neck and upper back and shoulder tension by stretching forward I suggest, stretching back. Arch your neck and arms and shoulders backwards for a bit after a feeding for example, instead of just moving immediately to the next thing.
But more recently I've been thinking about the importance of also strengthening the upper back and neck muscles, because all that forward leaning and pulling also weakens those muscles. And this is what brings me to tummy time. When you put your baby down on their belly for however long, new parents can, dare I say even should, take the opportunity to get down on their own bellies and stretch up and away from the floor as they engage with their little one.
First of all, this counterpose will usually feel really good! To finally get a moment to stretch your arms and belly, to arch your back in the opposite direction, and lengthen your front body for a change.
But also when your back body has a chance to slacken, those muscles also get a chance to get a little stronger by having a chance to work against gravity. This is in fact one of the same reason babies need their tummy time. To develop back body strength and become more balanced from front to back.
This also brings fresh blood supply to those tissues, which makes those muscles also happier when they return to their regularly scheduled programming.
Just laying on your own tummy and looking up at baby will do the trick, but if you wanted to take the opportunity to deepen the stretch and lift, you could try any version of the following yoga poses, such as sphinx, cobra, up-dog and "superman". See image below.
We need to start telling parents the value of tummy time for them too. The truth is, most of us need tummy time, even non-parents just to counterpose against the amount we forward lean and slouch at our computers in our modern daily lives, but at least parents with little ones have this adorable little motivator who needs their own tummy time, such that, for lack of a better phrase, you can kill two birds with one stone. (Seriously, if you know a better phrase, I'd love to hear it!)