Transcript: Tips To Improve Posture For Busy Moms

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Tips To Improve Posture For Busy Moms and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

A lot of the moms I talk with often ask me about ways they can improve their posture since they’re often put to the test particularly whilst pregnant.

I know from experience that my posture is far from ideal and there is much I could do to improve it. In my opinion, one of the mistakes that many moms make is looking to attain a perfect posture!

This week’s guest, Courtney McManus who is a personal trainer, has what I feel is a more realistic, practical approach and encourages moms to find different ways to move through postures so they are truly mobile and able to move.

You’ll hear Courtney share easy to follow tips including:-

  • Ways to improve your posture and feel more comfortable whilst bottle feeding or breastfeeding your baby.
  • The benefits of 360 breathing and how to get started.
  • How to exercise your feet to improve your balance and reduce aches and pains.

And much more.

Helen Thompson: Welcome Courtney to First Time Mum’s Chat. It’s a pleasure to have you here. I’m so excited to speak with you. So first of all, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what it is you’re passionate about?

Courtney McManus: Yes and thank you so much for having me. I am a mom of three and a personal trainer, and I have worked with moms for the past 15 years, and it is my passion to help busy moms move more, but not always through exercise. I like to help them move more finding ways to move throughout their day, in the little snippets of life, like creating more movement through their normal routines. And then also making sure that we’re checking our posture as well throughout the day. So I do have a passion for posture. And yeah, that’s what everybody thinks immediately, perfect posture. But for me, it’s really not about having any perfect posture because what really is that. It’s more about finding different ways to move through postures so that we are really mobile and able to move. We’re not too tight in any one thing, because even if you’re sitting up nice and straight all the time, there’s going to be problems with that as well. So making sure that we’re moving through different positions for our posture.

Helen Thompson: Yeah and I think for a mom who is either breastfeeding, or she’s just constantly picking up her baby and bending down and picking up her baby, putting her baby to sleep, getting out of bed. To get her baby from asleep to feed her, it must be hard on a mum’s posture to do that.

Courtney McManus: Yeah, so what actually happens during pregnancy, our posture starts to change and we get this what’s called the mom posture. And for most people it’s like their belly juts out. So they start to create this arch in their low back. And their ribs start to flare. They open up to make space for the baby. And what happens is after baby is born, your body doesn’t just automatically come back to neutral. It stays there. So moms start to deal with that posture and then add on that, all the things like you’re saying with breastfeeding and having to carry a carrier around, or just if they have their child in a sling or something, that’s changing their posture as well.

So what I like to recommend people do is look at, especially with breastfeeding. So when you think about breastfeeding moms or just feeding your baby, it doesn’t matter if you’re breastfeeding or just feeding your baby. We tend to get really tight, intense in our upper body because we’re thinking, oh, they’re in this perfect position. And now I’ve got to keep that there and I can’t move. So their shoulders are locked up high, they’ve got this rounded forward and then maybe they’re holding their arm up, rather than letting it relax into something because they are like, well, I don’t want to move because now my baby is in this position and they’re eating and they don’t want to move or anything.

So my recommendation is find things, find pillows, get pillows underneath you, find ways to just kind of relax into it rather than being so stuck in one position. It’s okay, your child is going to be okay if you move and relax, than rather sit tense and worried that if you do something. Especially when that child goes to sleep.

If they’re sleeping while they’re feeding, sometimes we don’t want to move or anything. So just trying to relax and also creating movement within. So how can I change my body to accommodate different aches and pains. So while you’re in this position, if your shoulder starts to hurt, open it up and reach your arm up overhead, and then reach it out to the side and then bring it back and then try to feed again.

So, and this is if you’re bottle feeding, but if you’re breastfeeding, you can kind of move that shoulder around. You don’t have to be locked in this one position while you’re feeding. So our body for most, and this is most everybody just because of technology and sitting for so long, we tend to go into this forward rounded position or neck, that tech neck type thing.

So thinking about resetting to where, not just trying to sit up straight, but try to go through an extension. So place your hands behind your head and then lift your rib cage up and chin lifts up towards the corner of the room type of thing to kind of open up, because we’re so much here. We don’t have a reason to open up and extend anymore.

So that is a great way to create extension. And that is more going to get your body back into neutral than just trying to bring it into this perfect posture, because the goal is to move through, if we’re here, this forward position, then we want to open it up and try to create an extension in our back. So upper back, I’m trying to think how to explain this.

Helen Thompson: I’m just trying what you’re suggesting and it really works. I’m putting my hands behind my back and just stretching. I’m just doing what you’re doing while you’re talking and I can really feel it in my back. It actually feels really nice.

Courtney McManus: Yeah, and you can even, so how I said, ribs, flare a lot for moms, so when we go back in that position, our ribs flare. So if you feel your ribs, you’re going to feel that they’re kind of opened. And then what you can do is while you’re in that position, think about drawing your ribs down as well. While you’re here in extension draw your ribs down and you’re going to feel a different sensation in your back as well. So that’s a neat one to do as well.

Helen Thompson: Yeah you mentioned about relaxing. I was taking notes of what you said, so I can come back to it. I would have thought that if you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding and if you’re tense, your baby’s gonna pick up on you feeling tense. And if you’re tense, I can just imagine you’re feeding your baby and your shoulder is sore, and you’re thinking I don’t want to move it. I think if you’re moving and relaxing, your baby’s going to pick up on the sense that you’re moving to relax.

Courtney McManus: Yeah, well it’s interesting you say that though, because for me, when I was breastfeeding, I would get stuck in positions and I’d be nervous that if I moved, that she was going to, get upset with me or something. And this changed, obviously the longer we had been doing it, but in the beginning, I think as a new mom, you get really nervous because it’s hard enough just to figure out the whole latching. And then you get stuck in these weird positions trying to hold that latch. So definitely, trying to get yourself comfortable first, like you said, because your child will sense that. So, it’s important to relax first. Find what feels comfortable for you and then work on latching.

Helen Thompson: And then using cushions, as you mentioned too, because that way you’re supporting the baby, but you’re also supporting yourself.

Courtney McManus: Yes, supporting yourself for comfort so that you’re not tight and creating tension because a lot of us will get that shoulder blade pain because we get really tight through this area.

Helen Thompson: Yeah and that builds up with stress as well. If your shoulders sore, it all relates to stress and it all picks up on the baby.

Courtney McManus: Stress and then also breathing.

Helen Thompson: I was going to add that cause I know on your website, you’ve got a course that you do and you mentioned how important the two are. And we all know that if you don’t breathe, well we know what the consequences are. So can you tell us a bit more about the breathing and balance and why it’s so important?

Courtney McManus: Yeah, so first, one thing I was going to mention with breathing with your tension and shoulder pain is when many of us breathe we have become chest breathers. So we breathe up high and we use all of the muscles in our neck and our chest and our upper back to help us breathe. We no longer are using our diaphragm and our diaphragm is extremely important to be working so that our core is working. So our diaphragm and our pelvic floor work together. And if they’re not working, if the diaphragm is not, going through the full muscular movement that it’s supposed to go through, then it can create tension and tightness in the core, or it can create too much relaxation in the core, which can also create leaking when you jump or sneeze or laugh, that type of thing.

So when I talk about breathing, it’s really, if you think about balance, balance requires the core. So if your diaphragm is one of the main components, your diaphragm’s on top, your pelvic floor is on the bottom, and then you have all your core muscles. If those aren’t working, then not everything else is going to work well either.

So then that becomes an issue with balance. And now when I say that when you’re in your twenties and thirties and probably even forties, you may not notice that, but once you get older, that balance is going to really become a problem because those core muscles might not be as strong as they used to. And if we’re not using our diaphragm properly, while we’re breathing, then that’s going to create weaker muscles because they’re not working. They’re not being worked like they’re supposed to be worked, if that makes sense.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, it does make sense. Cause I think I’m sort of getting to that older stage where I sometimes find that if I sneeze or if it’s a really big sneeze, I sort of feel, my pelvic floor doesn’t feel as strong as it could be.

Courtney McManus: So the tips that I have in regards to breathing. There’s a few things that I would recommend where you start. So the first one is 360 breathing and you’ll hear different people talk. If you’re in the yoga, if you take yoga classes and things like that, they really talk about belly breathing, which is good because it gets it out of the chest.

The problem with going just down to the belly is you’re still not getting the expansion of the rib cage and the full activation of the diaphragm. So when I say 360 breathing, I’m thinking of my rib cage, like a jellyfish. So if I take my hands and I place them around my rib cage and I breathe in, I want my hands to expand fully around. And if you think how a jellyfish opens and then closes, that’s what your rib cage should be doing. And it should be even all the way around. So if you do that, take a deep breath in and breathe out. I see this with so many people, when they breathe in, the chest rises and the shoulders rise. And that tells me immediately that that’s a chest breather and you may not be a full-on chest breather, but maybe at the end, when you’re trying to take that deep breath, it rises up. So really trying to work deeper into that breathing and so that’s the first thing is practice 360 breathing. What most people will notice is that they can’t get the back ribs into their thumbs. It’s very difficult. So we’re now going to practice back breathing and there’s a few different ways that you can do this.

So if you’re sitting upright right now, while you’re listening and while you’re there in your chair, just lean into the back of your chair. And what I want you to do is I want you to think about breathing in, and I want your ribs, the back ribs to feel and press into the back of the seat. You want to try to take a deep breath in and you want those back ribs, on the backside to breathe into the back of your seat. You want them to try to touch into the back of the seat.

Helen Thompson: I can feel that. I could feel them touching in the back of the seat.

Courtney McManus: Yeah and usually what a lot of people will say when I say to do this, is they’ll feel like a release in their back, more so than what they would normally feel when they breathe.

Another way you can do this. If this doesn’t really resonate and you’re not feeling it, you can go into a child’s pose or where you put your knees up. And basically, you’re putting your knees to your belly. Whether that’s in a child’s pose, a yoga pose or sitting with a stool underneath your chair, and you’re going to round forward to where your knees are in towards your belly.

And then you’re going to take a deep breath and your belly can’t expand because your legs are in the way. So then the only way it can start to expand is through those back ribs.

Helen Thompson: So it’s a bit like when you go into the fetus position, except you’re lying on your back rather than on the side.

Courtney McManus: Well, no, we’re going to be lying on our belly. You will have your knees up underneath you, like how a child would be laying down on the ground. With their knees up underneath them and their arms up over their head.

Helen Thompson: It does make sense. It’s a fetus position on your tummy.

Courtney McManus: So that will allow that back to breathe. So that is the second one that I would recommend. That’s probably the biggest that I would recommend doing and just work on extending the amount of time that you practice it. So really trying to get into that breathing pattern for longer because what I like to say with back breathing is it’s like riding a bike. Your ribs know how they’re supposed to breathe.

The problem is, taking these small short breaths for so long, that they stop moving, but the minute you get them started again, and you start practicing this a few times, it’s going to come back and you’re not going to have to work so hard to get it back into that because it’s going to be like, oh, I remember how I used to do this and your ribs will just normally start to expand again, like they’re supposed to. So if you stay consistent with it for a couple of weeks, you’ll start to notice that it just does it naturally and that will help. And it will help with balance, it will help with your core. So if you deal with split abs or anything, it might help with that.

If you have that low belly pooch, it can help with that. It can help with the leaking when you sneeze or something, depending on if you have any type of pelvic floor issues. If it’s too, loose, it will help with that. If it’s too tight, it may not. Well, actually your breathing should help either way, because if it’s too tight, when you breathe into it, you should, it should require a lax of the pelvic floor.

Helen Thompson: I know my breathing is very tight because you’re talking about short breathing and I noticed sometimes with me, my breathing is, I don’t have shortness of breath, but sometimes I’ll breathe and I have to take a couple of breaths before I feel that I’m totally relaxed. So I’m going to try what you said, because I think that might help.

Courtney McManus: Yes and a lot of people think about trying to pull their belly button back. We get into this habit. It’s especially women, where to fit into our clothing and stuff, or to look at ourself in the mirror we do that suck in of the belly button and that creates this breathing pattern that gets off as well. So not only are we working on, after having a baby, we deal with this type of thing. It’s also even some people, if they’re looking in the mirror and they’re thinking, I want to suck in tight to make my stomach look a certain way, that could be creating it as well.

And getting out of that can be difficult. So that’s a great time to practice breathing and get in your comfy clothes either first thing in the morning or in the evening, so you’re not worried about what anything looks like, and you don’t have tight waistbands that could be pulling things in uncomfortably. Let everything be relaxed and comfortable and then practice your breathing so you’re not doing any of these things that you may have been doing that you don’t realize.

Helen Thompson: I’m going to definitely practice that because I think, and I’ll give you feedback to how I’ve gone, because I think from what you’re saying, I sort of suffer from that. And I know there’s something else we often neglect in our bodies and this is something I’ve picked up from your website. Is our feet. We always walk on our feet, we do everything on our feet, we stand up, we put our feet on the ground when we wake up in the morning.

And I think we take our feet for granted. And I was wondering if you can talk about how we can strengthen our feet and give them more attention, because we’ve talked about our core muscles and our pelvic floor but we need to think about our feet as well.

Courtney McManus: Yes and going back to the balance and breathing, they also help with balance. So as we get older that is another thing that we may struggle with. So our feet are a sensory muscle. They can sense what is going on and they actually help with proprioception. So your foot tells your body where it is in space, but yet we put them in shoes all day and our foot is not allowed to interact with anything, but that shoe.

Helen Thompson: Yeah I don’t like wearing shoes.

Courtney McManus: So then we lose that. So the people who are wearing shoes more often, actually have more trouble with balance, more aches and pains in their feet because they’re not having to use them. So what I usually recommend people do, and like with every type of exercise, you have to take it slow in the beginning because your feet, there’s a lot of muscles in there as well.

So you don’t want to be working your feet for, 20 minutes or anything like that because they’re going to get tired. So you need to start things slow with them. And the first thing that I usually recommend people do is just work on trying to separate your toes from one another. And this may seem like it’s simple, but once you do it, you’re like, whoa, wait a second, my toes won’t separate. So you’re trying to separate your toes so that if I were to have my feet on the floor and I separate my toes, I want to be able to see the carpet, the tile, whatever, the floor in-between each toe.

And for many of us, especially those of us who wear shoes, we wear these narrow toe boxes. A lot of people wear the fashionable shoes, especially women and their close toes. So their toes start to conform to the toe box. So they start to pull towards one another, but we have muscles in between each of our toes, just like we have in our legs.

So you’ve got your abductor muscles, right? So the muscles on the inside of the thigh, the outside of the thigh, similar to the muscles in between each toe. So we have to work on starting to release them and extend them. Now, what I have…

Helen Thompson: Are these what you use for when you have your feet manicured?

Courtney McManus: Yes. So when you put your toes in the manicure toe separators. That will help to separate the toes. And if that’s really uncomfortable, then you know, that that means you need to spend more time doing it and you want to work on separating the toes and then you want to work on getting your toes to start to work independent of one another.

So, yes, because our toes are like our fingers, but because we keep them in shoes all the time, they don’t move like our fingers do. So if you’re new to this, it is very difficult. So what I usually recommend people do is press the big toe down into the floor, while all the little toes are up in the air.

Helen Thompson: That’s hard. I’m trying that now. That’s actually quite hard to do. When I’m doing that, my heels are going up.

Courtney McManus: Oh, okay. Yeah. So you want to keep your heels down too!

Helen Thompson: I know I’m trying to do it, but my heels want to go up. That’s interesting.

Courtney McManus: So, do you deal with pain in the arches of your feet at all?

Helen Thompson: No, I don’t, but I do wear orthotics.

Courtney McManus: Well, so pronate is where the arches fall down, supinate is where they fall out. So, yeah, and this would be really good for you to practice because you can press your big toe down into the floor and think about pulling your big toe back towards your heels. And you’re going to feel the arch of your foot having to work. And that’s really good for that one side that falls in. That’s really good cause that’s going to strengthen that muscle under there to help it try to right itself.

So then you can try to press the little toes down to the floor and lift the big toe up. And when you lift the big toe up, you want to think about pulling the big toes towards one another, not just lifting up because what happens, they lift up and then they pull towards the other toes. So you want to try to pull them towards each other, which can be really difficult too, and then you can start getting fun.

I work with busy moms, but then I also work with women who have multiple sclerosis. So I have been working specifically with them a lot on their feet. So this is something I’ve been doing for probably five years now. And I can go to where my big toe can go down and I can bring all my toes down one at a time or my big toe down and my pinky toe down and keep the other toes up. So over time, the more mobile your feet are, the more you can work on separating everything out. And that’s really great for creating this wider base for our feet, which will help with balance. So your big toe connects all the way up to your pelvic floor. Your big toe, the fascial line runs all the way up through the tongue.

Helen Thompson: Yeah that’s how Reflexology helps your feet. Let’s put it back to the mom who’s pregnant. If you’re pregnant and your balance, obviously isn’t as good as it could be because you’ve got your big tummy because the baby’s in there, so how does that help the pregnant mom.

Courtney McManus: So just any time you can work on extending and strengthening the feet, it’s going to help with your proprioception. So it’s going to help, you know, where your body is in space, so that you will not be so much off balance. And the big toe is connected. It runs up through the pelvic floor. So your big toe is going to help with the strengthening of the pelvic floor as well. So they’re interconnected. Yeah, so it’s really important to be able to work on extending your feet and then work on strengthening your feet.

So the three exercises I shared are pretty good about helping you strengthen those feet so that you feel more secure. When you are walking and moving.

Helen Thompson: Gosh I’ve learnt so much from you on this, it’s amazing.

Courtney McManus: For the pregnant mom, the more they can get. And like I mentioned to you earlier with, don’t treat it like a marathon in the sense of, we don’t want to go, if we wear shoes all day, we don’t want to go all day and not wear shoes because your feet will feel that. That will be very tough on the feet.

So you want to go, okay, today I’m going to work for 15 minutes out of my shoes and I’m going to just walk around and then, see how you feel with that. And then if you feel good, you continue to work. And I like to teach my fitness classes, barefoot. I like my clients to work barefoot, so they can really start to feel the ground or the floor underneath them when they’re moving, because then they can really start to understand because we’re all interconnected.

So when I’m moving my upper body, my feet are communicating to my brain, along with my upper body, through this fascial line to help create these pathways, which also affects your neurological pathways. So we want to try to keep that connection going to where they’re communicating more effectively, and that will help with mobility and movement on the larger scale.

And one thing that you can start to do, on top of your feet, you can start to massage the tops of your feet and start working on kind of releasing them. And that will help usually with hammertoes you can start massaging between each metatarsal and that will start to sometimes release the toes. Now, obviously, if it’s been, a certain period of time, then it may not work as well because you know, we’re working against time.

Helen Thompson: You can use those round massage balls.

Courtney McManus: Yeah so I use these on the bottom because these help to again, create that communication between the foot and the brain. So that’s a great way, the little massage balls. Mine have little spikes, but they’re soft spikes and they help to awaken the nerves. So people with neuropathy, this is a great way to sometimes help them with that sensation of getting the feeling back into their feet. I’m not saying that it’s going to cure neuropathy. I don’t mean it like that, but yeah, but they can sometimes feel that sensory because it’s more so than just putting your foot on the floor. You know, you’ve got something moving through there.

And these are spiky, but they’re soft. They’re very pliable. So they don’t hurt. It just creates this different sensory feeling for them.

So the other thing I usually recommend moms do is, and especially when their children are little, is to get down on the floor with them. So when you get down on the floor with them, you can work your hips and your pelvis through different positions. So many times, like when we’re sitting in a chair, we’re in this 90 degrees position and our hips don’t have a lot of movement and mobility.

So if we get down on the floor, what you’ll notice is that one, you can’t sit in a position for a very long time because it becomes uncomfortable. So you can start to move around and you’re going to be moving your legs into a internal and external rotation. So basically just thinking of, if you’re sitting and you bring one leg out to the side and the other leg kind of goes back behind you in this 90/90 position, that’s going to change how your hips and pelvis move and all of those intrinsic muscles, all the little muscles in your hips and pelvis are moving around, which helps to keep everything mobile in there so that you don’t get stuck in any one position for long periods of time. So that’s one thing I always recommend. And it’s really easy when you have little ones, cause you can be down on the floor with them moving through these different patterns.

Helen Thompson: Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground here, so I thank you for that. If my audience wants to get in touch with you, how can they find you?

Courtney McManus: Okay. So the easiest way to find me is just go to my website and that’s and then that will show the programs that I have, the courses, the class schedule, and the blogs that I have as well. You can also go to my Instagram, which would be Courtney underscore form fit.

And then Facebook, you can go to Form Fit. I’m there, or you can join our group, which is Form Fit Mom Community, where we share information.

Helen Thompson: Wow, you’ve got a lot of resources there. So I’ve had a look at your website and I know all the different courses. You don’t do any Zoom courses live?

Courtney McManus: I do. Yeah, so I do Zoom classes and then I will be launching once a month I was going to do a live Zoom. I don’t want to say it’s a webinar, but it’s an informational class, but they can also do the workout while I communicate, the importance of doing each exercise.

Helen Thompson: Thank you, Courtney, that sounds good and I thank you for chatting with me. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you and I’ve enjoyed practicing the movements while we’ve been talking.

Courtney McManus: Yes, of course. Thank you so much for having me.