Being a doula is great! We get to see the strength of moms and their partners and the miracle as they welcome their sweet baby/babies into the world. It's a pretty amazing job!!
But that doesn't mean our job is always easy!! I asked in a large birth workers group what pain birth workers experience during and after a birth and I got a HUGE response. We are in pain. From backs, to feet, to hips to hands and everywhere in between! But we shouldn't HAVE to be. I've been working a lot with pregnant and postpartum moms, and I love it! But I realized recently that I have information that could HELP my fellow birth workers as well. So here is my labor of love... for you. My colleagues and my friends. You who have been on your (aching!) feet for hours at a time. You who have squeezed a mama's hips for hours on end. You who maybe feel it for DAYS after a birth.
We don't talk nearly enough about what we can and should be doing as birth workers (doulas, L&D nurses, midwives, and Doctors) to make it possible to sustain this grueling work that we love so much.
In this series we will cover simple exercises, stretches and tips that you can use- both before, during, and after a birth. We'll start this series with things you can do before and in between births to keep your body strong to minimize the effects you experience during births.
What to do to prepare for a birth.
Step 1. Corrective Exercises- strengthening and stretching
These are some specific corrective exercises to do, and to do often (as in several times a day for good 60 second holds) in order to really see change in the length of muscles. When your muscles are at their optimal length, then they hold your bones at their optimal places, and when everything is in the right place, the body functions optimally and it minimizes pain. Everyone should have their body aligned, not just birth workers, but with such a grueling job that has the potential to cause a lot of pain and wear and tear on our bodies, we need do need to be EXTRA mindful! I'm going to give you a FEW exercises in this post to get started, and we'll work more in later. And you can always get a session with a Restorative Exercise™ Specialist for more specific, tailored to you and complete recommendations.
The Single Legged Calf Stretch.
Here is a video I did a while back demonstrating it (with guest appearance from my youngest daughter, June). I was not specifically targeting birth workers in the video, but this is a very important, foundational exercise. If the calves are tight, it's going to have a chain effect upwards.
A lot of birth workers mentioned pain in their FEET during and after births. But it's important to correct the feet even if you are one of those lucky ones who don't get foot pain during, after, in between births. Our feet are our base and the tension they carry in them has an effect all the way up the body. Kinda like the how sometimes interventions in birth sometimes have a chain effect. Think of your feet as that first thing in that cycle if they're not taken care of. You may be okay for a while, but eventually the body is going to start to show signs of wear and tear if our feet have trouble. So take care of them!!
Work out the tension in the bottom of your feet. Get a pinky ball, tennis ball, or racquetball, or even better a yoga tune up ball, or melt ball and massage out the bottoms of your feet. I'll post a full post someday about the ins and outs of this and best way to get DEEP into the tissue. But you can get started doing it today, easily!
The Rhomboid Push-Up
See my colleague Lucy's post HERE on the all important and often overlooked rhomboids. We need to stabilize the scapula to start working on some of our upper body stuff. They definitely deserve their own post, so maybe someday I'll get to that! Here is a video of her doing this simple, but oh so important exercise. You'll want to do it often since it's going to help you SO much!
Hunching over a mama, or squeezing hips, or just living in our modern society, we get really tight in the upper body! Here is a simple exercise that will really open up the chest! PS- 2 of my kids think they are HILARIOUS in this video.
Step 2. Stamina.
Imagine, if you will, getting called to a birth. They say that the only predictable thing about birth is that it is unpredictable. You can never truly know for certain if the birth you arrive at is going to be 45 mins long or 45 hours long. Regardless of if it's fast or slow or somewhere in the middle, at 3am or 3pm, and regardless of if we coach the partner to do lots of the "heavy" work... birth definitely takes a toll on the doula body.
We are what we eat, but we also are HOW WE MOVE. And I'm not talking about 1 or even 2 hours of exercise a day. I'm talking about having a habit of moving more, and throughout the day. We need to move more, but we also need to move smarter. Not all movement is created equal. Sometimes our bodies are in so much pain that we need someone to give us a "user manual" and help us with some simple first steps before we are ready to work on our body's stamina! And that's okay, take it slow. But eventually the goal is going to be to move more, and more better :-)
Walk throughout the day.
Work up to a couple of miles a day. If you have a fitbit or other step counter, I'd aim for at least 10,000 steps a day. This doesn't mean do it all in one quick burst. It means working the walking in throughout the whole day. That way, it won't be such a shock to your system if you need to walk a lot during a birth AND it'll just keep your body feeling well so that regardless of what you end up doing at a birth... you'll feel better during and recover quicker after. Like I said above, do not just bust out 10,000 steps in a day if you're in pain and not able to do so yet. Address those issues (maybe through some of the corrective exercises and stretches), and then start working in the miles.
Choose to stand more than you sit.
Our body conforms to whatever position we hold it in most of the time. If most of the time we are sitting, it is going to hold our muscles at a certain length. If we've sat for most of our lives, as most of us have starting from kindergarden on, then our muscles are not at their optimal length. See stretches above!! And also start standing more. When you're working at the computer- get a standing work station! Think of ways that you can incorporate more standing into your day. It's no wonder that we go to a birth and have to stand for long periods of time that it causes our bodies to hurt!
When you do sit, sit in a variety of positions. And not always on a chair!
Can you sit on the floor, can you change up your leg position, can you untuck your pelvis (see Step 3 for more info on that!)? It seems that in our culture the only way to sit is either slumped back in a sofa or at a desk with a pelvis that looks like this:
In the position above, we're resting on our sacrums and we're causing our body to make specific adaptations (and I don't mean that in a positive way!) to the way we are holding it. These are causing our body to develop issues and pain that it was not intended to have because it was not intended to sit around like this all the time. Below I took a super quick video of a different sitting option that is more ideal.
In this video you can see sitting with a tucked pelvis, vs sitting with an untucked pelvis. See more on pelvic alignment is step 3! Make sure when you align your pelvis that you don't also THRUST your rib cage out at the same time. Ribs should be down.
Step 3. Alignment.
In order for us to feel good, our body is designed to be aligned. Just like your car is going to wear down quicker if the wheels aren't aligned, so our bodies can not sustain themselves with misalignment and it's going to manifest itself in pain and body problems. If we find good alignment throughout our lives, it's going to be more easy for our bodies to automatically be more aligned as we move throughout a birth, and it's also just going to make us FEEL BETTER IN GENERAL. So- can we move (Step 2) more, in a variety of ways, with better alignment. Our bodies are going to be able to find better alignment naturally (without us even thinking about it!) if we stretch and move more, and also move MORE BETTAH. Not all movement is created equal. I'm not going to go through all the alignment points in this post, but I'll give you three that are very important, and since I've already blogged about all 3, I'll just direct you to that info:
Foot Alignment: Read more about this HERE.
Pelvic Alignment: Read more about this HERE.
Weight distribution: Read more about this HERE.
And just like that, you're on your way to feeling better in between, during, and after births!!
Stay tuned, Part 2 will be what you can do DURING births.
Please share with those who you think could benefit, comment with your questions and comments, and stay tuned for more!!
Take care of yourselves, birth workers!! XO, Lindsay aka Mama Aligned
Mama Aligned is Lindsay McCoy.