During pregnancy and the postpartum, the pectoralis minor, a smaller muscle in your chest, tends to become restricted and tight due to habitual postures that are common during pregnancy and motherhood.
As the belly and breasts grow, the forward shift of the center of gravity causes the mother’s shoulders to internal rotate, and round in the upper back as she shifts her hips forward. Then in motherhood, we tend to huddle or slouch over our babies as we nurse, as we hold them in front of us or on our side.
This slouch causes the pectoralis minor to become shortened, and results in the upper back muscles to become overlengthened.
When a muscle is shortened, the opposing muscles are overlengthened and do not have the ability to fully contract, and are thus weakened. Overlengthened muscles also tend to ache more. The initial thought is to stretch those achy muscles, when in actuality we should stretch and release the opposing muscles and strengthen the overlengthened muscles.
In sum, if our back is overlengthened and weakened, we cannot fully support our changing body and we have more difficulty adapting to postural changes due to pregnancy. So how can we counter this overlengthening? Opening the chest back up!
Here are a few techniques we do in our fitness classes with our prenatal and postpartum mamas.
90/90 Chest Stretch
The 90/90 chest opener is an active stretch that can be done in door ways or with a sturdy pole, such as how I am using a squat rack in the photo.
Start by placing your forearm on the pole, elbow roughly at shoulder level so that your arm forms a 90 degree angle. Once in position, begin to turn away from the pole so that your chest is lengthened. You should feel a nice stretch in your chest!
We recommend doing this for either 30 to 90 seconds each side.
You also have the option to do both arms at the same time, although a doorway may be more appropriate for this.
The Foam Roller Chest Opener
The foam roller chest opener is a passive stretch that can be done solo or with a partner.
The step up for the posture is with a long foam roller, or raised surface that supports your entire neck and spine while allowing your arms to fall freely to the side. Place the foam roller along the spine, and lay down on top of it.
There are two main options for the arms. You can either allow the arms to fall freely to the side, and feel the passive stretch in your chest.
The second option is to place your hands behind your head or neck, and allow your elbows to fall open. You have the option to incorporate a partner here; your partner can gentle press downwards on your elbows, helping you reach a deeper stretch.