By Anna Beth Rousakis
Pregnancy can do a number on your feet. More than half of all women in their first pregnancy report foot-related issues. Between the hormones coursing through your body, the added weight of carrying a baby, and the swelling that can occur in the lower extremities, your feet may get bigger, wider, flatter, or more painful.
During pregnancy, it is common to gain between 20-40 pounds and that added weight leads to more pressure on your feet. Hormones, such as relaxin, flood your system during pregnancy and enable the ligaments of your pelvis to loosen and make room for your baby; they can also cause ligamentous laxity in the feet, contributing to the dropping or flattening of your arches. Adding to the demands on your feet, as your baby and your belly grow, your stance may change to accommodate more weight in the front of your body and your center of gravity may shift. These changes in gait and stance can lead to bunions, corns, neuromas, arthritis, plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, and other more. Though swelling in the feet and ankles may subside once the baby is born, many of the structural changes in the feet are lasting, possibly requiring whole new shoe collections and the renunciation of all heels above a certain height.
If reading this is making your heart sink, your stomach churn, and your palms sweat, don’t despair. There is no need to buy stock in custom orthotics just yet, though I personally have benefited from a good orthotic at various points in life! There is actually a lot we can do to rejuvenate and support our feet after pregnancy.
In our modern, urban world we often wear shoes that constrict our feet, and pregnancy may make our footwear pinch us further. To counteract this, try to create space for your feet whenever possible. Walk barefoot. Give yourself a foot massage. Stretch your toes.
One great stretch: interlace your fingers between your toes. Make sure to work the fingers as far down between the toes as possible. Squeeze your fingers toward each other a few times to compress and mobilize the toes. Keeping the fingers and toes intertwined, use your hand to press your toes forward and back. When you are ready to disengage, pull the toes away from the foot as you release the fingers.
Articulate the Feet
Our feet are instrumental in keeping us active and in facilitating healthy movement patterns, but we often do not stop to think about how the feet themselves are moving. Our feet are comprised of 26 bones and 33 joints, which allow for quite a lot of mobility, making them not only stable, but agile as well. Because this mobility allows the feet to respond efficiently to the shifting weight and directional forces that we subject them to in our daily lives, it is important to keep the feet supple. We can encourage this by incorporating into our daily routine targeted practices that move the foot and ankle in a full range of motion.
Start in supta padangustasana, lying on your back with one leg extended to the ceiling and hands interlaced behind the thigh of the lifted leg. From this vantage point you can see your foot. Circle the ankle several times in each direction. Point and flex the ankle and foot. Invert and evert the foot, drawing first the inner arch of the foot closer to the inner ankle and then the outer edge of the foot closer to the outer ankle. As you articulate the foot, bring your full attention to your ankle and foot and try to move the foot not only at the ankle but through the whole body of the foot, the metatarsals, and each joint of the toes. Take note of the various sounds and sensations produced. Repeat on both sides.
Strengthen muscles that support the feet
Ligaments connect bone to bone and provide stability around joints. They are like the elastic in your well-worn, old sweatpants - if they are stretched beyond their normal capacity or over an extended period of time, they will not return to their original tautness. To bring extra stability to joints whose ligaments may have stretched in pregnancy, we can work to strengthen the muscles around affected joints. In the case of the feet, we can focus on the muscles intrinsic to the feet as well as those that cross the ankle joint. To engage the muscles of the feet, there are a couple of simple strengtheners you can do standing in tadasana, or mountain pose.
In tadasana, center your weight in your feet, then lift just your toes off the ground. With toes lifted, spread your toes wide, trying to create space between each toe. Keeping as much of that space as possible lower the toes back to the ground.
Also in tadasana, shift your weight to the balls of your feet. Press into your metatarsals evenly and lift your heels as far off the ground as possible. Pause and balance at the top, and then slowly lower the heels back to the floor. Make sure to keep hugging the outer ankles in toward the midline of your body as you do this exercise.
One-legged balancing poses are also great to practice postpartum, as they engage the muscles that run along the calves and shins to cross the ankle joint and connect on the plantar side of your foot. These muscles, often nicknamed the “stirrup muscles,” give support and lift to the arches of your feet. To activate these muscles, come into tree pose or . Notice the toggling movement required of the ankle of your standing foot to keep you balanced. The wobbling, side-to-side motion of the ankle forces the three stirrup muscles (the tibialis anterior, tibialis posterior, and fibularis longus for those of you who are fascinated by anatomy) to turn on and off as our balance shifts. If you can stand on one foot for a few minutes every day, over time, this muscular engagement tones these muscles and helps lift the arches of the feet. So add a few extra trees, eagles, and half-moons into your practice and as you do, press into the standing foot evenly and welcome the wiggles, knowing that each breath in these poses will benefit your arches.
Show Your Feet Some Love
Pregnancy affects each person differently, so whether your arches disappeared with the arrival of your first child or you are still rocking your Manolo Blahniks, the early years of parenthood will have you on your feet a lot - carrying your baby, pushing a stroller, walking in the park and to the playground. Whenever you can, take a moment to shower your feet with love. If you have time, soak them in an Epsom salt bath, give them a pedicure, or rub them with an essential oil blend. At the very least, make time to meditate on your tootsies. Sit down, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and send gratitude to your feet. Appreciate all the places they have taken you in life and all the adventures that are yet to come.