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Why am I waddling when pregnant?

Watch the video HERE.

Are you waddling instead of walking?

Hi, I’m Katie of Body in Motion Pilates. I’m a pre & postnatal pilates teacher and I’m here to help you go beyond exercise modification and actually train for birth.

~The pregnancy duck waddle~

~The washing machine~

Typically, these creative forms of pregnancy walking don’t begin until the 3rd trimester, but if you start being aware of how you’re moving now, you can avoid it altogether.

Let’s start by looking at the duck walk.

The Duck Walk

The duck walk is when your feet aren't pointing forward, they're pointed out at an angle - kind of like a ballerina. As pregnancy progresses, it can sometimes turn into a waddle because the hip can’t move like it should when in that extreme of an external rotation.

Even though it’s called “duck feet”, this alignment is a result of what’s happening up in the hip joint. It's usually due to the deep external rotators becoming short and tight which then pulls the femur bone into an external rotation.

Try it:

Stand like a ballerina. You’ve just engaged your 6 deep rotators. They connect the sacrum and sitz bones to the upper part of the femur. If you spend a lot of time in this position, your body will adapt to conserve energy and shorten these muscles, since you aren’t using them to their full length.

As the belly grows, the center of mass shifts. In response, the gluteus maximus should strengthen to help stabilize the hip joint against that shift. But that’s a lot of work and your body is more concerned with building those baby lungs than your glutes. With your glutes not doing their job, the 6 deep rotators say “Well SOMEONE has to keep this pelvis stable!” and takes over the job.

Much like me during any middle school group project. #typeA

Thanks but no thanks, body.

The reason this isn't ideal when you're pregnant comes about later with labor and delivery. When the hip is in external rotation, these shortened muscles can narrow the space at the bottom of the pelvis, also called the pelvic outlet. Being in external rotation can also lead to a tight posterior pelvic floor. So again, that would end up shrinking the pelvic outlet making it more difficult during the Push Phase.

Try it:

Come to all fours and let your legs spiral into some turn out (external rotation - toes come together) and turn in (internal rotation - toes come apart). You can feel the widening and the coming together of those sitz bones depending on if you're in internal or external rotation.

All of this might post the question:

Is the pregnancy duck walk really that bad?

No and yes.

Chances are, the duck walk isn’t causing you any pain so if you want to go waddling about your pregnancy, go ahead.

However, when it comes to the push phase of birth, you’ll be much more efficient if you have the ability to internally rotate. Practice it now so you have muscle memory and ability later.

The Washing Machine

The second walking pattern is the washing machine or the oscillator. This one happens as a result of your hip not being able to find extension (when the thigh bone goes back) during the push-off phase of gait. Instead of your hip bone extending, the whole hip and pelvis on the side of the foot that’s back will rotate backward so that it becomes this over-exaggerated oscillation movement.

This pattern is the result of a tight anterior hip (front of the hip). I talk more about a tight anterior hip about in a video about sitting during pregnancy (go check that out if you haven't already).

As I said, if the anterior hip gets tight, it makes it hard for the hip to extend so instead the whole pelvis just starts to oscillate while you walk. The reason this isn't great for labor is that hip extension can also bring the pelvic wing along with it, assisting with sacral counter nutation, aka creating more space in the pelvic inlet. The phrase “baby has dropped” refers to baby entering the pelvic inlet.

When the sacrum counter nutates, the sacral promontory is pulled back and out of the way, creating more space front-to-back in the inlet. This keeps baby from getting stuck on that sacral promontory when trying to descend into the pelvis.

So yeah, hip extension is super important.

If you find that you're doing the washing machine when you walk and you're not finding that extension of the hip, we can do a lot to work to release the front of the leg, strengthen those muscles once they've been released, and then also strengthen the muscles in the back of the leg.

For both of these types of pregnancy gait, either the duck waddle or the washing machine, gluteus maximus exercises are a great way to kill two birds with one stone. Because when you get the glute max to start supporting a little bit more, then the deep rotators can calm down and we're not in duck feet anymore. And when you get the max again working, because it is a primary hip extensor, we can get that push off during gait and not do the washing machine. That means that strengthening the glute max is the most effective way to improve your pregnancy walking habits.

I hope that cleared up ways to address those obscure pregnancy walking patterns. And if you aren't sure which creative pregnancy walk you're doing, take a walk by me and we can see what's going on together.

Let’s Move

Reset [Warm up & Stretch]

Warm up the external rotators with plies

Stretch with Figure 4

Realign [Repattern your daily movement habits to be more efficient]

Alternate Hip Hinge & Squat

Reload [Add weight to the repatterning to build muscle & get stronger]

Add weights to Hip Hinge & Squat

Internal Rot with Booty Band

If you want the whole 20-min class, grab it HERE.

As always, let me know below if something I said created even more questions!

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