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Posture Perfect

If you're toting a baby or toddler for much of the day  -- or if you sit at a desk for hours at a time  -- it's easy to get in a slump: rounded shoulders, sway back, protruding tummy. Correcting your posture makes it easier to carry the load, and also prevents or relieves back pain and fatigue. What's more, standing tall straightens your shoulders and pulls in your middle, so you look slimmer and more confident. Try these easy posture fixes.

Check Your Alignment

When you stand or sit correctly, your spine curves slightly in at the neck, out at the upper back, and in again at the lower back. In many women, that lower back curve is exaggerated. To see if your spine is in line, stand with your back against a wall, feet about three inches from the baseboard, and place one hand behind the curve in your lower back, palm against the wall. There should be a slight space between your back and the wall, but not so much that you can move your hand back and forth, says Kenneth I. Light, M.D., director of the Spine Center at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, in San Francisco. If there is a wide space, practice flattening your back against the wall to minimize a swayback.

Balance Your Body

Many new moms find that they have to rediscover their sense of balance. "The center of gravity shifts during pregnancy, and it's easy to stay in the same position afterward, where your abdomen sticks out and your chest is slouched," says Pat Riley, a member of the American Physical Therapy Association's section on women's health. To find your center of gravity, stand with your feet hip-width apart and rock back and forth until half your weight is on your heels, the other half on the balls of your feet. Try to maintain this balance when you're standing and walking.

Stay in Line

Think about keeping your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles aligned, or "stacked" on top of each other when you stand or walk; your head should be held straight, not tilted or turned to one side. Be sure shoulders, hips, and knees face forward and are level with each other on both sides of your body.

Carry Carefully

Instead of letting your little one catch a ride on your hip, which shifts your spine out of alignment, you should hold her as close to your body as possible, tucking your abs in and pulling your shoulders back. If you tote your tot in a front carrier, squeeze your shoulder blades together while you are using it to prevent your back and shoulders from rounding. And always keep your knees slightly bent, says Riley  -- locking them makes your lower back arch and your stomach stick out.

Tone Your Back and Abs

A strong lower back and abdominal muscles contribute to good posture. Two moves that help:

PELVIS ROCK Stand with your knees bent. Keeping your legs and torso still, gently rock your pelvis forward and back five times; do this whenever your back feels fatigued.

ABDOMINAL PULL Breathe in, and as you exhale, pull your navel in toward your backbone and up; release. Do this five to ten times, five or more times each day. "If you do this while you're nursing or lifting the baby, you'll also help protect your back," says Riley. This move is good for lower abs, which are especially weak after pregnancy.

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