Pregnancy and Childbirth ain’t for sissies! I once had a male colleague liken childbirth to a “motor vehicle accident of your pelvis”! Whether you have had a vaginal delivery or a planned c-section, your body goes through so many changes during pregnancy and the birth of your baby that, if not addressed, can put you at risk for injury in the future. Hormones are secreted that loosen up your joints and make you more prone to injury, your pelvic and abdominal muscles are stretched and weakened, making you more prone to issues such as low back pain, incontinence and prolapse later in life. Sometimes in a vaginal delivery muscles and tissues are torn. During a c-section tissues are stretched and cut to make room for the emerging baby. So, why, with all of this trauma and change do we expect our bodies to return to their “pre-pregnancy state” in a matter of weeks and why don’t we seek help to minimize the effects of this trauma and maximize our body’s healing potential?
I think, in my opinion it’s because
#1 new babies take a lot of time and what new mom has time for weekly visits to a PT?
#2 society considers these changes “normal” and for that reason, they almost becomes a badge that new moms must wear and deal with as just a result of pregnancy and birth
#3 access to physical therapy may be readily available, but unfortunately is not often recommended routinely for new moms by their physicians
In many countries in Europe it is standard for a woman to be referred to and receive several visits with a physical therapist following delivery in order to maximize their body’s recovery. In my opinion, this is one area where we are behind the 8-ball and missing the opportunity to help so many women and prevent dysfunction later in life.
So what can you gain from seeing a physical therapist post-partum?
First of all, a physical therapist can help with pelvic pain that may develop post- partum from muscle spasm. If you did have tearing during delivery (which can result in painful sex) they can teach you ways to minimize scar formation and eliminate the pain associated with it. They can address issues like urinary incontinence, which are common, but definitely NOT normal once you have a baby. The sooner you address these issues, the easier they are to take care of. Urinary incontinence usually suggests a weakening of the support structures to the bladder which can be improved with the correct exercises.
A physical therapist can help address low back pain, hip pain, pubic joint pain and also instruct you in proper body mechanics and breathing to minimize stress to your already loosened joints and optimize healing. They can also check for a diastasis recti ( a separation of the abdominal muscles that is common during pregnancy) or other muscle weaknesses that may exist and help you get back into a safe exercise routine that will help to optimize your core strength and stability.
So…the take home message…if you have had a baby recently, or whether it has been several years, ask your physician to send you to a physical therapist that specializes in the pelvic floor or in working with pregnant women for at least 1 visit to make sure your healing is on the right track! If your only obstacle is finding childcare, don’t worry, most physical therapists will love the opportunity to meet you AND your baby, and don’t mind you bringing them along for your visits! (In fact, it helps us to get our baby fix!) Your body will thank you for it later…especially if you plan on becoming pregnant again in the future!
Written by: Kim Osler PT, DPT, WCS