Pregnancy is one of the strangest and most wonderful experiences of our lives. We go through a roller coaster ride of emotions. We wonder what our little one will look like. Will they have my brown eyes or will she have my sense of humor? We dream about what it will be like to hold our little one in our arms or wonder if your current child will be alright with another baby in the house. Every hiccup or flip that the baby makes in your belly is wonderful and awe inspiring. We endure labor and delivery and we get to finally hold our little bundle. The amount of love we feel for this little baby, in our arms, is unimaginable. The softness of those pudgy cheeks feels like velvet. We spend those first few weeks bonding and being close with our new child. These moments are memories we will keep for a lifetime. This is a precious time and a time that goes by way too fast.
Fast forward 3 weeks and...... what the h*#@ just happened? You are covered in spit up, poop and milk . . . or a combination of all three. You are sleep deprived, you aren't sure if your lady parts will ever look the same, you have a permanent "kink" in your neck from holding your baby in your arms and you still have a belly even though there is no child in there. . . although you are hoping your doctor or midwife didn't forget anything. If you laugh a little too hard or jump a little too high, you have been known to dribble from your bladder. Sometimes you have a sensation that your organs are just sort of floating around in your abdomen and they could jump ship at any given moment. And then you think to yourself. . . why doesn't anyone talk about THIS period of our pregnancies. Why do we only talk about when our child is actually in our uterus and making sure we are eating good foods, drinking load of water, exercising, keeping our pelvis in alignment for delivery, hypnotizing ourselves to deal with delivery, visiting maternity wards to make sure we like the environment and researching the best way to freeze dry our placenta. Why aren't we also talking about what happens AFTER the delivery and into the postpartum period. This time in our journey is actually when we need the most guidance and help. Not only is our body trying to figure out what just happened these last 9 months, but we are also under a greater amount of stress, anxiety and worry during this time period as well. After having my daughter, I talked to my best friend and we both commented that no one offers any advice for when we are done being pregnant. They sort of just give us our baby and then say "Adios, see you in 6 weeks!".
Well, 6 weeks will come and go. We go to our midwife or doctor and get a clear bill of health. Our stitches are healed, we can ask about any lactation issues we may be having and we get lectured about the fact we may get pregnant during this time period. Ok. Got it! Now what?!? Well, now is the time to get our bodies back into health and functioning properly. We just had a hurricane go through our bodies and now, is the time to pick up those pieces. If we don't repair the damage, we will set ourselves up for long lasting aches and pains that will take even longer to repair. I'm not talking about fixing a broken window here, I'm talking about fixing those muscles and joints that were stretched and ripped during our pregnancies and deliveries. Too often, we forget about fixing the damage and just think we will go back to our pre-pregnancy body over time. Well, that won't happen and I see this every day at my clinic. As moms, we are so busy worrying about our kids and spouses/partners, that we forget about ourselves and making ourselves healthy. So, how do we repair the damage? The first thing that needs to be repaired is our pelvic floor.
Our pelvic floor is one of the most important areas of our bodies. It stretches during pregnancy and needs to be strong in order to help push the baby down the birth canal. It is also important in keeping our bodily functions from not leaking or dripping when we jump, laugh or sneeze. If you ever have some dribble when you sneeze, your pelvic floor is weak and needs some work. A very common exercise that has been prescribed for years are Kegel Exercises. More research is being done about Kegel's and it is showing that these are actually not the best exercises to help with pelvic floor dysfunction. The exercise that is actually helping with pelvic floor dysfunctions are deep squats with abdominal breathing. These are easy to do and I recommend doing them several times throughout the day. You get into a deep squat or modified deep squat and you do several rounds of abdominal breathing and concentrating on pushing the air down into your abdomen and pelvic floor area. This will actually strengthen the pelvic floor BETTER than Kegel's. When you are doing this exercise, you may have the sensation of urinating. Don't worry, you won't urinate but you will be strengthening the muscles responsible for urination. Pelvic floor dysfunction can cause a host of other issues, so you want to make sure that you get this area treated after delivery.
Another area of concern for most new moms is the dreaded "Mom Belly". Why do we still look pregnant after delivery? We eat well, hydrate and begin exercising. Isn't breastfeeding supposed to make us lose 30lbs in a week?? But that darn "Mom Belly" just won't go away! Rest assured, you are doing everything right. Usually the culprit of a "Mom Belly" is a Diastasis Recti. A Diastasis is a seperation in the connective tissue or fascia of our abdomen. This stretching will cause the muscles to be weakened and stretched, giving the appearances of increased fat to the area. These tissues have been stretched during pregnancy and need to be treated to allow for proper healing. Actually, a Diastasis is also very common in men who have increased fat deposits in the abdomen (or that "Beer Belly"). A Diastasis is a weakening of our core and if left untreated can lead to low back pain. This is one area I always check when I have a mom come in for low back pain. Typically, they will have a Diastasis. We treat the Diastasis and the back pain goes away. You want to make sure you get evaluated and given proper exercises to heal the diastasis. There are some abdominal exercises you want to steer clear of, so make sure you go to a practitioner who knows how to properly rehab a Diastasis Recti.
Yet another post natal issue is neck or upper back pain. Your little bundle of joy wakes you up most nights at 2 am. The only way for you and your little one to fall back asleep is with the baby sleeping right on you, between your partner and you, or with you bent over their bassinet! Or you are trying to figure out this whole breastfeeding thing and contort your body into a pretzel so your baby's little mouth will latch on properly to your nipple. However it happens, a new mom is going to get a kink in their neck or upper back by sleeping funny, breastfeeding, bottle feeding or just holding their baby. The best thing is knowing that you are going to be put into a lot of weird postures, so learn how to counteract those positions. Simple stretches and exercises to help loosen up your upper back and neck muscles is extremely helpful. In addition to the muscles, the joints in our neck and upper back can be restricted or not moving properly. Even if you massage the muscles, if the joints are not moving correctly the pain in the neck or upper back will just come right back. Finding a practitioner that can gently help with joint restrictions and getting your joints to move properly is key in ridding yourself of pesky neck or upper back pain.
Pelvic floor, Diastasis Recti and Neck/Upper Back joint dysfunctions are all very common issues that moms face post-partum. These dysfunctions can be easily treated, but if left to their own demise, they can lead to chronic or long-term pain or issues. It is best to get screened by a practitioner in your area after delivery to check for these dysfunctions and to develop a game plan on how to heal them quickly. You should be given exercises to do at home to repair and also to help with symptoms. I recommend going to a Chiropractor, since we are both muscle and joint experts. Visiting a Chiropractor that has advanced training from the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) will ensure that they have had the advanced training to safely work with women during and after pregnancy.