“The whole point of woman-centered birth is the knowledge that a woman is the birth power source. She may need and deserve help but in essence, she always had, currently has, and will have the power.” ~Heather McCue
Giving birth is an incredibly exciting and life-altering experience. Many new parents are awed and humbled after seeing what the body goes through in order to bring about a new little person. It is no secret that pregnancy, birth, and motherhood introduce a plethora of changes to one’s lifestyle and especially to one’s body. However, while we may have a pretty good idea of what early motherhood is like, there are still many things that we don’t know and are not told. In this article, I will discuss four specific things that every mum should know after giving birth.
1. Leaking is Not Normal
After having children, women are often told by their doctors that it is normal and expected to experience urinary incontinence. This is not true. Leaking is not normal and it is never something you just have to live with. Through pelvic floor physiotherapy and the proper training of deep core muscles, incontinence can be corrected and prevented. In my practice, I often encourage mums to see me early during their pregnancies so that we can develop the skills and strength needed to prevent incontinence postpartum.
Incontinence is also not something that affects only new mums, but can affect anyone. In fact, it is among the top reasons why our elders are placed into nursing homes, and is one of the most preventable reasons at that. If you haven’t already, feel free to review my article 5 Things You Should Know About Incontinence to learn more about this issue and its management.
2. You Need Time to Recover
After delivering a baby, you body needs time to recover. As obvious as this statement may seem, there are still many new mums in the early postpartum period who anxiously try to lose the baby weight and return to form. Many will begin extremely heavy core exercises and/or high impact activities as early as two weeks after delivery. The trouble here is that these types of exercises can be quite aggressive to a postpartum body and can lead to pelvic organ prolapse, persistent pain, incontinence, residual scar tissue, and a worsening rectus diastasis.
During the first two weeks postpartum, mum should be allowed and encouraged to rest and avoid heavy lifting. This is especially important after a Caesarean birth. I often encourage mum’s partner and social circle to help where possible, such as, supplying a hot meal, doing housework, or offering to babysit while mum takes a moment for herself.
Mum should then slowly begin very light, low-intensity exercises and walk for about 20-30 minutes a day. A follow-up appointment with a pelvic floor physiotherapist at six-weeks postpartum is highly recommended. This can ensure that the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, as well as any labour-related scars, are healing well. Intercourse may resume once cleared by the midwife or doctor.
3. Crunches are Risky
While we are on the subject of getting back to physical activity, engaging in crunch-like activities can be dangerous. Although you may feel you can resume all the exercises you were doing before getting pregnant, perhaps crunches shouldn’t be one of them. I caution all my patients, especially new mums, against participating in any kind of aggressive crunch-like activity without first creating a strong deep core synergy. I also caution against any kind of exercise program that claims to burn away baby weight immediately after delivery, as this is not safe for the body.
As discussed in my article Are Sit-Ups and Crunches Safe, crunches can increase pain in the hip and low back, as well as, worsen the separation between the six-pack abdominal muscles, known as a ‘rectus diastasis’. Additionally, crunches can unfavourably change pressures in the body cavities and provoke a pelvic prolapse or abdominal herniation. Since the risks associated with crunch-like activities do not outweigh the presumed benefits, I suggest avoiding them altogether. Instead, I teach patients to strengthen the pelvic floor in synergy with other muscles of the body. This promotes the development of a solid foundation upon which we can function in our everyday lives. Once that is achieved, then perhaps it is safe revisit crunches.
4. It’s Okay to be Upset About Your Birth Story
The events of your child’s birth can have a significant impact on how you feel about yourself in the postpartum period. Statistics have shown that 25-35% of women report that their birth was traumatic for various reasons. Some women felt that the care from doctors, nurses, or midwives was not what was expected; while others reported feeling coerced into having medical interventions without knowing their full effect.
Birth trauma is an entirely subjective experience that can affect new mums and their partners. It is not necessarily caused by a life-threatening or medically aggressive event; but can be the result of poor care during labour, inadequate education, feelings of helplessness, lack of support, the threat of harm to mum and/or baby, etc. In my practice, the mums who experience birth trauma also report experiencing insomnia, irritability, nightmares about the birth, avoidance of the baby, or hypervigilance about parenting. Additionally, many new mums feel as though their body is foreign or that resuming sexual intercourse is an impossible notion! There can also be a sense of isolation as mum often feels like no one understands her experience and family members do not validate her concerns.
If you suspect you may be experiencing residual trauma from childbirth, I am here to tell you that you are not alone. It is perfectly okay to be happy about your healthy baby, but sad about your birth. Be easy with yourself. Recognize and honour your feelings, accept your fears, begin stress management, and reach out to others who can help.
As a take-away message, I’d like you to remember that there is still a lot of misinformation about what to expect postpartum. Please trust your intuition and seek the advice of trusted professionals who are here for you. I promise you there are many new mums out there who have unanswered questions, and you are not alone. If you would like to talk about or address your specific needs, please feel free to contact me anytime…
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