Congratulations – you are now officially a mama! You made it through pregnancy and the experience of labour… you are now ready for the exciting new challenges of motherhood! First step: heal your body.
All too often, I see brand new mums do too much too soon after having a baby. Consequently, they suffer unpleasant postpartum issues such as incontinence, prolapse, herniation, pelvic pain, and/or a persistent rectus diastasis.
What is key to your success as a new mum is taking the time to take care of yourself. It is important to allow yourself the space to heal – mentally, emotionally, and physically. Take it slow. Even if you didn’t have any tearing or interventions during the birth, you still need time to rest and restore. Here are a few tips to help facilitate your healing process:
Accept Help from Others
As you heal, remember that it is okay to ask for and accept help from others. No new mum should should ever feel alone. Consider hiring a postpartum doula or a nighttime nanny to help you adjust to a new routine. Perhaps, instead of toys as baby shower gifts, ask friends and family members to help pay for the home delivery of meals or simple cleaning services during the first few weeks postpartum.
Remember your Self-Care Strategies
If you are feeling discomfort in the perineum, sometimes ice can be a relief. In addition to ice packs, some new mums opt to freeze maxi pads that can be used throughout the day. I suggest that if you use pads, choose a brand like NatraCare, which is comprised of organic cotton and does not contain harsh chemicals. Be sure that when using ice, you do not place the ice pack or frozen pad directly against your skin – this would be like sticking your tongue to a frozen pole in the middle of winter. Would you like something like that to happen to your healing perineum? No. Instead, place a soft, dry cloth between your skin and the pack or pad. Often times, mums will also combine helpful healing herbs and oils with their home use of ice.
After the first 24-48 hours, you can then switch to using heat. I always recommend the use of moist heat, such as a hot water bottle instead of an electric heating pad, which can cause muscles to dehydrate. Some new mums like to take daily sitz baths comprised of Epsom salts and healing herbs. Whatever tickles your fancy – go for it!
Belly wrapping can be another helpful strategy, however, not mandatory. The goal with belly wrapping is to help approximate the connective tissue of the abdomen as you heal the diastasis. I always tell my patients that belly wrapping is simply a tool to help and should not be done in lieu of your prescribed exercises. Otherwise, the muscles of your deep core will be come weak and dependent on the ab wrap.
Remember to also pay attention to your bathroom habits. Be sure to drink enough water and eat enough fibre to keep bowel movements soft and easy to pass. Do not bare-down on an already strained pelvic floor! Consider also using a little squirt bottle of water to clean the perineum as wiping can be tender and irritating to scars or stitches.
Reconnect with your Pelvic Floor
If you saw a pelvic floor physiotherapist during your pregnancy, you should be comfortable with an exercise called ‘core breathing’. This is a form of breathing that allows your pelvic floor to work in synergy with the other muscles of the deep core. Core breathing can resume as early as 24 hours after delivery and should be one of the only exercises you do for the first 2-3 weeks postpartum.
Once you are 6-8 weeks postpartum, it is safe to follow-up with a pelvic floor physiotherapist for an internal assessment – even if you didn’t see one prenatally. A pelvic physio will help to ensure that the tissues of the pelvic floor are healing well after the birth and determine which exercises are required to facilitate your full recovery.
Do No Harm
Avoid Heavy Lifting
After delivery, it is important to avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby for the first few weeks. Heavy lifting can strain the muscles and connective tissue of the pelvic floor and abdomen. This is especially true if you have had a C-section, so don’t feel like you have to push it! Instead, ask friends and family members to carry out the tasks of heavy lifting.
Avoid Sit-ups and Crunches
If you haven’t already, please read my article: “Are Sit-Ups and Crunches Safe?“. Spoiler alert: they are not – especially when it comes to those early postpartum weeks. Crunches should be off limits as they put too much pressure on the pelvic floor and encourage the rectus diastasis to widen. To make matters worse, they also create a lower tummy pooch, overwork the hip flexors, and encourage a hunched posture – all things that a new mum does not need! My advice is to steer clear of these exercises. Their benefits do not outweigh their risks, so why bother? Also be mindful of how sit-ups and crunches can sneak into your life. For example, instead of sitting straight up out of bed, first roll onto your side and then push yourself up.
Avoid Doing Too Much Too Soon
Often times new mums rush to try to get their pre-baby bodies back (say that three times fast). They stop at nothing to achieve this by participating in aggressive boot camp or CrossFit classes, all while creating injury and dysfunction in the process. Please, on behalf of your healing body, do not be one of these mums. Take the time to rest and restore before hitting the gym. Make sure your core is ready to handle the challenges of CrossFit and boot camp before you cause yourself to experience a prolapse or incontinence. It is certainly possible to get your pre-baby body back and return to all of your favourite activities… but there is a right time to do it and 3 days postpartum is not that time.
Seek Alternative Care
Mother Warming or Mother Roasting
There are many new mums who find benefit in alternative healthcare practices from neighbouring cultures. Mother Warming or Mother Roasting, for example, is a beautiful tradition in many cultures whereby mum is encouraged to rest after the birth and receive soothing massage and belly wrapping to support her healing body. Trained practitioners come to the mother in her home and offer traditional ointments, baths, and massages, while baby is being tended by other family members and only seeing mum for feedings and cuddle time.
Arvigo Therapy / Maya Abdominal Therapy
Another wonderful supplementary treatment is Arvigo Therapy. This technique is founded upon the ancient practices of Maya Abdominal Therapy and helps to gently stimulate circulation and blood flow within the abdominal area. Arvigo Therapy also helps to re-align and support reproductive and digestive organs for optimal functioning.
Honour your Body
As I mentioned before, some new mums become frustrated in not being able to immediately resume their old fitness and/or training routines. They will rush and struggle to reclaim their pre-baby figures and risk significant injury in doing so. This is not honouring the body. You need time to heal and you need time to rest. If you push yourself too hard, you will find that your weakened core is not able to withstand the demands you place upon it, and you will experience dysfunction.
Instead, take the time to enjoy your new baby and your new life. Get used to a routine and allow your body the time to heal without feeling the pressure to hurry it along. You absolutely can achieve the postpartum body you want, it just takes time.
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