Your post-pregnancy body
Your body after having a baby, even a long time after having your baby, looks and feels different. But when is different “normal” and how do you know when something is just not right?
What’s your tummy supposed to look like? Is it normal to feel like that when you go to the bathroom? Will that always stick out / feel numb / not work / feel funny?
Firstly, more often than not, the childbirth part doesn’t go as we expected. And whether this is your first baby or your fifth, no birth is the same and your body may not react the same. Remember that Mother Nature really is pretty awesome, and your body after having a baby will heal, given time, rest and some love.
But many many women are living with issues that they really shouldn’t have to, and importantly, that can be helped, if you know what movements and exercises you should or shouldn’t be doing for your particular circumstances.
Let’s start with some perfectly normal (if not altogether pleasant) symptoms and feelings your post-pregnancy body may experience in the 0-8 weeks after you have your baby.
Your body after having a baby – what’s normal in the first 8 weeks?
• When you go to the bathroom, you may feel like your insides are going to fall out. (As I said, normal doesn’t always mean nice). They won’t. But they may feel like they’re going to.
• Your ability to control your urine, stools and gas may be less than ideal. I.e. you leak or fart and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
• You will shift about when you sit or stand, not quite sure where everything is supposed to go and trying to get comfortable.
• Everything is sore. In your pubic area or your hips, back, neck, around your scar if you had a c-section… or any or all of the above. Actually you may be sore in lots of places
What you should do during this period of healing
• Stretch and release those poor tight muscles. Stretch your calves and hamstrings; squat holding onto a heavy table leg or stair rail for support; clasp your hands behind your back and lift your hands towards the ceiling to relieve those poor shoulders and very gently raise your nose to the ceiling; lie on your back with your legs in the air and shuffle your bottom right into the wall, then let your legs drop to the side… these are just a few really beneficial stretches you can do to improve circulation and muscle release.
• Find your pelvic floor and stomach muscles. You’re not *exercising* them, you’re *finding* them. Very gently draw your belly button inwards on a long slow exhale whilst lifting your pelvic floor. Try to think of it, not as a squeeze at the front, but a deep lift, right in the middle. Keep shoulders and chest relaxed. Take a few deep breaths like this whenever you remember, relaxing everything as you inhale, then contracting again as you exhale. Note: don’t push away on the inhale, just let go.
• Use as many cushions, bolsters and pillows as you need to get comfortable and supported as you feed and cuddle your baby.
• Rest, rest, rest. Go for a daily walk if you can manage. But take it easy. Then go rest some more.
8+ weeks after you have had your baby
OK, now you can gradually start to increase your levels of activity, but nothing should hurt when you do. You should have stopped bleeding, you should have stopped hurting. If either is still going on, then please see your doctor again. Abdominal pain 6 weeks postpartum and onwards is something you should speak with a medical professional about. You should be able to pretty much control your bladder and bowel. Some weakness and urgency are normal, but you should be able to hang on a bit.
*Not* normal for your body after having a baby
By normal here I mean, this shouldn’t be happening. It may be happening, because these symptoms are sadly very common and women just live with them. But you really shouldn’t have to, because the right corrective exercise can make a BIG difference.
Pain – In your back, pelvis, abdomen, hips or legs
Leaking – urine or worse when you sneeze, laugh or cough; or leaking as you’re rushing to the toilet.
Bulging or ‘Bearing Down’ from your Tummy or Pelvic Floor – Bulging or doming of your abdomen when you do any exercise or movement. Feeling like you’re bearing down, like you can’t keep a tampon in, or like something is falling out or between your legs, in or from your vagina or rectum.
Pain 6 Weeks Postpartum or longer – It’s important to point out that aside from the usual early week’s abdominal discomfort post-birth, pain 6 weeks postpartum or any other time is something you need to urgently see your doctor about. Don’t hesitate to seek medical help.
Cramping or lower abdominal pain in the weeks and months postpartum – Pain such as severe cramping or abdominal pain in the weeks and months postpartum (many women are still reporting symptoms such weeks or even several months after giving birth). Or anytime before or after this point should always be discussed as a matter of urgency with your doctor.
Who to speak to about ongoing post pregnancy and pelvic symptoms
The specialist you really need to see about any ongoing post pregnancy and pelvic symptoms is a Pelvic Health Physical Therapist. She will be able to help you understand what you’re dealing with and how to adapt exercises for your individual circumstances.
Then you can start to find and understand your core muscles, and then you need to strengthen them. You can’t do the latter until you have done the former… For now, avoid sit-ups or crunches, don’t do high impact exercise and don’t leap into a class or routine that does not give you very specific corrective exercise for a recovering mother.