Sharing my personal post natal recovery experience felt important to help you understand where I’m coming from in my work with Women’s Health. As a Remedial Massage Therapist and Women’s Health Coach, I aim to educate you on the importance on a safe and effective recovery from pregnancy and child birth. But you may be wondering what makes me an expert, what do I know and what have I experienced in my own pregnancy to share with you. I am no expert but I am passionate about sharing what I know in the hope that it avoids women suffering in silence.
Working with pregnant women was always a passion of mine. Early in my massage and fitness career, I wanted to help women recover following pregnancy after seeing my mum and sister go through pregnancy. Doubting my abilities as I had not experienced pregnancy or had my own children. I didn’t have first hand knowledge of what my clients may have experienced so I struggled to fully pursue this passion. I had completed some additional training but left it there. Once I became pregnant, I had some idea what I needed to do for myself but I also had developed a fear of exercise (read more about overcoming my fear of exercise during pregnancy).
After Blake’s birth, I started to noticed these issues arising with my body. I was never told about how to care for my body as a whole by any of my health care providers. Following his birth, the doctors were more worried about contraception that my physical health. At my 6 week check up, it was focused more on the wound from surgery than anything internal. Despite carrying an almost 4.5 kg child there was no discussion about pelvic floor exercises, potential for pelvic organ prolapse, or abdominal separation. There was no discussion about exercise at all and this is the point that many women rely upon in their decision to return to exercise. I felt lost and started to get angry because there was no guidance from the professionals we see during pregnancy and early post partum. I tried my best with what I knew but I knew there was more to know about how best to recover my body.
Being in this situation re-ignited my passion for working with women. Becoming further educated was important and I located courses online to help. I learned that about the changes that occur during pregnancy, pelvic floor health, as well as safe exercises for pregnancy and post partum recovery. I realised there was so much missing from our education as we become mums and I wanted to be a part of the change in this area. At first I was learning for myself but it soon opened the conversation about what other mums were struggling with following their child birth experience. I connected with local Women’s Health Physiotherapists and asked for them to share expertise with our clients. We continue to build this network to ensure our clients have access to people that can help. Learning continues and I am find ways to share all of the knowledge I have gained.
Problems that occurred during my Post Natal Recovery
I felt hollow after giving birth. When laying on my back it felt like I could feel all the way to my spine without any organs or muscles in my way. It was the strangest feeling. I underestimated the changes and toll pregnancy could take on a body and especially the core structure. We often focus on getting our abs back after pregnancy but there is so much more involved. I suspected I had diastasis recti following pregnancy and was not able to get much guidance around what it was or how to heal it.
Diastasis Recti is the separation of the two muscle bellies of the rectus abdominus muscle. Most of us would know this as the muscles you see in a six pack. Between these two muscles is the linea alba, strong connective tissue that connects the two muscle bellies to form the front of the abdominal wall. It is quite common to have some degree of abdominal separation during pregnancy as the linea alba stretches to accommodate your growing baby. Following child birth, you may be left with some form of separation above, below or at the level of your belly button. Healing the diastasis involves coordinating breathing, the pelvic floor and the deep abdominal muscles to create tension in the linea alba. This coordination is more important that just bringing the muscle bellies back together. While I have been left with a slight separation around my belly button, I am able to coordinate my breathing, pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles to create tension to support my back and core as a whole.
Struggling to Walk without Pain
During my pregnancy I suffered from Symphysis Pubis Pain. This is pain at the front of the pelvis where the two bones meet under your growing belly. These bones are held together by tough ligaments. However, in pregnancy, the hormones released are working to relax these ligaments in preparation for childbirth. The bones move often move too far apart, resulting in pain in the area. Following pregnancy, your body doesn’t automatically return this ligament to it’s pre-pregnancy strength. It takes some time to return and breastfeeding may prolong this process. This pain sometimes made it difficult to walk without pain. Rolling over in bed hurt and even after child birth the pain sometimes grabbed me when rolling over.
6 months after giving birth, I felt like I was walking like a duck. Luckily with my background in Personal Training and Remedial Massage I started to look at what was going on. I also went to see a Remedial Massage Therapist I worked with for help. You can’t always see yourself so it’s great to have the advice of someone else to look after you. We discovered that I had tight hip flexors which hadn’t relaxed after carrying my son. I was worse on one side and was sitting for extended periods breastfeeding. When we reviewed other repetitive actions I undertook caring for my baby, we realised the cause was my repetitive rotation to the right. I had a large pillow that Blake would sleep on between feeds placed on my right. After feeding, I would place him to my right. When he woke, I would rotate to the right to pick him up and lift him for a cuddle.
Breathing Difficulty and Pain
As most mums I was keen to return to exercise. Mostly just to move my body as I spent too many hours sitting down feeding, changing nappies or purely for the cuddles. Initially when I returned to exercise it was quite gentle so I didn’t notice any problem with my breathing. Once the intensity increased, I felt I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs and had pain under my ribs. Again, being lucky to have the knowledge I did, I realised my diaphragm was not moving well. When I was breathing, the movement was coming from my upper chest and neck muscles. They were doing the job for my diaphragm and I suffered from that ‘stitch’ type pain. One night at training, I laid down on the grass and performed a diaphragm release on myself. I took some deep breaths and massaged the tight points in the muscle. It was uncomfortable but afterwards my breathing improved dramatically. My neck and shoulder tension also settled as I stopped compensating with breathing.
Since becoming a Massage Therapist I have suffered from migraines. For me, they are normally related to tension in my neck and shoulders that are often overworked in my job. When I became a Mum, I noticed the same patterns of muscle tension leading to migraines. I know when they are coming on as I get a warning sign or what is called an “aura”. My vision is affected and I start to see spots or have tunnel vision, depending on the severity. If I can get panadol in at that time and rest, the migraine is less debilitating. I find it makes me very tired so a quick nap helps to settle it down.
During my post natal recovery period, you become focused on the middle of your body but we sometimes forget the importance of posture through the shoulders. Strength needs to be improved throughout the whole body as one day we have a baby well supported in our belly. The next day the weight of that baby is in our arms as we feed, settle, carry and cuddle our babies. I know my posture while breastfeeding was poor as I was so tired. I was awake throughout the night feeding in bed. I was slumping over as I struggled to stay awake at 2am, 3am or 4am. This took it’s toll on my body and migraines would occur.
My Post Natal Recovery Plan
Now that I was armed with more information, it was time for me to make a change with my own training. I modified my workouts and actions to ensure I could recover from pregnancy and return to my strong self. I sought advice from professionals I trusted and learnt to trust myself and my knowledge. These are the actions I took for my best post natal recovery.
- Walking: Before I worried about returning to a gym or formal exercise, I began walking. My sister would come over with my nephew and we would walk around the neighbourhood. We would often walk to the local shops and have lunch before walking home. It allowed us to leave the house, get some fresh air and have a good chat. The boys would sleep and we would feel better for moving. The prams and hills were our resistance so the bigger the boys grew, the more strength we would build.
- Return to Exercise: When returning to exercise I focused on regaining strength in my core and my body as a whole. I avoided exercises that put too much forward pressure on my abdominal wall. Instead I focused on bracing and deep muscle activation. As I discovered more about post natal training, I focused on breathing and pelvic floor activation with my strength exercises.
- Remedial Massage: Practising what I preach is important to me. So I made efforts to have more regular remedial massage to address the issues in my hips as well as decrease the tension in my neck and shoulders. I needed to follow up their work with improving my posture and stretching.
One important discovery for me is understanding that my body is post natal forever. That doesn’t mean I am damaged or am restricted from doing what I love. To me, it means that I need to be aware of my body and aware of the potential changes as we age. It means taking care of myself and understanding that while my body changed, so did my outside world. I now have a son now who I need to care for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I share with my pregnancy clients that no-one can explain the true impact parenthood will have on you. No one can explain the dependence that baby will have on your for their needs. It’s not until they wake you at 2am for a feed or want a cuddle when you really need to pee that you discover this change. You will see that the control over your life is changed and when they need you, you get up. You will be tired as a Mum and you have to find what is right for you and your transition to motherhood.
My post natal recovery experience has taught me the need for trust and knowledge. I need to trust myself and my instincts but how much we rely on trust with our health professionals. I aim to be there for my clients and provide the education they need to heal their body for now and the future. Our Mums and Bubs Fitness Classes are focused on improving strength, overall well-being and being flexible when we are tired. Pregnancy and Post Natal Massage is aimed at providing clients with the opportunity to connect with another mum, asking questions and being guided with the best care for their bodies. I am truly passionate about helping women create a post natal recovery plan that works for them and I welcome you to contact me if you need help creating yours.