Us moms are amazing at caring for our families, but notoriously bad at looking after ourselves. We’d never dream of encouraging them to do something that could potentially damage them or slow any healing processes, yet we overlook the massive physiological changes that our bodies go through giving birth and we race to the 6-week post birth point raring to “get back to it.”
Our aim is typically to lose the baby weight, get rid of our poochy tummy and to return to the sports and exercise that we previously enjoyed. But do we stop to consider that….
– our abdominal muscles are likely to have separated to make room for that growing baby and whilst our body has tried to heal itself post birth, this gap is unlikely to heal any further past the 8-week point (if it still exists) without further intervention. (1)
– 66% of women with abdominal muscle separation also suffer from some kind of pelvic floor dysfunction (including continence issues or prolapse) (2) and many of us commonly report lower back pain and unsightly bulging stomachs,
– our breathing may have changed during pregnancy as the baby grew or it may never have been as nature intended in the first place. The diaphragm (our “breathing muscle”) is a key part of our ‘core’ and the sub-optimal breathing pattern that most of us continue to use post pregnancy contributes to our “mummy tummies” and negatively affects the functionality of our cores.
– standard gym exercises like crunches increase pressure in our already weakened cores and end up having the opposite effect to that intended.
– much of the tissue in question is made of collagen, so hydration and nutrition play a huge role in its healing.
– having a c-section doesn’t mean that our pelvic floors are in perfect working order. They experienced the strain of that growing baby for 9 months! And that seemingly healed c-section scar can cause restrictions and be central to back pain and core dysfunction for years to come.
– whilst leaking post birth is common, it’s not “normal” and shouldn’t be tolerated.
– wounds (like birthing tears, c-section cuts, etc.) take at least one year (and up to two) to truly heal and for the muscle fibres to return to their original function and strength.
The magic 6-week point is very much the beginning, therefore, and not the end. Particularly as those “6-week checks” (to the extent that they take place) don’t tend to cover these crucial points.
Whilst these problems remain serious for a minority of women, for most of us there’s a huge amount that can be done to overcome them and achieve our goals – even several years after giving birth.
Simple things we overlook like breathing, posture and nutrition can make huge improvements to the functionality and aesthetics of our core muscles, which are central to all movement. And coupled with appropriate exercise, it is generally possible to regain the tension and integrity of these muscles.
So demand more from the professionals around you…make sure that they’re talking to you about these things, that you engage in safe, appropriate exercises for your body and that you enlist the help of a good women’s health physiotherapist to diagnose and deal with any issues. (Note: many of the very best women’s health physios I know are part of Maria Elliott’s nationwide “mummy MOT” network, so please use the link below to find someone near to you (3)
(1) Coldren Y, Stokes M J, Newham DJ et al (2008). Postpartum characteristics of rectus abdominis on ultrasound imaging. Manual Therapy 13: 112.
(2) Spitznagle, T M, Leong F C & van Dillen L R (2007). Prevalence of diastasis recti andominis in a urogynaecological patient population, Internationak Urogynaecology Journal and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction, 18(3), 321-328