I blame Hollywood celebrities for the downfall of women safely recovering from childbirth. Women constantly see a barrage of images where celebrities give birth, and then a few days later, they look as if they’ve never been pregnant. As a result, women and men have this vision of women returning to their pre-pregnancy bodies within weeks or even days after childbirth. We know intuitively that it is unrealistic; they are a unicorn in the vast landscape of postpartum recovery. However, we still believe that if they can get their body back quickly, so can we. They’re not superhuman after all. However, these unrealistic expectations cause beliefs and behaviors that put the long-term wellness of postpartum women at risk. In a haze of hormones and sleep deprivation, new moms try the latest fad diet and exercise programs promising to help them “get their pre-pregnancy body back,” as if it’s been lost in the mail.
It’s considered a badge of honor to leave the house with your newborn as soon as you can slip real clothes on. Gone are the days when neighbors and friends band together for meals delivered, home cleaned, and babies tended. That’s now for the weak. I read messages from moms on social media bragging about lifting their 40 lb. toddler days after their c-section, going to an amusement park at two weeks postpartum, or training for a road race starting at six weeks postpartum. All this was as if their core muscles hadn’t undergone a significant trauma just six weeks before. Women are rarely encouraged to relax, accept help from friends and family, and give their bodies the time and attention necessary to heal.
Why do we think that is? Is it because childbirth has become so commonplace, publicized, and openly talked about? Hard to say, but I’m here to say we need to allow our moms time to rest and recover post-childbirth, whether they deliver vaginally or via c-section.
Both delivery methods impact the core system and need proper rehab to resume optimal function. It is not the standard of care for women to receive rehabilitation after childbirth, far from it. And I’m hard-pressed to explain why. Many other injuries, surgeries, or conditions qualify for therapy, not childbirth. Women are given the green light to resume exercise as tolerated at their six-week postpartum check-up without regard for their delivery method, pregnancy complications, birth complications, or any other musculoskeletal complaints. If someone has a hip replacement, postoperative rehab includes consideration of the type of approach the surgeon used, what activities or movements they may need to avoid immediately after surgery, what kind of activity they want to progress to, if they have any job requirements, and many more factors. All of this information shapes their rehabilitation program.
As a society, we need to take better care of our mothers, and I’m not just saying that because I am one. Postpartum rehab should be the standard of care for all mothers, whether they have had a cesarean delivery or vaginal birth. Recently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) announced their new recommendations for postpartum care. It involves recommending earlier and more comprehensive follow-ups with mothers post-childbirth and referral to physical therapy as appropriate. This is excellent! But we all know real change will take time.
Luckily, until appropriate postpartum care becomes a universal standard of care, women can educate themselves and pursue their course of postpartum rehab. Many states, including Massachusetts, have direct access to physical therapy. This means you do not need a referral to see a physical therapist. Pursuing postpartum rehab with practitioners well-versed in the changes the female body goes through during pregnancy and childbirth can help guide you toward a safe return to physical activity. We can help you learn to manage “mom problems” that, despite being common, do not need to be your regular. Moms do not need to live with incontinence, low back pain, pelvic pain, or mummy tummy. Pelvic floor physical therapy can help! If you are a postnatal mom or are currently pregnant, please advocate for yourself. Make your health and well-being a priority.
Cray Physical Therapy offers treatments, management, and general information for several types of pain related to work, sports, or everyday living injuries. Give us a call at 339-987-4856 so we can help you get on the road to recovery!