After giving birth, moms have so much on their mind regarding the needs of their new baby that they often neglect taking care of themselves. Most women are told that things will return to normal on their own, so they disregard targeting the specific issues that many experience after childbirth. At 6-week postpartum checkups, women are usually told that musculoskeletal pain is normal, without regard to the musculoskeletal implications of childbirth. Even if women feel fine after a few months, the effects of childbirth could present themselves years down the line.
Regardless of your delivery method, pelvic floor muscles can become stretched or sometimes damaged throughout pregnancy and birth. The risk of damage becomes even higher when a woman has had multiple children. A weakened pelvic floor can lead to functional problems, including:
- Urinary incontinence
- Urinary frequency or urgency
- Fecal incontinence
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Pain with sexual activity
- Scar pain
- Low back pain or pelvic pain
In France and other countries like the Netherlands and Australia, postpartum physical therapy is a common treatment to help women recover from the difficulties of childbirth. In the United States, physical therapists are trained to identify and treat pelvic floor or abdominal weakness. To avoid the long-term effects of a damaged pelvic floor, postpartum rehabilitation is extremely beneficial.
Can I Exercise After Giving Birth?
Something that holds many women back from seeking out postpartum physical therapy is the anxiety related to returning to working out, especially if they are experiencing pain. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says women who have had a healthy pregnancy and a normal vaginal delivery should be able to start exercising again a few weeks after birth, to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity. They recommend moms who had C-sections talk to their health care provider about what's best for them.
The Benefits of Post-Partum Rehabilitation
Physical therapy is extremely beneficial in order to lessen the damage to the pelvic floor, and ensure the body returns to its best shape. Physical therapists can help identify impairments in the tissues, muscles, nerves, and joints and evaluate the abdominal wall and the pelvic floor muscles to determine what has changed during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. The physical therapist can then develop an individualized plan to heal the muscles and help moms Return to their normal function.
Pelvic floor exercises may include:
- Strengthening exercises, such as kegels
- Relaxation exercises
- Re-educating the muscles
- Manual techniques
In addition to the physical benefits, physical therapy is also beneficial for maternal mental wellbeing. Many mothers experience postpartum depression and anxiety. First time moms especially struggle with the fears and anxieties of being a new parent, and how it affects their daily life. Research has shown, that being active and going to physical therapy can help lessen the risk of postpartum depression. By working with a licensed physical therapist, the woman is able to be educated and receive support for the changes her life and body are going through.