PFI Pregnancy and Post Natal Wellness
Post Pregnancy: The Journey Back
Director and Principle Trainer PFI, Suzanne Newby
Healing after baby is not a linear process. Someone smart once said it takes nine months to grow them, a minimum of nine months for our body to heal, and 12 months to get back to “normal” (whatever that is?). But it is true!
A mother’s cross to bear is that we spend a lot of time taking care of everyone and everything else, and we sometimes forget to show ourselves some compassion.
I know first-hand that in the thick of the “survival bubble” of the first few weeks, and months, our own recovery isn’t necessarily a priority. Let’s face it, we’re lucky just to grab a shower every now and then because our focus is so intently trained on keeping our fresh, vulnerable little humans alive, safe and nourished.
On top of this, whether you’re learning how to care for a baby for the first time, or you’re learning about your new baby while trying to keep other small humans (aka toddlers) alive at the same time; the learning curve is steep and the road isn’t always smooth.
Safe to say, your plate is full and probably overflowing.
Three babies in I’m the first to admit hindsight really is 20/20; but looking back on my own journey(s) makes me particularly passionate about supporting and empowering post-natal women. That’s why I’m excited about this wellness event, bringing together some amazing women to talk about the issues that really matter to us at this time of life.
Today the journey back from pregnancy and childbirth is an interesting, and very public concept; whereas in the past is was treated more like the private recovery it is.
As a society we are getting better at understanding the needs of women immediately following birth, and in the weeks and months that follow. But as with pregnancy in the digital era, there’s an awful lot of noise around what “after baby” should look like.
If social media alone is anything to go by we should all be in waist trainers three weeks postpartum, pumping a juice cleanse and drop our baby weight by the six-week check, then celebrate with a side by side transformative pic on Instagram. Steeling ourselves against these kinds of messages is exhausting; as if we don’t have enough pressure on us already!
The “appropriate” or “right” recovery from childbirth is a myth. Let’s stop giving it oxygen and get real! Life after baby is messy and unpredictable and imperfect, and different for every woman.
Physically and mentally, my “journey back” looked different with each child.
When my eldest son Bo was born, he was so unwell he couldn’t latch on my breast to feed. Even though born full-term, he was fed nasally and closely monitored like a premature baby: it was an intense situation from word go.
A consulting paediatrician, who granted did have my son’s health as his first priority, advised I give up on breastfeeding before I had even started. “Too difficult” and “not enough colostrum” to even bother to express it for nasal feeding.
Anyone who knows me will confirm that the best way to get me to do anything, is to tell me I can’t do it. Naturally, I took this doctor’s advice as a challenge. Cue: the pump-a-thon. For two weeks and a hell of a lot of Weleda Breastfeeding Tea (I highly recommend) I pumped, and ended up exceeding that paediatrician’s “minimum viable amount” to breastfeed my child. By the time we went home, Bo was happily feeding on the breast.
When talking to expectant or new Mums I like to share this story because I think sometimes in the rush and intensity of childbirth and immediate after care, we can lose ourselves. But I believe that part of self-care is honouring your instincts (this applies to motherhood generally!), even when you feel vulnerable, and not being afraid to speak up or stick to your guns.
Once the baby is on the outside, we can get caught up the “weeks” race: six weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks, but there’s no rush on recovery!
For me, all my experiences with post-natal recuperation were about being ready to start to rebuild myself. With Bo in particular, it was also about him being strong and healthy, so I could feel comfortable giving myself some time.
I had some tearing from his birth, and a pretty severe case of Hypertonic Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. A hypertonic pelvic floor is one that has trouble relaxing, causing pain in the pelvic region. It’s not uncommon to Pilates professionals and athletes, and typically requires a women’s health physiotherapist to rehabilitate.
All up it took three months to rehabilitate back to my pre-pregnancy functionality. Is that fast? I don’t know? Does it matter? No!
I got there with the help of a physio, and doing some light cardio and easing back into post-natal Pilates. Following instructions, listening to my body, being gentle and patient.
My second child, Mika, was stillborn at 19 weeks and while the emotional and psychological ramifications are huge, we don’t often talk about the significant physical effects.
The pelvic floor is a sensitive group of muscles that can become compromised under high stress. Add to the mix, our natural birthing, pushing action isn’t meant to happen against the light weight of a pre-term baby, so this creates a pressure imbalance damaging the already stressed pelvic floor.
So, from hypertonic (tight) with Bo, I found myself with a hypotonic (weak) pelvic floor from Mika’s birth. Common side effects include urinary incontinence (definitely too scared to jump or sneeze!), lower back pain, pelvic instability, and in severe cases, prolapse.
The physical road back from Hypotonic Pelvic Floor Dysfunction a long one and also played an important role in my psychological recovery by allowing me to find some space to heal my broken body. At first this meant just focusing on pelvic floor exercises, three to five times a day for a month, before then returning to my Women’s Health Physiotherapist to check how things had progressed.
My overall recovery meant taking some time to deal with my loss and the best therapy for me at this time was to bundle my beautiful family (hubby, Ray and Bo) off to the UK, my other home, where my husband’s family lives and one of my sisters, for a month of R&R with those closest to me.
During this break, I relaxed and focussed on gentle walks and continued my pelvic floor exercises. By the time I returned to Perth I was in a better place body and mind, and was able to introduce Pilates more frequently with less reliance on the rehabilitative form (Pre-Pilates – this is basically Pilates scaled right back to small, postural movements) and practice more like I was used to: Pilates as a full body integration of the practice.
Three months after losing my beautiful little girl, I was healthy and able to try again. The universe was certainly looking after us because after one try I conceived our youngest boy, Zuma.
Because of my medical history with Bo and Mika, I was too high risk to do any type of cardiovascular workouts during this pregnancy and my body could only really tolerate walking and studio pre-Pilates.
My post-natal journey back from Zuma’s birth was an epic exercise in patience and self-care to slowly bring everything back together again. There were days when it really got on top of me and I just wanted to go for a run in a field and scream at the top of my lungs. In these moments I had to take a step back and remember to practice kindness toward myself and honour the fact that I had been either pregnant or in post-natal recovery for over five years in total!
I really believe re-connecting with your body, in whatever way feels right for you, is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself after childbirth.
The best post-natal advice I ever received came from a midwife at Kaleeya Hospital who said: “Happy Mum, happy baby.” It’s a simple truth.
At present in the health system there is a bit of a disconnect between ante-natal care, and post-natal care where it concerns pelvic floor health. It’s not currently mandatory for a GP or OB to recommend women get pelvic floor function checked following childbirth; right now it is up to the individual to seek this out if they want to.
Through my job and personal experience, I have a deep understanding of the pelvic floor and how its health after childbirth (damage to it and degree of rectus diastasis – aka separation of the abs) can have on how you recuperate.
While your GP or OB might sign you off to “return to regular exercise” (Cringe! Scarily vague!) at your six-week check, to be safe, I recommend seeking out a women’s physiotherapist for a real-time ultrasound of the pelvic floor before jumping (yikes!) back into it. An ultrasound will give you a good idea of what you can reasonably expect from your recovery.
Forget generic recovery milestones! It is important to be tuned in to your own process (what works for you might not for others), and if this means you don’t even get off the couch for 12, 16, 18-weeks, then more power to you, sister! Your body has given you a wonderful gift, it deserves your kindness now more than ever.
I’m a really firm believer in prioritising physical and mental care in pregnancy, birth and beyond. I think too often we get caught in a guilt spin cycle where we think it’s somehow self-indulgent or wrong to take some time for ourselves to heal.
Self-care does not make you selfish!
Self-care is actually an important part of recovery, and it makes you a better Mum. Happy Mum = happy baby.