When I was pregnant with my daughter I knew what to expect. I had read all of the books. I had a million references for whether a symptom was normal or not. I even charted and compared our growth to food ranging from a pine nut to a watermelon. Labour and delivery, although more anxiety provoking, came with classes, instructions and a full health care team. For a type A personality such as myself, I was in heaven. I had apps, I had measurements, I had support groups, I had photo journals…..you get the picture. I was educated and organized. How quickly that all changed.
After I had my daughter, after my husband went back to work and after the doorbell stopped ringing, I was often left alone, not only to take care of newborn but also to take care of myself. I was doing my best as an often terrified new mom, but I was also in a lot of pain. My best friend describes the feeling as what a steak might feel after being put through a meat tenderizer. It was a pain that I wasn’t sure was normal and I felt overwhelmingly unprepared to manage it. The focus had rightly shifted to my daughter but my learning curve was steep and hard to handle when I was so uncomfortable.
Over time, my injuries from delivery started to heal but other issues flared up. Breast feeding was a struggle that often left me sobbing in a hot bath and my wrists and back were so sore that I was sometimes afraid I would drop my daughter as I tried to lower her, sleeping, into her crib. To add insult to injury, as I tried to get back into pre-pregnancy shape, I quickly realized that jumping jacks were no longer my friend and a run around the park left me breathless.
What was going on? I had a great pregnancy and an uncomplicated delivery. My daughter was tiny and slept well. Why was my body failing me with every effort and why had no one warned me that this would happen? It was then that I made the very wrong assumption that this was the price for being a mom. I swept it under the rug and soldiered on.
Two and a half years later, women with the same experience make up much of my practice. Many of them have been in pain and experienced discomfort over multiple pregnancies and several YEARS. Their children are the light of their lives but bearing them has left them feeling frustrated, depressed and far from what they envisioned for themselves as mothers.
Time and distance have given me some perspective (I also remembered that I am a physiotherapist and have some knowledge in this regard). A lot of these women now leave my office with a sense of relief and sometimes even a hug. While I would like to believe it is because I am pretty awesome at my job, it is more likely because I do two small things. I focus the attention back on them and I let them know that BEING A MOM DOES NOT HAVE TO HURT.
As it turns out there are several small things and a few big ones that can significantly reduce pain associated with parenting. Pain although sometimes appropriate should never be unquestioned or left uninvestigated. It is your body’s way of letting you know that something isn’t right and that something needs to change.
Here are some of the top things I discuss with moms to help them manage their pain and start enjoying their bodies again:
- THE EFFECTS OF PREGNANCY DON’T GO AWAY WHEN BABY ARRIVES:
You just spent 40 weeks growing and housing another human being. For your body to take on that amazing challenge it had to accept some serious change. Your joints are looser, your hormones haven’t regulated and your core muscles are stretched. You are also carrying more weight which taxes your muscles, joints and respiratory system. To jump back into pre-pregnancy activities under those conditions can lead to injury and is unrealistic. When returning to activity, be slow and progressive. Let your body adapt kindly to activity and set goals with achievable timelines.
- THE MECHANICS OF YOUR CORE ARE DIFFERENT
If you have ever seen the before and after pictures of a post-natal core / abdomen, you know they can look like maps of different provinces. Your abdominals are stretched out and often split, your pelvic floor is shifted and other various organs and muscles have found new resting places. The neural composition of these muscles does not allow them to start working again without active retraining and lack of a strong core can leave your back at risk for injury. In other words you can’t just will your core back into shape, you need to work at it.
Remember those pesky Kegel exercise that none of us really did as many as we should have pre-baby? Make them your friend again and start activating that core. If no one ever showed you how to properly activate your core (which is often the case), seek out help. Many of us think we are doing a core contraction when really we are just holding our breath or clenching our butts.
- SPLIT ABDOMINALS AND PEEING YOUR PANTS ARE NOT NORMAL
Common, yes, normal, no. Conditions such as diastasis recti (splitting of the abdomen) and incontinence are relatively common post pregnancy but should not be ignored. These are disruptions to the muscles that support you against gravity and keep your body well aligned. Unfortunately, they often go undiagnosed leaving moms susceptible to injury or participating in activities that can worsen the conditions.
There is much that can be done about these conditions but they need to be identified. If you are unsure about what they are or if they apply to you, ask to be checked by your health care practitioner. If either exists, follow up with someone who specializes in post-natal care to learn how to properly treat them with exercise and modified activity.
- SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
Posture is a huge contributor to post-natal injuries and pain. It is important that if you are feeding, lifting or diapering your little one, you approach each one from an ergonomically sound position. This can be a challenge if you are co-sleeping or passing a feeding session in comfy couch but decreasing the stress to your own body can protect against chronic injuries.
Babies only get bigger and harder to wrangle so it is essential to start practicing good biomechanics from the start. When ever given the chance, opt for a supported feeding position, ergonomic carriers and minimize lifting and bending from the back at the same time. If you are unsure how to accomplish any of these, ask your health care provider for tips.
- RECOGNIZE WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
Muscle soreness after engaging in a new or more vigorous activity is normal for a few days. Pain that lasts longer than a week is not. Listen to the cues your body gives you and seek out help sooner than later. It is much harder for me to be helpful when you have been dealing with something for months than when it is new and we don’t have to take compensation into account.
General signs that you should seek out help include:
- Pain that is sharp or radiating
- Numbness or tingling
- Pain that repeatedly disrupts your sleep
- Pain that lasts longer than a week or exceeds a 3-4 / 10
Being a Mom should be a wonderful experience but that becomes hard when we are in pain. Never hesitate to ask for help or have someone assess your pain.