I have spoken to many women over the years who have put so much focus into preparing for their future new baby and birth experience. Preparing for a new baby and for a positive birth experience is indeed important, there's no doubt about that, but what about YOU!? How are you going to look after yourself and practice that vital self-care once baby arrives? It's very easy to get into the habit of putting yourself last! Not only can you suffer emotionally and physically when putting yourself last consistently, that discomfort and dis-ease can seep into other areas of your life.
Enter pelvic floor care. Looking after yourself and your pelvic floor, is critical for post natal health! This beautiful muscle spans the entire bottom of the pelvis, supports the pelvic organs and is responsible for so much! During a woman's pregnancy, this hammock or sling shaped muscle can really take a beating! As organs move and the uterus and baby grows, there is an increasing amount of pressure put on the pelvic floor. This is the case in EVERY pregnancy so it doesn't matter if your pregnancy ends in a vaginal birth or cesarean birth, every single woman's pelvic floor is going to undergo stress. In addition to pregnancy, the pelvic floor can certainly be impacted by a vaginal delivery and more so by a birth where interventions (instrumental birth and others), an episiotomy or stitches were necessary.
When I was living in the United States, my six week postpartum follow up appointment involved a conversation with my doctor about how I was doing physically and emotionally, but also included a look downtown. If a new mother had any concerns (like I did!), specifically regarding her pelvic floor, these were addressed then. In Ireland I have sadly learned that many women do not receive a post-birth vaginal exam, even a quick external look, at this six week follow up appointment! I think professionals in postnatal care are simply overlooking the importance of checking in with new mothers and addressing the early signs and symptoms of pelvic floor trauma.
Fortunately there is women-focused physio! I attended a post natal workshop for mums with Michelle Maher of Women First Physiotherapy a couple weekends ago and it was a great learning experience for me both personally and professionally! Michelle's workshop focuses on the importance of rehabilitating the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles if and when necessary. If issues with the pelvic floor and/or abdominal muscles which are stretched and strained during pregnancy are not addressed they can lead to discomfort in the form of back pain, urinary or bowel incontinence, painful intercourse and pelvic organ prolapse. Many people believe that if these issues are going to arise, they will be immediate but the truth is these issues can arise years after a trauma- so getting checked is critical!
At the post natal workshop, all the attendees, including myself were evaluated for diastasis recti, which provided me with great feedback! I now know which exercises I can do to strengthen both my pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. This is one element of self-care that I highly recommend. Some new mums find issues like incontinence or pain during intercourse embarrassing to discuss, which I can empathise with, but I encourage you to not let that stop you from seeking rehabilitation that can have such a positive impact on your health both now and in the future!