Becoming a mother is one of the most significant physical and psychological changes a woman will ever experience and the shift in identity is profound. As a pelvic health physiotherapist, I am so honoured to be a part of so many women's journeys to and through motherhood.
Postpartum starts on Day 1 but does not end at your 6 week check up when you are discharged from your maternity care. Postpartum is forever. Unfortunately, new mothers are often left with so many questions in the weeks and months following birth and don’t know where to turn to for answers. Is it normal to leak urine when I cough or sneeze? And will it improve over time? Do I have diastasis recti? And how do I fix it? Do I have a prolapse? And if I do, what does that mean for my recovery? What exercises are safe for me to do?
As a mom of 3, I too felt lost following the birth of my first child. I recall my 6 week postpartum check up with my OB where I was cleared to exercise...which meant what exactly? Often, the standard advice given to new moms is to “just do your kegels”. But if a woman has a tight or tense pelvic floor, these are not the appropriate exercises and can actually worsen symptoms. In this instance, she might need to relax her pelvic floor before strengthening.
My experiences as a mom are what make me very passionate about my work. Mothers need to feel supported and empowered in this new chapter of life. Each mother’s journey will look different depending on her specific concerns and goals but these helpful tips are beneficial to all mothers at any stage postpartum.
TIP 1: BREATHE WITH YOUR DIAPHRAGM:
Approximately 90% of my patients do not know how to perform a diaphragmatic breath and tend to breathe with their upper chest. The diaphragm is one of the four core muscles and if it is not being used correctly, it can create problems including incontinence, constipation, painful sex and core weakness. This is one of the first exercises I work on with my patients.
TIP 2: DRINK WATER
Do you drink at least 8 glasses of water a day? Getting enough water in daily is a common struggle that I, and often other mothers, have. Between sleep deprivation, diaper changes, messy spills and laundry piles, it’s easy to forget to keep up with your fluid intake. Dehydration can lead to several pelvic floor issues including bladder urgency, vaginal dryness, constipation and straining so adequate hydration is essential. One helpful tip to stay hydrated is to fill a large water bottle in the morning and try to keep it near you throughout the day. That way it’s easily accessible but also helps you keep track of your intake. You can also try adding some fruit, veggies or herbs for a refreshing twist. Another helpful tip is to eat foods that contain higher amounts of water including cucumbers, watermelon, celery and broth-based soups.
TIP 3: GET YOUR RIBS STACKED OVER YOUR PELVIS
Why do I need to do this? It’s all about core muscle function. The diaphragm and the pelvic floor muscles are two of the four core muscles in the body. The diaphragm is located in the lower rib cage and the pelvic floor is located in the pelvis. You need these muscles to be aligned in order for your core to work optimally. The most common problematic posture I see is one where the hips are pushed forward with the bum tucked under and the ribcage is leaning backwards - a very typical mom pose. Unfortunately, this posture does not allow the diaphragm and pelvic floor to coordinate together which can lead to various problems including back pain and incontinence. If you catch yourself in this posture, you need to think about shifting your ribcage slightly forward as you shift your bum backwards.
When you need more help than a few simple tips, we are here for you at multiple locations. Call your closest location to book in with a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist who can help you make significant improvements to your postpartum health!
I hope these tips have been helpful for you and that you are able to incorporate them into your daily life. This past year, living in the middle of a global pandemic, has been hard. And in case nobody has told you today, you are amazing. You are a warrior. I see you and I appreciate you. Happy Mother’s Day.
Renae Hunter - Pelvic Health Physiotherapist
PT, BSc (KIN), MPT, Certified Postnatal Fitness Specialist
Renae graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology in 2007 followed by a Masters in Physical Therapy from the University of Western Ontario in 2009. Renae is a certified Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist treating a variety of pelvic health disorders including prolapse, dyspareunia, urinary and fecal incontinence and pelvic pain. She is also certified in ROST Therapy for the treatment of pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain. In addition, she has completed training in acupuncture through the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute and has completed her Level 2 certification in Manual Therapy through the Canadian Physiotherapy Association Orthopaedic Division. She has a passion for patient-centred care and works hard to help patients achieve their maximum potential and overall well-being. Renae grew up as a competitive soccer player competing as a Dino for the University of Calgary for 4 years and continues to enjoy living an active lifestyle. Outside of the clinic, Renae is a busy mom of 3 and enjoys spending time with her family and exploring the outdoors.