I don't know how it went when you had your 6-week postnatal check up, but mine went something like this:
"Yup." Followed by brief physical check up of baby
"And how about you? Are you depressed?"
"Um, no, I suppose not."
"Ok, great. See you soon, then! Bye."
GPs are very good at their jobs. I know we have a moan every now and again, but they are under massive pressure and only have about 10 minutes to do their jobs and diagnose/signpost on/get you the proper help. So maybe it's not surprising that in the 6-week check-up, they don't check the mum's physical health and only cursorily address her mental wellbeing.
However, the things that many new mums do miss out on because of this are crucial to their physical and mental health. Did you know that in France, every new mum is given 10 hours of physiotherapy to help them recover from what their bodies have been through? Whether vaginal or c-section birth, both can be equally traumatic. I didn't even now where to turn for some of the things that I experienced, and now I know better, I want to spread the word about what help is out there and how to get to it.
SO, before you go, here are my Top 3 things to look our for and deal with after birth to be your best you and heal well.
Chances are, you've heard of Diastasis Recti, but you're not entirely sure what it means. It means this: your vertical six pack muscles (you know, that Jess Ennis washboard you had before you got pregnant) which are the surface stomach muscles running vertically from your chest to your pelvis, rather than being parallel, have been pushed apart by the baby that sat behind them for 9 months. As they've been stretched, they don't automatically or instantly snap back together and you may be left with a gap between them, see below.
A sign that this is the case is that your fingers 'disappear' into your belly between the muscles when you are engaging them (eg in a light crunch). It may not be obvious you have this, as your surface and deeper core muscles will be weak following childbirth, but it's important to get your post-natally trained fitness professional (like Caroline) or a women's health physio (like Amanda) to check for you. It is possible to do it yourself but most people find it easier and more reliable to get someone to do it for them.
Remember! If you overwork your abs whilst they are still separated, they may get stuck there rather than coming back together again. There are specific exercises you can do to rebuild your core again without aggravating DR, so concentrate on those during your rehab period post-childbirth.
your pelvic floor
We've all heard the jokes about weeing yourself when you sneeze, laugh, cough or run. Or the unsatisfying sex. Or whispers about painful sex. Or the general aches and pains. The truth is, most of us are a little bit terrified of what pregnancy and childbirth (you don't have to have a vaginal birth to have impacted your pelvic floor) will do to our pelvic floor. And the results are different for everyone.
Most of the time, it doesn't actually have to be as bad as we think. Rehabilitation of your pelvic floor (without a few kilograms of baby on it!) and the proper exercises can make sure we're not making doing vaginal farts during yoga and we don't need the incontinence pads just yet. But it's important that you do take the time to get a pelvic floor lift, often known as a kegel, right. This means:
- squeezing both the back and front part (stopping both a fart and a wee) as well as the sides;
- only squeezing to 70%;
- and releasing fully at the end. This last is so often overlooked but is equally important.
I always advise people to go and see a physio in the postnatal period, to make sure you are helping rather than hindering your recovery - so often we don't know what we don't know! But, it's especially important if you're not sure you're doing your exercises right or you have problems that don't seem to be going away. It took me 12 months to realise that my own signals were not normal and could be fixed - how I wish someone had recommended I see a physio before that!
Tip: There are specialist Women's Health physios who are specifically trained to rehabilitate and advise new mums. Amanda Savage is our resident specialist but if you are not local to her, a good place to start looking is the Mummy MOT website.
your mental health
The baby blues are dreadfully common. Thanks, hormones - as if carrying around a baby for 9 months and then pushing it out your hoo-ha/underdoing major surgery isn't enough...
You're not alone. Make sure you get the support you need by reaching out to family and friends, tell your other half how you feel (even if you do feel like screaming at him), accept help when it's offered, get sleep whenever you can, and don't be afraid to release the emotion.
If it's more serious than that, you're also not alone. More than one in 10 women experience some form of postnatal depression, and that's not to mention postnatal psychosis. You're body's been through a lot of changes and your life has been tipped upside-down. It's only normal to feel some sort of emotional and mental reaction! Ask to be referred to specialist services and counselling by your GP, or reach out to PANDAS.
You can also find lots of supportive, funny and non-judgemental blogs and reading this days, which can help you through the highs and lows, however you're feeling. Check out the likes of Selfish Mother, Surviving Motherhood and Not So Smug Now to name just three, and our upcoming blog posts and Instagram friends for more.
Remember: your physical health can really contribute to your overall wellbeing, so don't neglect fresh air, eating well, and (when you're ready) some postnatal exercise.