A woman’s body is designed for pregnancy and birthing, right? So why do so many mommas tell me their backs hurt, their knees are shot, their stomachs are full of stretch marks, they’ve had c-sections and episiotomies, and they can’t stand their mummy tummies and uncontrollably peeing when they lift their leg to get into the car! If we are designed for this, why does it take such a toll on our bodies? And more than that, does it take a toll on our babies too? Here are 5 of the top things that I wish more mommas knew about their postnatal bodies!
I’m going to preface this by telling you that I’ve had two babies, and I desperately wanted to have a natural birth with my first (not because I knew all that much about it, or because I felt it was the right thing to do, but honestly it was because my competitive edge made think that if any other woman could do it, I HAD to be able to as well… It wasn’t a selfless notion once-so-ever at the time.).
As it turned out, when I hit transition (about 7cm dilated) I freaked out. I couldn’t breath anymore and that was the one thing that was saving me. I essentially had an anxiety attack and yelled that I needed an epidural. And I felt guilty and terrified of the needle. And then even more terrified when it didn’t work properly. But then suddenly I had a baby on my chest and I forgot all about it.
So in writing this, please understand that I am not the saint of natural and intervention-free birthing, but having gone through it, and experiencing a lot of after-effects from some poor choices I didn’t even know I was making, and now being a pre and postnatal corrective exercise coach who works with mommas daily, I simply think it’s time for some of this stuff to be common knowledge.
5 Things You Need to Know About Your Post-Pregnancy Body
So! Wherever you are coming from momma, maybe this will shed some light on why we experience some of what we go through.
1.) Core Amnesia. (This will be the longest one I chat about!)
What is it? Who has it? What does it MEAN?
Let’s think about what the core is and what it does for a second. When I say core, most people think just of their abs (like your ‘6-pack’ abs), but what I am really talking about is much more than that. Can we agree that a good definition of your core might include some muscles running up your spine, some muscles you use to breathe, of course the muscles within your belly (not just your abs but also the deeper muscles that keep you all together there), and we can’t forget the pelvic floor, right?
So we know what the core is, but why do I say core ‘amnesia’?
Well, let me ask you this.. (Sit up straight for me for a second as you read this – make sure your head is up, shoulders down, spine is straight, and you are not leaning against the chair or anything).
How often do you use your core throughout the day? This is not a trick question by the way, I think we all assume we are using it in 100% of our movements consistently, but let’s really think of it:
- Do you use it when you are sitting down to hold yourself up in proper alignment?
- Do you use it when you pick up your kids?
- Do you use it when you go for a run, walk, or climb your stairs?
If you are not sure, there are a few key indicators: neck and shoulder pain, low back pain, knee pain, and constantly feeling stressed. How do I know that? Because if you are slumped over and feeling neck and shoulder pain, then it’s your neck and shoulders that are holding you up instead of your core which is actually meant to stabilize you. If you have low back pain, your low back is stabilizing you instead of your core. If you have knee pain your knees are taking the brunt instead of your core and the list goes on. do you feel constantly stressed? then I can assume (bare in mind this is just an assumption) that you are breathing into your shoulders, neck, and/or upper chest and not into your belly and through your core.
And in these instances I can derive that you have forgotten to use your core properly and are suffering from core amnesia. [HINT: most people are these days because we sit so much and are completely supported by a chair instead of using our own bodies.]
Now, go into a pregnancy with core amnesia, where your joints and tissues become lax for birth and your belly makes ‘good posture’ a thing of the past, and any issues you may have had get exacerbated a million fold:
- you can’t hold your belly in so stretch marks get worse, low back pain is debilitating, your neck hurts, your knees hurt, you’re swelling, you don’t feel like exercising, you feel unprepared for birth, you may have some kind of intervention through birth
- then you come out with a baby, and a body that feels nothing like your own and after this single most physically demanding experience you will ever have, there is no prescribed rehab
- add in that you now have no time and no money to help yourself and voila! It’s not too far fetched to see why so many moms come to me with pain or no desire exercise even though they aren’t at all comfortable in their own skin..
Step one? Reconnect to that core momma. Because the side effect of this is that our wee ones begin to model our physicality at around the age of three. Let’s make core amnesia skip the new generations shall we?
So I’ll ask for another favour real quick and get you to sit up straight again. (Don’t worry, everyone just had to re-adjust;).)
2.) Interventions & Rehab
Again mommas, this is not slam anyone who had interventions during the birthing process – I did myself, but is meant to shed some light.
Let’s start with drugs. I had a strange experience with my second child as I was on bed rest for the last four months due to inexplicable, excruciating episodes of pain I would go through about once or twice a week. I could never tell if I was going into labour or not because the pain was worse than my contractions with my first. When they finally told me that yes, this was it, I was in labour and asked if I wanted an epidural, my husband literally looked at me like, “You’ve already spent months in pain.. you’ll probably want it.” And in truth I was so tired of pain I just said yes even though by that point the pain episode had stopped and I literally couldn’t even tell I was having contractions.
A few hours later, when they told me they were giving me drugs to speed up the birth, I just went along with it – because I was the only one in the FULL labour and delivery floor that wasn’t having a C-section and the doc was pressed for time.
But what are the implications of these interventions? Let’s think about what happens to your pelvic floor (PF) when it’s not ready to let baby pass yet, but baby is pressing up against it because you’ve been given drugs that speed up the process. Baby’s head is essentially kind of slamming up against your PF until finally comes through. It’s no wonder that I have to be careful of peeing when I sneeze, is it? The barrier was compromised! It’s no longer gesundheit, but gesund-LOOSE. Not to mention, what could possibly happen to baby’s head when it’s slamming against an unforgiving surface? Their poor brains!
Luckily, my babies were the size of peas when they came out, but when you can’t feel what’s happening down there because of an epidural, you can’t feel if or when you are tearing etc because you aren’t as connected to when your body is naturally ready. This contributes to a lot of episiotomies mommas.
Now if you’ve had a c-section (and while I speak with many mommas who knew they needed one, some are still in the dark as to why it HAD to happen), there’s a really important dialogue that I think needs to be brought up. If you have different kinds of surgeries, like on your knee for a torn ligament, or a hip replacement, or a shoulder injury, you get a certain amount of rehab factored in, correct?
When you cut into your transverse abdominus (TVA), the corset that keeps your belly together, you get told to rest.
Does this make sense? The next time you are around another human being, ask them to put their hand on your lower abdomen, then reach down and pick up something heavy-ish off the ground. Ask them if they felt your belly tighten when you picked it up. Most times, after a c-section? The answer will be no. And if your belly isn’t working to stabilize you, what is momma?
I’ve covered the fact that you need to connect to your core to reduce pain and that that generally will help more mommas to feel good enough to exercise, but if you weren’t aware of any of this and were exercising through pregnancy (even when it became uncomfortable and a little awkward in the latter stages of pregnancy) and postpartum and are now suffering from “mummy tummy”, split abs, or incontinence then this may apply to you.
So I know that you are currently sitting up perfectly straight as I previously advised, but I want you to slump forward like you are sitting at a computer or checking the Facebook on your phone. Just in that movement can you imagine the difference in this balance of pressure happening internally? Do you feel like your belly might be taking the brunt of it?
Now, in your mind, go back to your pregnancy and imagine your abs or pelvic floor when the hormone relaxin is flowing through you making your tissues more lax.
Can you see how you may be adding to the pressure your belly is already under, and how that may cause your abs to split further apart?
Without correcting your posture, stand up and imagine being pregnant and going for a run this way, or doing a Zumba or body pump class. That added pressure is just killing your desires to recover your abdominals, but think of your pelvic floor! Slam, slam, slam, slam! I see incontinence in your future.
And this doesn’t just happen with exercise, just getting in and out of bed will do it too when you haven’t learned to stabilize yourself properly, allow the correct muscles to take on the loads they are supposed to, and keep this internal pressure as balanced as you can given the circumstances.
I am 100% FOR exercise during pregnancy and recovery, but you’ve got to be aware of what’s going on in your body momma!
You have a baby now, or toddler, or kids, or a baby and a husband who seems like a kid (I kid, I kid..), and it’s insanely stressful. I am four years into this motherhood thing and I actively pursue de-stressing activities daily and I STILL feel it 24/7.
I mentioned that ‘stress breathing’ is when you are breathing into your chest and neck instead of into your lower ribs and belly and how that is a good indicator for where you are at.
But here’s the big thing mommas. If you are trying to loose baby weight or weight of any kind, and you are in a state of constant stress, it’s going to be really hard. Because stress creates fat (especially around your belly) while simultaneously cutting off your ability to tap into your fat burning mechanisms. Add in that it feels awful and it shuts off your immune system and it’s just a lose/lose/lose/lose situation.
Here are the basics: if you are stressed your body responds by pumping sugar into your blood stream so that you have the energy to FIGHT or RUN AWAY from the immediate danger that is going to kill you. Except that you are just stressed over your Visa bill and won’t be needing that sugar to fight or run away from anything. When that sugar doesn’t get used, it gets stored as fat.
When your body is stressed, and therefore thinking it needs to save you from imminent death, it doesn’t care about trying to fight off a cold (you’re about to die anyway!), or the spare tire around your middle (who cares if you are going to die anyway?), or – if you are pregnant, providing baby with the best nutrients and other resources it requires (who cares if momma is about to die?). Get the picture?
Hard as it is, you HAVE to allow space for a mental commitment to de-stressing. Meaning, you don’t have to physically go to a yoga class, but you do have to put some mental focus on calming strategies.
5.) Processed Food
We’ve covered a lot so I’ll make this one quick – because most of know we shouldn’t eat processed food, but it helps to know why.
Remember before you were pregnant and you’d have a bout of really good, clean eating, and you felt amazing?
Then you got pregnant and everything hit the fan?
Well, the stuff you ate before you were pregnant that made you feel amazing, was both the stuff you needed to eat during pregnancy to deliver amazingness to baby, but also the stuff you needed to eat to help you to recover from your pregnancy.
Sometimes (sometimes) we use pregnancy, and then the stress of motherhood, to justify eating some pretty awful food – and doing it consistently.
There are a lot of factors to consider here, but when many of my clients first come to me one of the biggest things I encourage them to deal with is the health of their gut. A healthy gut means a happy momma. Literally. The majority of your serotonin (your natural happy drug) is produced in your gut.
Remember that I said many moms tell me about both pain and no desire to exercise despite feeling unhappy with themselves?
Let’s break down an example of how processed foods can contribute to this:
It takes the human body around 30,000 years to evolve and adapt to environmental changes (think the evolution to being a two-legged species).
Processed foods are a fairly new phenomenon. It’s not rocket science to assert that chemical additives and different food colourings and flavourings are things we have not yet evolved to process in our digestive systems just yet.
These things create small holes or leaks or cracks, whatever you want to call it, in your gut. Then weird things that are not supposed to get through that barrier, get through the barrier. The implications of that are:
- food sensitivities/allergies
- joint pain
- skin problems (that stuff has to come out somewhere, right?)
- digestive issues
- and well, disease.
All from eating too many crackers and packaged thingamabobs. Ugh. But remember, this happens to baby too!
So while we want to keep our food as unprocessed as possible if we want to reduce gas, burps, sensitivities, mood disorders, acne and eczema, acid reflux, IBS, join pain (arthritis too!), and inflammation that causes disease, we especially want to for baby as rates of food sensitivities and childhood disease are – for lack of a better word – soaring. And the truth is, is that it is very hard to maintain a healthy weight when your gut simply isn’t functioning properly no matter how hard you try!
So there you have it mommas!
This stuff is my jam and I could chat about it at great length – I think I’ve demonstrated that already, but these are the core five that I think serve as a great foundation of knowledge to help you discover why you may not feel like YOU after baby.
All of that to say.. connect to your core and eat well?
Breathe momma. Take some solace in the fact that it’s not as complicated as it seems.
And also that I am still laughing at that gesundheit joke.