Taking care of the whole "you" postpartum

Jill Heath, PT, DPT

Becoming a mother brings many changes to your physical body and mental health. Your body adapts to pregnancy through muscular stretching and compensation, posture changes, more ligament laxity, and hormonal shifts. Birthing your baby may cause further stretching or trauma to the muscles in the pelvic floor and abdominals and shifting of pelvic organs. These changes are common, but when ignored can lead to conditions that make the postpartum period challenging for you.  

Some conditions that are commonly experienced by new moms include stress incontinence (or leaking of urine or feces), pelvic organ prolapse (lack of support of the pelvic organs), diastasis abdominus recti (separation of the abdominals), and pelvic pain. These issues are prevalent but not normal. They are symptoms that your body has not properly recovered from the events of pregnancy and childbirth. For example, stress urinary incontinence affects 1 in 3 new moms. That may lead one to believe that it’s normal, however, it is caused by a lack of coordination in the pelvic floor and muscle imbalance. It is a symptom, just as pain is often a symptom of a muscle imbalance. The good news is that this is treatable, and in fact, research shows that physical therapy is effective for treating for urinary incontinence.  

Your mental well-being is also affected by becoming a mom - major life change, hormonal shifts, change in identity, emotions around the physical body, and other factors. This can lead to postpartum mood disorders. In fact, 1 in 5 new moms develop postpartum depression, and a higher number experience anxiety. Postpartum mood disorders and pelvic floor issues are often not exclusive from one another. For example, we know that women who deal with urine leakage postpartum are twice as likely to develop depression. Conversely, women who experience birth trauma often have more difficulty reconnecting with pelvic muscles, which can lead to weakness-related issues.  

Recognizing that these issues are common but not normal can lead us to have more conversations about the wellbeing of new moms. Increasing that conversation can help to reduce the stigma, fear, or shame that often coexist with postpartum issues. It can give you resources of what to do and when to ask for help. Physical and psychotherapies are available to help you navigate the challenges of new motherhood.  

Want to learn more? Join me and my colleague, Jaime Larson Jones, RD, MS, RYT, LPCC, a psychotherapist specializing in postpartum mood disorders for a Postpartum Wellness workshop at Emerge MBT on January 12, 12:30-2 pm. You will hear the knowledge and experience of both of us on these postpartum issues and what you can do as a new mom to take care you, from your mental wellness, pelvic floor, and abdominals. Practical take-home strategies and exercises will be provided to empower you in your postpartum experience. Visit our events site for details!

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About the Author

Jill Heath is a licensed physical therapist and owner of She PT, LLC. She received a Doctorate of Physical Therapy and B.S. in Exercise Science from Northern Arizona University. During years of practice helping individuals of all ages recover from a variety of conditions, she developed a passion for working with women. She opened She PT, LLC with the purpose of meeting not only the unique physical needs of women, but also empowering women to take charge of their well-being by making care accessible.