Mother’s Day is fast approaching. It’s a great time to show our appreciation for our Mums and all the hard work they do. It’s an especially exciting time for all the new Mums out there who are celebrating their first Mother’s Day with their newborn babies.
One of the things I love about my job as a Women’s Health Physio is getting to see new Mums and their babies. For the Mums I have seen through pregnancy, whether for treatment or in Pregnancy Pilates classes, it’s always wonderful to hear their news and meet the new little person I have only known in utero for so many months. And for those who come to see me for the first time after delivery, it’s great to meet them and hear their stories - every birth is so different.
I especially love running Mums and Bubs Pilates classes. I invariably get a chance to cuddle a few babies, which is always lovely. There’s something very calming about holding someone else’s baby - you can just enjoy them and their little burbles, smiles and burps - without the stress of having to take them home, feed them and (try!) to get them to sleep. But what I really get a kick out of with these classes is helping Mums get back to doing the things they really want to do.
So what’s stopping them in the first place?
Pregnancy, childbirth and the day-to-day slog of dealing with a newborn can throw up a lot of challenges. Let’s be honest ladies, being a mother is hard work – both physically and emotionally!
The first battle can be getting through pregnancy unscathed. Some women breeze through. They’re the ones who are “glowing”. Lucky them. Don’t get me wrong – pregnancy can be a great time for many women. The happy hormones are flowing and everything is new and exciting. However, for others, there are stretch marks, aching backs and varicose veins to contend with. Not to mention your pelvic floor. I remember a dear friend, who suffered from haemorrhoids during pregnancy, lying in bed with her bum in the air moaning, “No-one ever told me about THIS!” Yes pregnancy can certainly do interesting things to our bodies.
And then there’s childbirth… No matter which way you deliver your baby, it can change your body. Unfortunately for some women, it can be life-changing – and not in the “I’ve just won a million dollars” kind of way. There have been some recent news stories about women who have suffered terrible pelvic floor damage from birth trauma. This is nothing new, it’s just finally being spoken about. Leaky bladders, uncontrollable wind and prolapse may not have been the kinds of things you signed up for when you decided to have a baby, but they are the reality for many women.
Even if you manage to avoid all of these pitfalls, there is then the pressure to “get your body back” after delivery. Despite what the tabloid magazines may tell you, usually citing a celebrity as an example, most women do not just “shed” the baby weight overnight, and some may still look 6 months pregnant 3 months AFTER delivery. This has given rise to many Mummy boot-camp style classes or online courses, targeting vulnerable women who are desperate to get back in shape ASAP. Unfortunately many of these recommend exercises that can be unsafe or unwise for women in the early postnatal period.
Heaven forbid you have the dreaded abdominal pooch, which is often related to an ongoing separation of the abdominal muscles (called a diastasis rectus abdominis, or DRA). This is a real thing, and can be very distressing for many women. But a quick Google search on DRA comes up with all kinds of misinformation. Everything from abdominal binders to special exercise techniques (which you can only access if you sign up first at great cost) are touted as the “cure” for DRA. There’s no evidence for most of it and some of it even verges on quackery.
What about the emotional side of being a Mum? I don’t think I was prepared for that when I had my kids. Like around 15% (or 1 in 7 Australian women) I was unfortunate enough to suffer postnatal depression. As the recent ABC news article on perinatal and postnatal depression says, it saps the life out of you.
It was a horrible place to be, and I’m so grateful I had the help and support to get out of it.
One of the things that really helped me get through postnatal depression was returning to exercise. There has been a recent large study showing exercise can not only help manage depression, but can reduce your chances of getting depression in the first place. Smaller studies have also shown exercise can help prevent and manage perinatal and postnatal depression. So what is the best type of exercise to do? Well, any exercise you will actually do - and enjoy doing, so you keep doing it.
With so many demands for your time as a new Mum, and so many body changes to deal with, it can be hard to find the time to exercise and to know how to start. This brings me back to Mums and Bubs classes. They can be a great way to get back into exercise safely, while conveniently being able to bring your baby along with you. You can start gently, and with a class run by a Women’s Health Physio, they can consider all of the other things going on in your body to work out what’s right for you. This includes improving your abdominal separation, learning pelvic floor ‘safe’ exercises and getting your mojo back. Just like any other form of rehab, you then progress over time, gradually working towards your own goals.
This is why I love Mums and Babies classes. Having the opportunity to work with new Mums, who often feel broken and weak, and help them return to the things they love to do is incredibly rewarding.
So wishing a happy Mother’s Day to all the Mums out there – new and older. I hope you all have a wonderful day on Sunday, and get the chance to get some exercise into your day too.
Yours in good health,