As a mom of four and a pelvic health provider, I am all too familiar with the idea of “getting your body back” after having a baby. Especially in today’s society—it’s everywhere. We are constantly bombarded with societal pressures and “norms” that dictate our perceptions of what is normal and what is expected of birthing parents postpartum. The truth is, there is no possible way to “get your body back” after having a baby because your body didn’t go anywhere. It changed. It accommodated. It grew. It sustained a life. It performed a miracle. It’s not gone, it’s entirely new and different.
Did you know that during pregnancy your body grows an entirely new organ? Yes, you read that right, your body grows the placenta which is an organ. Your uterus grows from the size of a small pear to the size of an oversized watermelon. Your body produces a hormone (that sticks around until you are done breastfeeding) that reduces cartilage and ligament density. Your bones soften and your pelvis expands which causes your spine to re-align to accommodate for the change in your center of gravity. Your rib cage expands to make room for your growing uterus. Your breasts and feet grow in size. Your hair, nails, skin, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, digestive system, bladder and abdomen all change during pregnancy. In short, there isn’t much about your body that doesn’t change during those ~10months! So, my question is, if everything about your body changes (and some of those changes are drastic!), why do we have this idea in our heads that we need to go back to the original version? How is that even possible?
Truth bomb: it’s not! It’s a myth.
Let me instead propose an alternative. After pregnancy, let’s focus on function over physique. Let’s give our bodies grace and appreciate the absolute miracle that they have performed to grow and sustain a life (or lives). Let’s focus on embracing the new and improved version of ourselves that is different in the best possible way. In order to do that, we need to know what changes our body has endured and how to best care for our newly remodeled selves. This involves education, comprehensive postpartum care and a commitment to changing the conversation surrounding postpartum bodies.
You should have two main goals after pregnancy. The first goal is to heal. After all that your body has been through, that is the least you can allow yourself to do! If you try to speed this process up, you will prolong it. If you try to skip this process you will cause problems and most likely injury. It takes 8 weeks for your uterus to contract back down to size. You may have damage to your pelvic floor and perineum from a vaginal delivery or have had major surgery for a cesarean birth. Most birthing parents say that their hips and ribs don’t return to their previous size or position. Your breasts will continue to stay larger if you are breastfeeding which will affect your spine and posture. As long as you are breastfeeding, your body will continue to produce a hormone that causes ligamentous laxity. In order to heal, your body needs rest, time, nutrition and water. Allowing your body to heal is imperative to restoring your function, which is the second goal after having a baby.
Goal number two is restoring function. Restoring function is how you can ensure that you are able to be your best for yourself and your baby. Restoring function gets you back to doing all the things that you love. Without allowing for the healing phase after pregnancy and being equipped with the proper education around when to start working on your function, it is really hard to navigate through this process. Enlisting the help and guidance of a pelvic health physical therapy specialist will go a long way in helping you to reach your goals and avoid injury. You and your body deserve as many visits and as much care as you dedicate to your newborn. With your remodeled body, you may have to work your way back to exercise and activity. You may need to start with certain muscles and movements before you can progress to other activities. If you want to function at your best and be the healthiest version of yourself after pregnancy, it’s time to set new goals and shift your focus.
Weight is an arbitrary number. It’s fluid and can fluctuate on a daily basis. And, if you think about it, it doesn’t hold much meaning. You can be at your pre-baby weight and still have pelvic floor dysfunction, incontinence, re-occurring injuries and pain with sex. If you focus on your function and how your body is healing, you will be much more successful in achieving the goals you have for yourself.
Get to know your postpartum body, how it works and what it needs. Let a specialized pelvic floor specialist guide you through the changes and help you to reach your goals. Together, let’s stop falling for unrealistic ideas and shift our attention and focus to health. Pelvic floor physical therapists are here to help you to be your best and highest functioning self for you and your baby. Best of all, pelvic floor physical therapy is a one stop shop that has all your postpartum care, connects you with a plethora of resources, ensures your physical healing and guides you through returning to sexual and physical function. You will most likely see your doctor 1-2 times after you have your baby. You can see your pelvic floor physical therapist as many times and for as long as you need. Let Mendwell be here for you and let’s appreciate this postpartum body of yours together!