By Sheree DiBiase
A new baby, there is nothing better! Snuggling, loving and nurturing them becomes your new life. Suddenly, the aches and pains of pregnancy and delivery are forgotten. But don’t kid yourself – what your body just did to make this precious new addition was no small feat.
Your body goes through an amazing transformation to make your baby and if you are nursing them, you will still have hormones in your body after their birth. No wonder your body seems a little bit different. No wonder you have stiff shoulders, a cranky back or hips that pop around when you move. Maybe your bladder is a little leaky with laughing, sneezing or coughing. Maybe you have pain with intercourse or are completely uninterested in sex at all. Maybe you are constantly constipated when you never were before. Well, we know what it’s like and you are not alone.
The pelvic floor is an intricate set of muscles. There are layers of them and they perform unique work as the bottom of the abdominal container. They hold the bladder, fertility organs and the bowels, and they need to remember how to work again after having a baby, because these muscles are often overstretched and overworked during pregnancy.
It takes time for these muscles, along with the abdominal muscles, to heal. They work together with the diaphragm and you can start training them with deep breathing techniques: Take a deep breath to the count of four. Feel the lower lungs fill with air and push the ribs out to the sides. Upon inhalation, the floor moves downward. Then upon exhalation count to four and feel the floor muscles contract and draw upwards towards your nose. You can feel these pelvic floor muscles externally by placing your hand besides your sitter bones medially. As you draw the floor upwards, think about lifting all the organs inside the bowl-like muscle container. The floor is not flat – it has front and back muscles and an apex in the middle. Imagine this apex moving upward as if a string is pulling the floor towards your diaphragm as you contract the floor. This incorporates all the floor muscles to work together, different than the kegel exercise, which concentrates on just one level of the floor muscles.
The first 4 to 6 weeks after having a baby are meant to be a time of bonding, adjusting to your new life and allowing your body to heal. Don’t be hard on yourself and the way you look. Gentle retraining of the floor, abdominal muscles and core can begin once your body has healed, and it will restructure itself with time.
After your 6-week postpartum check-up, schedule a visit with a physical therapist who will begin training your pelvic floor and core so you can return to your active lifestyle. They can help you retrain a leaky bladder or bowels that are not working well. If you have pain with intercourse, you may have muscles that are not working properly and need to reestablish good patterns of floor movement. If you have never been active, don’t worry – they will teach you how to develop a new healthy lifestyle with baby.
Sheree DiBiase, PT, is the owner of Lake City Physical Therapy. She and her staff are women’s health specialists with offices in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Hayden, Idaho, and Spokane Valley, Wash. Sheree was an Adjunct Professor at Loma Linda University in the School of Physical Therapy for 7 years and the owner of the International Education Institute, a continuing education company. She is a wife and a mother of three sons. Call (208) 667-1988 to schedule an appointment at any of her offices.