As you anxiously await the arrival of your baby, there’s so much to think about and so much to prepare for. You research the safest car seat, which onesies might be the most comfortable, should you go cloth diaper or disposable? You ponder colours for the nursery or search for a glider that will be the most comfortable for those late-night feeds.
But, in the midst of this exciting preparation, most mothers often forget to think about their own recovery post-birth. Birth can be one of the most athletic events both mentally and physically that you may experience in your life.
And just like you would rehab after an injury or surgery with a plan and guidance from specialists, your postpartum body needs a plan as well to help it rehabilitate, heal, and recover.
Time for recovery rest and rehabbing
An ideal time to start thinking about a postpartum recovery plan is before the birth of your baby. During the 4th trimester (12-week period immediately after you have had your baby) is when we want to put this plan into action. The “How-To’s” on healing your new postpartum body aren’t always at the forefront of baby information distributed to you. Working with a qualified healthcare practitioner or specialist in this field is highly recommended. In the meantime, here are some considerations to keep top of mind for your postpartum recovery plan.
The 4th trimester
Your body is still healing in those first few months after delivery. It is in the first 6 weeks that the most spontaneous healing occurs to your tissues after giving birth. We want to do everything we can to help that healing process. The tissues that need the most healing after birth are the linea alba, the pelvic floor, perineum, vaginal canal, nerves and c-section scar (should there be one).
Let’s take a closer look at these tissues:
Linea Alba: A vertical line of connective tissue that holds the two sides of the rectus abdominis (6 pack muscles) in place. In pregnancy, it stretches to accommodate your growing baby. As the two sides of the rectus separate or move away from the midline of the body it creates diastasis recti (simply the separating of the rectus). You may hear some people refer to DR as mommy tummy.
In fact, 100% of all women experience abdominal muscle separation or diastasis recti during their pregnancy. Sometimes this tissue will self-correct and heal on its own but we know at least 25% of women will experience severely maladjusted tissue that will result in injury in the form of more severe diastasis recti. This may create a gap but more importantly, it can create the inability to generate tension in the linea alba. We need to be able to generate tension for proper core function and have the ability to manage intra abdominal pressure.
Strengthening the linea alba after delivery means taking care of that overstretched tissue and building back proper core function – and, a well-functioning core can help avoid low back pain and pelvic floor issues in the future.
Pelvic floor, Perineum, Vaginal Canal, and Nerves: Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles, which form the base of your pelvis. They house the perineum (the space between your vagina and rectum which is prone to tearing during birth), vagina, and rectum. The pelvic floor must yield to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal. This area tends to be bruised, swollen, possibly torn, and sore after vaginal delivery. It is also susceptible to weakening due to hormonal changes during pregnancy and the pressure of your growing baby.
These soft tissues are particularly vulnerable to the most injury during vaginal birth. They are prone to tearing and stretching. Nerves can be compressed or stretched.
Cesarean section: In a cesarean birth, (major abdominal surgery) your doctor will cut through 7 layers of tissues and organs. Your skin, fat, fascia, and the rectus abdominus are separated and moved to the side, the parietal peritoneum (the first layer surrounding the organs), the loose peritoneum, and then the uterus itself are all cut. You will also be left with a scar from this surgery. All these tissues need healing, rehabbing, and rest.
Not only do we want women to have an empowered birth, but we also want them to have an empowered recovery. There are ways we can help aid in healing and repairing these tissues. The more we know as women on how to heal our bodies after birth, the more informed choices we can make; and thus, placing us on the best road to recovery.
As new research is released…
… we are realizing there are so many other strategies we can use to help our recovery.
Key nutrients to aid healing
Exciting new studies suggest that collagen used in conjunction with vitamin C can help strengthen connective tissues including skin, ligaments, tendons and help heal wounds like a c-section scar. Collagen is an essential nutrient in wound healing and healthy skin. One of the main functions of collagen is to act as a support system to connective tissue. Pair vitamin C with collagen, as it can help your body synthesize collagen. Specifically, vitamin C has been shown to stabilize collagen MRNA thus increasing collagen protein synthesis for repair of the damaged skin or connective tissue.
Enjoy foods high in collagen, such as tomatoes, dark leafy greens, broccoli, pineapple, berries, citrus, eggs, egg whites, wild fatty fish, and bananas! This nutrient is crucial for a healthy metabolism, blood sugar regulation, joint pain relief, gut health support, and so much more!
Drink lots of water! Staying hydrated will help with postpartum swelling and also help keep up your milk supply, should you choose to breastfeed.
Seek out a specialist
Work with a pelvic floor physiotherapist for an internal assessment of the muscles and function of your pelvic floor, position of your organs, and to mobilize any scar tissue. Contact one before your baby arrives, or make an appointment at the 6-week postpartum mark. Work together to strengthen your body again.
Breath & Movement designed for recovery
For those who delivered through c-section, once your healthcare practitioner gives you the green light for your c-section scar, start massaging it gently. Daily massages can help with scar healing. This will usually come at the 6-week post-delivery follow-up appointment.
Practice core breath. This can start within the first week after delivery as this is the first of many rehabbing exercises we can do to help reconnect with our transverse abdominis and pelvic floor. It also helps to increase blood supply to c-section scars.
Join a postpartum recovery class, similar to the ones offered through The Belle Method. Their Bump Method Postnatal programs combine pilates and pelvic health research with functional training. The Bump Method teaches women how to connect to their deep core and pelvic floor, how to fix bladder leaks, manage prolapse and heal diastasis recti – all helping you heal, reclaim your strength and core function after pregnancy.
Give yourself time and grace. Be kind to yourself. Your biggest job after giving birth is healing yourself and taking care of your baby. Let the dishes go and don’t stress. All you really need is love, and mama, we know you have so much of that to give.
Guest Contributor: Kim Allan
Kim believes in the power of mamas and community. If moms can’t support one another, then what are we really doing? After struggling with infertility for years and suffering many miscarriages on her journey to motherhood, her passion to help educate women on finding options for better health is stronger than ever before.
A veteran fitness teacher and retired professional dancer, Kim currently teaches for The Belle Method specializing in postnatal recovery classes. She is Pre and Postnatal Fitness Certified, and Pelvic Floor; Diastasis Recti for Fitness Professionals Certified. When she is not spending time with her daughter Mya, dynamic, compassionate, challenging, smart programming and fun classes are her thing!
Looking for more pre- and post-natal tips?
This Orange Naturals Mama is also a Certified Personal Trainer, Bellies Inc. Core Specialist, Pre/Postnatal Exercise Specialist, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, and 100Hr RYT Registered Yoga Medicine Teacher. Check out Jessie’s expert tips on how to fix the “mom slouch”!