As a women’s health physical therapist (PT), I see many women during their year of childbirth. Popular culture often depicts pregnant women effortlessly exercising into the third trimester, then “magically” back to their pre-pregnancy shape and activity soon after delivery. The female body goes through much transformation during this year, but for many women, it does not feel so “magical.”
Many of my patients say they wish they had known to look for some of the issues I treat them for. Here are the 5 most common ailments women should be aware of during and after pregnancy—and how physical therapy can help.
1. Severe back pain is not normal. Although some minor back pain during pregnancy is common, pain that limits your ability to function, move, exercise or sleep is not normal! Studies show that back pain during pregnancy may become chronic if it is not treated. If it hurts to move or do your daily activities, ask your doctor/midwife for a referral to PT—most pain can be easily treated.
2. Your abdominals may split. Diastasis recti abdominis (DRA) is a common condition during pregnancy where the “six-pack” abdominal muscles separate down the middle. After childbirth, some women may notice there is either a gap or a bulge in this space that comes up when they try to do a sit up. If you see this, stop the sit ups and see a PT to get the right abdominal exercises to strengthen effectively.
3. Doing kegels is important. Our pelvic floor (kegel) muscles take a huge hit during pregnancy and vaginal childbirth. We can’t always predict delivery complications but the healthier these muscles are at the start, the better the recovery. Research shows kegels may decrease urinary leakage during pregnancy and after delivery. A women’s health PT can help design the right exercise program for you.
[Related: Give yourself time to get back in shape after baby]
4. Childbirth does a number on your pelvic floor. For a baby to emerge, muscles in the vagina stretch an incredible amount, and some tearing may occur. The muscles may be very weak, painful, and difficult to control. Pelvic pain, urinary or bowel/gas incontinence can result. If you tear a muscle in your shoulder, it is likely you would consider rehabilitation to get stronger, more flexible and functional. Your pelvic floor deserves the same attention! Pelvic floor rehabilitation can help you recover and get back on track.
5. Having sex may not be easy. Fatigue, time constraints, lack of privacy and changes in libido commonly hinder the sex life of new parents. For many women, pain is an important limiting factor. Remember No. 4 above? Scar tissue and injured muscles may be the culprit for much of the pain symptoms. During your six-week OB visit, if the pelvic exam is painful and the idea of sex seems scary, ask your OB or midwife to refer you for pelvic floor PT to improve the health and flexibility of the tissues.