“Post-Baby Body” B.S.

“Post-Baby Body” B.S.

Post. Baby. Body. 

Three little words. But a whole lot of angst.

I live an interesting conundrum through my work. As someone who works in the field of post-natal rehabilitation and recovery, I talk a LOT about post-baby bodies. But I also rail against the tidal wave of “post-baby body” messages that engulf new mothers – those messages that come from mainstream media, social media, friends, family, fitspo-instagram “experts”, dodgy personal trainers, and society at large. The sort of messages that impress upon women the importance of  “losing the baby weight”, and “becoming a yummy mummy”. I don’t buy into any of that BS. Because, it’s BS. It doesn’t matter how you look – what matters is how you feel, and how you function. #formoverfunction

When I talk about “post-baby bodies”, I’m talking about restoring “function” to our bodies after the rigours of pregnancy and childbirth. But by and large, the post-baby body discussions in the media and society are about our body’s “form”. What it looks like, whether it’s firm and perky or soft and droopy.

It’s an unfortunate truth that women face immense pressure to get “beach body ready”, almost as soon as we’ve popped out our little munchkin. There is such a strong message in the media around the importance of getting back into your bikini as soon as possible after childbirth. But why? I’ve never worn a bikini in my life, and I’m not desperate to get into one now, so perhaps I’m a bit biased. But it’s something that gets on my last post-natal wellbeing nerve. I’ve written about it before here.

The “post baby body” message is pervasive. 

Whenever I start working with a new Mum for post-natal support I always ask them about their goals. I can honestly say that every single one of them will mention something about “losing the baby weight”.

What I’m really curious about is why women feel so compelled to “lose the baby weight” as their number one priority. I get that weight loss is a goal for many of us – myself included. But I wonder why it’s so difficult for so many of us to accept these natural postnatal changes. Why is it so important to get our pre-baby “form” back super quick? And why is it more of a priority than getting our pre-baby “function” back?

So in an effort to shift the conversation, and to tip the balance in the favour of “function” over “form”, I’m sharing my list of top four post-baby body goals that are way more important than “losing the baby weight”.

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1. Restoring your posture and body alignment.

Nine months of hefting around a growing uterus does terrible things for our posture! As our baby bump grows, it naturally changes our centre of gravity, meaning that our body will frequently shift into abnormal positions to counter-balance that bump. This can lead to a completely unbalanced postnatal body – some muscles are overstretched, other muscles are too tight. We call these “upper and lower crossed syndromes”.

But it doesn’t end there! Once that little bundle of joy is out of our belly, we face the additional physical demands of lifting, carrying, feeding, handling and caring for an infant (not to mention the added manual handing of lugging around heavy strollers, capsules and nappy bags). It’s also worth noting that much of this manual handling is done in an asymmetrical fashion – such as always carrying our nappy bag on the same shoulder, or carrying our baby on the same hip. So our unbalanced, out-of-alignment bodies continue to be unbalanced and out of alignment – and they rarely get the chance to re-calibrate to a natural posture post-baby. They often need support and we need to consciously retrain ourselves back to a proper posture and alignment.

Uppercrossed-300x239Pelvis-Diagram-02-300x239

2: Restoring your core strength – and recovering from abdominal separation

When our bellies start entering rooms before we do, it places our poor little abdominal muscles under great strain. For many women, this leads to a condition called “diastasis recti”, commonly known as abdominal separation. This occurs when all of the abdominal muscles are stretched to such an extent, that the two bellies of the Rectus Abdominis muscle (the 6-pack muscle) pull apart from each other. The ligament that holds these two parts of the muscle together (the linea alba), can stretch a great distance, and in extreme cases, can even tear or rupture. Once the baby is born, it can take some time for this separation to return to (or close to) it’s original alignment. Until it does, our abdominal strength and function can be compromised.

Diastasis-Recti-Abdominis-Burrell

But core strength isn’t just about our abs. Postnatal women also need to consider the impact of pregnancy and childbirth on all of their abdominal muscles (not just the Rectus Abdominis), their back muscles, as well as their diaphragm, breathing technique, and of course the pelvic floor. Because all of these structures have a role in maintaining our core strength and integrity, and they all need to work together, in perfect harmony, to encourage great core strength. Check out the image below, for a great representation of how the abdominal and back muscles, along with the diaphragm and pelvic floor, combine to create the “core”.

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3. Restoring your pelvic floor.

Actually, I really should have made this number one. If you don’t want to be stocking up on the Tena Lady products by the time you hit your 40s, you’re going to need to focus on pelvic floor recovery asap! I think most post-natal women understand the importance of this by now. But understanding doesn’t necessarily lead to action. And when you consider the statistics that 45pc of women still experience incontinence issues seven years post-birth, it’s clear that many women aren’t doing all they should! And for the record, good pelvic floor rehab is about more than just doing your Kegel exercises. It’s also about restoring your posture and alignment (see above), restoring your core strength, improving your breathing technique and learning how to functionally engage your pelvic floor during all kinds of activities. Yes, there’s more to it than “just do your pelvic floor exercise”.

PelvicFloor_Burrell_V2

So, here are three of my “top four post-baby body goals”. But really, they’re actually just ONE goal. Did you notice how in each section, I mentioned each of the other two items. Because pelvic floor, core strength, posture – they’re all one and the same really. An issue in one will create an issue with all. So to repair one, we need to work on restoring them all. The body doesn’t segment itself the way we think it does. It’s one big integrated unit that should work together in perfect harmony with itself. When you figure out how your body really works – from a whole body perspective, you start to understand how best to “get your pre-baby body” back in a functional sense, rather than a pants size sense.

But what about point number 4: Learning how to accept your baby body – whatever it looks like?

Easier said than done right? I know I’m currently struggling with this personally. To be honest – I’m actually heavier now than I was at full term during either of my pregnancies. So yes, I had my “pre baby body” back – but then I lost it again. I know it’s not ideal, and there are several reasons behind it, which I’m currently working on – namely addressing the adrenal fatigue that has smashed me for these past two years. Every day is a body challenge for me. Exhaustion is a tricky beast to describe and explain to someone who’s never experienced. I’ve written before about how I so badly wanted to want to run, to work out, to push my body harder. But I simply couldn’t. It’s only really been the past several weeks that I’ve again felt strong and energised enough to start jogging again, which is a great win for me.

I lost a lot of confidence in my body through those two years, and I see-sawed between being angry at my body for letting me down, and being angry at myself for letting my body down. And of course this kind of anger isn’t particularly productive! But the one thing I can be confident of is this – even though I’ve gained weight, and lost cardio fitness in the past two years, my body has stayed functional. I haven’t struggled with pelvic floor issues, or poor core strength, and I believe I can attribute this to my postnatal recovery efforts. I put in the work in those early days after each of my babies and it’s given me a solid foundation to keep moving through this challenging body period. Because effective rehab is useful at, and for, any size.

If you’re a new mum, are you keen to know more and to start really focusing on rehabbing your “post-baby body”? If so please check out my postnatal wellbeing program, Body Mind Baby. Our next five week course is being held in Adelaide (West Lakes), starting on Wednesday June 7. You can book online here.

Please feel free to share with any other new mums who you think may be interested.

Please feel free to email me at sarah@bloomwellbeing.com.au if you have any questions.

I’m looking forward to helping you get post-baby rehabbed!

Until next time,

Cheers Sarah xx

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Postnatal incontinence. So not cool.

Postnatal incontinence. So not cool.

So – let’s talk incontinence!!!

I came across this article yesterday on the Women’s Running Magazine facebook page and it got me fired up.

So, so, so fired up.

In case you missed it, it’s a story from a running blogger named Steph, about her little quirks that make her #uncool. Here’s what Steph wrote:

A campaign was launched last week with the title and theme of #WeAreAllUncool. The idea is to celebrate that we all have quirks, habits and differences that make us unique. Sometimes these traits lead us to feel vulnerable and embarrassed about our shortcomings. We should not have to apologize or feel ashamed.

Steph goes on to talk about the fact that she wears a sanitary pad every time she runs or works out, because she has a postnatal continence problem.

I wear granny underwear under my running shorts—even spandex—because I pee my pants on every run and workout since having my son 9 months ago. I have to wear a maxi pad to help avoid soaked pants post-run. It leads to a super-hot look when I’m rocking light-colored spandex.

Now I don’t know Steph at all. I don’t know her story of her pregnancy and labour and I don’t know what she’s been doing in terms of pelvic floor rehab. She’s clearly very fit and healthy and is an elite level runner, so I’m presuming she has great coaches and (hopefully) a top-notch physio on hand. But the reality is, she has a serious continence issue.

Now I’m not setting out to shame Steph – not at all. In fact, I think it’s remarkably brave of her to put this out there in the public arena, and opening up this conversation is always good. So many women would simply keep this to themselves and pray that no-one else finds out. So kudos to you Steph, for your bravery!

But here’s my issue, and this is what I got fired up about.

There is no context around this article. And there is no call to action for other women who may be experiencing the same problem.

I applaud Steph for bringing this issue to light. Truly I do, because it’s a serious and extremely common concern for many women, particularly those who have had children.

But I wish that Steph – or Women’s Running Magazine – would have gone a step further and talked about what she’s doing – or could do – to address this issue.

Is she doing pelvic floor rehab? She’s still only 9 months postnatal, so really she’s still in recovery phase.

Did she consider taking time off from running to get this issue resolved before she started running again?

Does she have a great women’s health physiotherapist she’s working with to get this under control?

Or did she have a severe tear which has led to significant perineal damage and the resultant incontinence?

I don’t know, but I wish there was a little more context around her frank admission, in order to give all of her readership a little more food for thought.

Instead, what we got was several other women telling their stories of incontinence, and Women’s Running facebook page replying with “Don’t worry ladies, it is so common. It feels better knowing it happens to everyone!”

I think the basis of the #WeAreAllUncool campaign is great (though I think it should be renamed #WeAreAllCool) – it’s about embracing our uniqueness, diversity and all the little foibles that make us human. That is totally cool. It’s cool to be different. In fact, it’s completely freakin’ awesome and it’s what makes this big, wide, crazy world a great place to live.

The campaign encourages us to not be ashamed or embarrassed about who we are and how we are different.

Certainly, any type of urinary incontinence has the ability to make a woman feel embarrassed, vulnerable and ashamed. Which is why I talk about it a lot. Which is why we focus on this exact topic in my postnatal wellbeing and recovery program, Body Mind Baby. Because I don’t want women to feel embarrassed or ashamed if they experience urinary incontinence. I want them to be able to address it and overcome it.

But I don’t want them to celebrate it. And that’s what this campaign is about – celebrating our uniqueness.

I know it may seem like I’m nit-picking here – but I think an issue as important as this shouldn’t be included in a campaign about celebrating our bodies – at least not without context. Because it’s actually not something that should be celebrated. It’s something that should be addressed and treated – because for the majority of women it CAN be treated.

I want women to feel comfortable to be able to talk about the fact their experiencing postnatal incontinence. But I also want them to be empowered enough to say, “I’m not going to accept that – I know there are options available and I’m going to do whatever it takes to fix this issue”.

What I’d like women to know is that “no leakage is normal”. So yes, even if you just leak a “little bit”, even it it’s only when you sneeze, jump on a trampoline or do a star-jump – that is not normal. BUT, in the vast majority of cases it CAN be resolved. So that woman can undertake all those activities again without any leakage. It is possible for the absolute majority of people.

But, recovering from postnatal incontinence takes commitment, time and effort. It also requires a great deal of respect for the body and its healing process, and an avoidance of high impact activities – such as running – until continence issues are resolved. Because if you continue to place lots of pressure on a dysfunctional pelvic floor – it is NEVER going to heal.

active mother jogging

But so what? I hear women say. It’s just a “wee bit of wee” and it’s only when I run, and I just wear a pad, so it’s really not a problem. Right? This is what I hear from women an awful lot.

So I always encourage them to think long term. If your pelvic floor is dysfunctional in your 30’s, how’s it going to be in your 50’s? Your 60’s? Your 70’s?

Have you ever worked in an aged care facility? Have you ever seen a grown adult who simply can’t control their bladder or bowels? Did you know that incontinence is a significant factor in many aged care admissions? I’ve spent time working in aged care facilities and I know too well the pained, shamed expression of a woman (or man) who has just wet their pants. It’s tragic and I’m damned sure I’m not going to let that happen to me (at least not without a serious fight).

When I talk to so many women who say their pelvic floor is “mostly okay” as long as they don’t jump, run or do a  handstand, I tell them they should be able to do these things without leaking. Most of the time they just brush it off and say it doesn’t really matter. Well I say it does. I want to be able to jump on a trampoline with my kids – and play “Pop, Bang, Go”* with them like I did when I was a kid.

But the most tragic thing, is that when I ask these women if they regularly do their pelvic floor exercises, or actively work on pelvic floor rehab (because it’s not JUST about kegels), the majority of the time they say NO.

So we have a whole bunch of women, who have just a “little problem” but aren’t doing anything about it???

That’s just not on – not in my book.

One of my favourite phrases – and I say it ALL THE TIME, in every single presentation I give, is this:

Just because something is common, it doesn’t mean it’s normal.

In case you’ve never heard me talk about this before, I wrote about it here.

So getting back to this article, (which also reminds me of this article, which I got steamed up about on my facebook page). I truly hope Steph can get her pelvic floor rehabbed. I really do. I’d love for her to be able to run leak-free. And I’d love for her to be able to have more children and to not have this issue again.

I also want for this topic to be opened up to a bigger discussion, on a more regular basis, especially amongst the postnatal community.

But what I really want, is for this issue to stop being “normalised”. What I’d love is for women to be able to feel comfortable talking about this, while at the same time taking control, respecting their bodies’ limitations and doing absolutely everything possible to address the issue. And not just accepting “leakage” as the status quo.

That’s what I want.

Until next time, Be Well.

Sarah xx

* for those of you who don’t know, “Pop Bang Go” is a totally awesome handstand game to see who can hold their handstand the longest. I never won as a child. I still don’t win. But it’s all about how you play the game.

ps. If you’re here in Adelaide, and want some support to rehab your pelvic floor and core I’ve got a few options for you.

If you want to work one to one with me, check out my OT Core Restore program here.

Or, if you’re a new mum with a baby under 12 months old, you can join my Body Mind Baby postnatal wellbeing and recovery program. Our next program starts on February 4, 2016, and don’t forget we have a $50 early bird discounts available until January 15.