“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”.

post-baby-body-bs-pinterest

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.

How long should a “normal” postnatal recovery be?

How long should a “normal” postnatal recovery be?

How long did it take you to “recover” after you had your babies? Was it six weeks? Six months? A year? When we talk about “post-natal recovery” there’s an awful lot we need to consider.

I read with interest this article from the Daily Mail in UK, which suggested that post-natal recovery timeframes are actually closer to 12 months, a lot more than generic 6 week time frame that is so often bandied about.

I think the issue here is with the definition of “post-natal recovery” – because in my opinion, there’s a lot more to it than simply waiting for your episiotomy wound to heal.

Of course, there’s the “physical recovery” – pelvic floor function and rehab, repairing any abdominal separation (diastasis recti), regaining your core strength and returning your body to a better posture and alignment, addressing any back, neck and shoulder complaints you may have from pregnancy or constantly lifting and carrying your baby, plus whatever other physical issues may have cropped up for you. This is all really important if we want our bodies to be functional for the next 60 odd years, and to not be reliant on incontinence pads in our 40s.

When did you feel "back to normal"?

When did you feel “back to normal”?


Then there’s the “emotional recovery” – adjusting to the role of motherhood and all the feelings that come along with it: fear, anxiety, bewilderment, helplessness, overwhelm, concern, failure, confusion, anger, loss, and guilt that can go along with this. Not to say that all our emotions are negative. There’s also love, joy, passion, gratitude, purpose, connection, fulfilment, and so much more. But you know what – these emotions can be overwhelming too – and it can take us a while to settle into these new feelings and emotions as well.

And what about the “social recovery” which I think is often forgotten, but which can be really challenging for so many women. Adjusting to changed relationships – with your husband or partner, your friends, your own mother. Adjusting to no longer being a worker or bringing in an income. Navigating the maze of postnatal and baby services and making new friends. Redefining who you “really are” now that your a Mum. Feeling like you’ve lost your own identity. Feeling trapped or unable to escape. There’s a lot that happens in the social front – these are all challenges and women often need support to adjust to these changes.

So bearing all of that in mind – how long would you expect it to take to “recover” from childbirth? It’s an intensely personal experience, and it’s about so much more than whether or not you’re “all healed down there”. Some women bounce back from childbirth straight away – both physically and emotionally. Others may take longer to sort through the emotional challenges, others may not notice the physical challenges until after they have their second baby. Some might not notice issues until they decide to go back to work, or until their children start school.

It’s not a precise science, and there’s a lot of factors to consider. But for the majority of women, their postnatal “recovery” continues much longer than their 6 week post baby check up!

Here’s my top five tips for supporting your postnatal recovery:

1) Realise that postnatal recovery involves a LOT of different factors

It’s so much more than just losing the baby bump. I mentioned all the factors above that have an impact on how well we “bounce back” after birth. Take a few minutes to review those areas of your life, and then give yourself a little credit for ALL the adjustments you’re currently dealing with. There’s always more happening than meets the eye – wellbeing involves a lot of different factors.

2) Give yourself time – aka: Please, please, please don’t set yourself deadlines.

I posted on facebook recently about this US Runner who was back training for Olympic trials five weeks after childbirth, despite having a significant abdominal separation and lots of incontinence issues. As a professional athlete, this woman makes her living through running, she’s on a tight timeline when it comes to Olympic trials, and she also has a huge team of health professionals supporting her in her rehab. I’m hopeful she’ll make a full recovery at some point. But I wonder how much faster she might have healed her abdominal separation and pelvic floor issues if she’d had the time to recover properly – without loading her body up with a heavy running schedule while simultaneously trying to rehab. Most of us aren’t professional athletes, so there’s no hard and fast timeline for us to have to recover from.

3) Know what’s “normal” and what’s just common in the postnatal period

There’s a big difference between “common” – as in it happens to lots of new mothers, and what’s “normal” as in what’s the way something “should” be. Some postnatal concerns can be uncomfortable or embarrassing – such as incontinence. And in the rush to make women feel better about these embarrassing conditions we’re quick to reassure them it’s “totally normal, nothing to worry about!” But this does women a huge disservice. Labeling something as “normal”, when it actually isn’t, means that women may think these things are what “should” happen to new mothers, and therefore not seek help to address it. Let’s recognise that issues such as postnatal incontinence, abdominal separation and back pain are “common”, very, very common in fact – but they’re not normal – it’s not how the human body is designed to be. And we can work to address these issues – we just need to be aware that we CAN. #commonnotnormal

4) Get the right professional support

One of my clients last week told me she was considering changing her personal trainer. She’s not 100 percent happy with his level of knowledge on what is and isn’t suitable for postnatal and pregnant women, and after having a few back pain twinges recently, so she’s reconsidering whether he’s the right fit for her. Working with pregnant and postnatal clients requires a detailed understanding of female anatomy, and an excellent knowledge of what is and isn’t appropriate for this group. Make sure you find health professionals (whether it be your physio, personal trainer, or group fitness instructor) who has additional training in pregnancy and postnatal care. Even the best trainer in the world can unintentionally cause damage if they don’t have training in this field.

5) Do the work!

Okay, I admit it. Postnatal rehab can be boooooring! There’s a lot of breathing, a lot of checking your posture and alignment, a lot of repeating the same several exercises with perfect form. I know it can be boring. But it’s effective. It does the job – if you do yours! Rehab only works when the rehabber puts in the yards to do what their therapist asks them. This is true for postnatal women, professional footballers or injured workers. People who follow their rehab programs properly will always recover better than those who don’t. Rehab may not have the same level of exhilaration as an early morning run, or a Body Attack class with your bestie, but those things will always be there. In six weeks, or 12 months, they will still be there. But if you don’t do the work now – if you don’t take the time to make rehab a priority, what might also be there in 12 months is incontinence or abdominal separation – and the long term implications aren’t that much fun. Do the work. It will be worth it, I promise.

What has been your experience? I’m always keen to hear from my readers, so shoot me an email to sarah@bloomwellbeing.com.au if you have any queries or comments.

Until next time, keep well and take the time to rehab properly!

Cheers, Sarah

ps. If you’d like to know more about rehab for motherhood, make sure to check out my Core Floor Restore five week online program. It’s chock full of information about abdominal separation, pelvic floor dysfunction, posture and alignment, back and neck pain, and it’s been specifically created for Mums to support their own understanding of their recovery and wellbeing. Click here to check out the Core Floor Restore program details and pricing.

Lose baby weight NOW! Or not, whatever.

Everywhere I turn these days I keep hearing, seeing and reading about how much weight women have (and should!) put on during their pregnancy. This, of course, is closely followed by how and when they should “shift the baby weight”, once they’ve popped that little blighter out of their expanded bellies.

All this baby weight talk irritates me. It seriously does.

Not because it’s not important. I’m not brazen enough to suggest we should totally ignore weight loss and gain as an indicator of health and wellbeing.

What really cranks me up is how often it is seen as the ONLY gauge of health – and post-natal health in particular. This is complete BS. Especially when it comes to post-natal health.

The realm of post-natal health and wellbeing is enormous – and no I’m not just talking about the DD cups you sprouted on Day 3 post-birth. What I’m talking about is the crazy hormone roller-coaster that can go on for months, indeed years, during and post-pregnancy. Then there’s also the structural changes and injuries which can cause disability and dysfunction post-pregnancy. And let’s not forget social and psychological wellbeing.

So let me think – what’s more important for a new mother than “losing the baby weight”?

Restoring hormonal imbalance. Reducing stress. Overcoming fatigue and sleep deprivation. Addressing anxiety and depression. Rebuilding their core strength and pelvic floor integrity. Recovering from carpal tunnel and other pregnancy related neurological disorders. Repairing a diastasis recti. Dealing with lower back pain, pelvic girdle pain, upper back pain, neck and shoulder pain. Restoring nutrient deficiencies. Emotionally adjusting to their new role as a mother and potential loss of other life roles – such as worker, monetary provider, friend. Reigniting a sexual relationship with their partner.

I could list more, but I’m pretty sure you get the point.

All of these things affect a new mum’s health and wellbeing. In most cases significantly more than whether or not she can rock a two piece at the beach.

But there’s also a secondary, more sinister, issue with this focus on baby weight. Because when the societal pressure to drop that weight hits, many women will resort to measures which will actually endanger their health – not restore it. I’m talking meal replacements, ridiculously low calorie diets, consuming zero-nutrient diet-foods and embarking on extreme physical training programs for which their recovering body is still not ready. These actions are NOT HEALTHY. But so many new mums head down this path, because they feel the eyes of the world on them. Much like Kim Kardashian’s rumoured resolution not to appear in public with her baby until she’d lost the weight. Because a mummy is only valuable when she’s “yummy” right?

Come on. A little bit of perspective please.

I’m not saying don’t talk about weight gain and weight loss. But let’s consider it in relation to everything else going on in a new mum’s life and body. Because at the end of the day, health and weight do not necessarily have a linear relationship.

And to all you new mums – this is my message to you. Don’t worry about your weight – just focus on your health and your baby’s health – because that’s what is really important. Now, I would love to say – “focus on your health and a killer body will come your way as a result”. But I can’t in all honesty say that. What I can promise you, however, is that if you look after your health, your body will look after you. You will be strong, fit and healthy enough to take on whatever life (and that new little bubba) can throw at you. Whether you’re wearing a bikini or not.