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.

Occupational Therapy for Mums?

Occupational Therapy for Mums?

“So you’re a Occupational Therapist for Mums? I thought OTs just worked with kids?”

This is a comment I get quite a lot! Mostly because the field of Women’s Health OT is pretty new – particularly in the area of post-natal wellbeing. But that’s cool, because while it means that “OT for Mums” is not well known, it’s super-exciting (for me at least!).

So while you may not have heard much about the work OTs do with Mums, we can and do play a vital role – particularly for new Mums adjusting to the enormous demands of being a parent.

Becoming a Mum is about so much more than just caring for a baby. It’s also about caring for yourself. Creating, learning, developing and nurturing your new “occupation” of motherhood – it’s a lot more involved than simply changing nappies and choosing the right brand of stroller!

mumwithbabybath

Motherhood is an occupation so vast that it changes EVERY single aspect of your life. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually – you are never quite the same person you were once you’ve become a Mum. And you’ll never be the same again.

It’s an enormous adjustment on so many levels. And, unfortunately, in today’s society we don’t live in the “village” culture of yesteryear where we would observe and instinctually learn all we need to know about being a Mum from the other women around us.

This is why new Mums in our society need to seek out this support and professional advice. Which is where Occupational Therapy comes in.

At its heart, the profession of Occupational Therapy is all about helping people to function optimally in the different roles within their life – and what more important role is there than being a Mum?

As a mum of two young girls myself, I am passionate about post-natal health and wellbeing.

Throughout my work and personal life, I’ve seen first hand the impact of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting on the emotional and physical wellbeing and functioning of new mums. Mostly positive impacts, but sadly, there are so often also negative impacts. And these negative impacts can be life altering if women aren’t provided with the right support, information and guidance on how to adjust to, and overcome, these impacts.

Which is why I created Bloom Wellbeing, my Women’s Health OT private practice. With 15 years of experience as an OT in the fields of vocational rehabilitation, mental health and physical rehabilitation, I realised I could use my knowledge and experience from these varied areas, and apply them to the specific needs of new mums. All those skills and all that knowledge I’d learned could be used to help new Mums overcome many of the physical and emotional conditions common to post-natal women.

Through Bloom Wellbeing it’s my ultimate goal to recreate that “village”, to support women to adjust to the physical and emotional demands of motherhood. To bring women together, to share information, guidance and support, with the main aim being to assist women to avoid or recover from injuries, or simply improve their general health and wellbeing after having a baby.

I’d love for you to join me in this village!

Cheers, Sarah