Is motherhood a soft skill?

Is motherhood a soft skill?

Do you ever feel that the concept of supporting mothers through motherhood doesn’t quite get taken seriously enough? That the people who choose to work with and for mothers somehow carry a little less weight, a little less credibility?

That personal trainers who choose to specialise in fitness for Mums are thought of as “Mummy trainers”, that lawyers who work in family law probably aren’t as smart as those working in international relations, that psychologists who support women through Post Natal Depression are “just a shoulder to cry on”, that a business coach who specialises in working with Mums who own a business is just a “Mumpreneur”, or that a physiotherapist who chooses to focus on postnatal rehabilitation probably couldn’t cut it in the sportsmed field?

I often feel there’s an undercurrent of this in today’s society – and the most frustrating thing for me, as an Occupational Therapist who works primarily with mothers, is the underlying assumption that there are better things I could be doing with my degree than “helping the Yummy Mummies”. Because the way I see it, this is the most important work I’ve done in my career so far.

At the beginning of my life as an occupational therapist, I worked in the field of vocational rehabilitation. My job involved supporting unemployed people with disabilities or injuries to find suitable and sustainable employment.

Part of the role was helping individuals figure out what their strengths were. This was often challenging, but at the same time immensely rewarding. Anyone who has been unemployed for a period of time would know how much it can impact your confidence and self esteem, and the people I was working with were often battling with the double whammy of long term unemployment and an injury which heavily affected their work capacity. Helping these people to identify their strengths was often difficult, because their confidence and self esteem had simply been eroded to the point of non-existence over a period of months, years, or even decades.
But it was always valuable work identifying strengths – because people always have strengths, even if they feel they don’t. Frequently we would classify these strengths into what we called “vocational skills” and “soft skills”. Vocational skills were those that were directly related to performing a paid job – such as does this person have a truck licence, can they use an excel spreadsheet, do they have a trade certificate? The soft skills were those skills or attributes a person possessed which weren’t specifically required for the job, but which would make them a valuable employee. For example – were they punctual, well presented, did they work well in a team environment, did they have a friendly and welcoming demeanour?

The comparative value of soft vs vocational skills has long been the subject of debate among human resource circles.

The irony is, while the soft skills are often thought less of, they are actually more important in a worker – because they better represent the true personality of potential employee. But because they don’t come with a certification or a parchment, they are often less valued and considered ‘nice to have’ but not as important as the ‘hard’ skills.

Sometimes I feel like motherhood gets treated like a ‘soft skill’ by our western society. Under appreciated and frequently disrespected.

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As a health professional working in this area, I’ll admit to initially feeling a little conflicted about choosing to focus my work in this area. How much support do Mums really need? Wouldn’t my time be better spent working with people who’ve had a stroke? Or children with autism? Or teenagers with spinal cord injuries? Or something else equally as altruistic?
Are mothers really in need of specialist rehabilitation or wellbeing support?

The short answer is yes.

When I began working with this population early in my motherhood journey I hadn’t experienced a broad range of the challenges and adversities that mothers frequently face. I had one lovely baby who fed well and slept 16 hours a day. I was truly blessed, I know that now. But around me I saw other mothers grappling with so many more difficulties than I had. Women struggling with postnatal depression, battling musculoskeletal injuries, raising children with life threatening illnesses or challenging behavioural conditions, or doing it all as a single mother. Often without much support, guidance or understanding from the broader community. The traits they demonstrated throughout motherhood included resourcefulness, negotiation, physical and emotional strength, resilience, amazing communication skills, delegation, scheduling, managing competing priorities – the list goes on. And sure – these skills too might be considered soft – but they’re not. Particularly not when they’re being implemented in the process of raising future generations.

It was then that I realised how much society treats motherhood as a soft skill. When in actuality – it’s one of the most challenging, multifaceted skills a person can possess.

From that point on I never again questioned my role in working with mothers. For me at this stage in my career, its where I feel I can have the greatest impact in my world, and the world that will one day belong to future generations.

So no, motherhood is not a soft skill. If you’re a mother please don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise. Whenever you start to feel disillusioned and perhaps unconvinced of the role you’re playing in this life, always remind yourself of the gravity of your role. You are creating, teaching and leading the future custodians of our world.

There’s nothing soft about that.

And if you’re a professional who supports women through the motherhood experience, please always know just how important and specialised your role is – don’t ever let anyone doubt you, your abilities, or your choice to work in this field.

Until next time,

Sarah

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What you should really spend your money on as a new Mum

What you should really spend your money on as a new Mum

Instagram has a lot to answer for.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Insta-fan. Between work and my personal life I actually have four different accounts, but that’s beside the point…

Because here’s my gripe. As a women’s health occupational Therapist who works primarily in the field of postnatal women, this is what I see:

Women spending a lot of money on cool, beautiful, on-trend stuff for their babies, and not a lot of money on their own wellbeing.

There I said it.

You may think I’m being harsh or insensitive, but I can guarantee you, there’s thousands of other antenatal health practitioners out there who agree with me. And we’re all wondering the same thing: “Do women truly value a beautiful nursery over their own health and wellbeing?”

I saw a Facebook post the other day which mentioned that the average cost of a wedding these days was $48,000. Forty. Eight. Thousand. Dollars!! That’s a whoooooooole lot more than I paid for my wedding nearly 8 years ago.

It made me wonder how much the average couple spend on setting up their home for a new baby – how much for the nursery, the pram, the car seat? Which is where my Instagram reference comes in. We see these beautiful nurseries, those gorgeous baby outfits, the extravagant baby showers – and we think we need them. Insta-envy is real – I know, I’m not immune. We get swept up in the romance of new parenthood, in the gorgeousness of it all.

But we don’t need that stuff. Your baby doesn’t need a $50 teething toy or a $200 tutu she will throw up on within 14 seconds. What we really need is to look after ourselves. And not just in a “popping-out-for-a-coffee-and-a-pedicure-mummy-me-time” kind of way, but in a “considered-practical-meaningful-evidence-based-longterm-wellbeing” kind of way.

So it makes me wonder – what would it take to convince women (and men) to take at least part of the money they might otherwise spend on beautiful baby stuff, and instead invest it into their future physical and emotional wellbeing?

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Those of us who work in this industry see the difficulties (and oftentimes devastation) that pregnancy and motherhood can wreak on a body and a mind.

We KNOW for certain, that our services can help. We see the life-altering loneliness of disconnected mothers, the silent shame of incontinence after birth, the unresolved trauma of a labour that didn’t go exactly to plan. We see all that. And we want to help. We know we can help. But we need you to pay for it.

It’s as simple as that. There’s not a single women’s health practitioner I know who wouldn’t gladly run oodles of free workshops, classes and sessions if she could. That’s why so many of us have blogs, YouTube channels, and free resources on our websites,  But the truth of that matter is that many of us are self-employed, or work in small private practices, and the reality of running a business is that you have to charge for your services. We have to charge to pay rent, pay for supplies, pay for our extensive clinical training, and of course pay ourselves a wage – because we also have families to feed and mortgages to pay.

And this is why we get frustrated. Because we know women need help, but we continually see them spending money on other things – other than their own wellbeing. We see women paying $1500 for prams, but not $500 for a hypnobirthing program. We see women buying $300 nappy bags, but not investing that same amount of money in a few physiotherapy sessions to help restore their pelvic floor function. We see women spend hundreds of dollars per term on baby swimming lessons or gymbaroo, rather than spending that exact same amount on a postnatal yoga or pilates class.

And it breaks our heart.

Truly it does. Seeing women neglect themselves and their own wellbeing is one of the biggest frustrations of our jobs. We don’t want to see you in pain. We don’t want to see you hiding indoors due to postnatal anxiety, or shying away from jumping on the trampoline with the kids because your pelvic floor can no longer handle the task.

We want you to be strong – physically and emotionally.

We want you to be a confident and connected mother – able to take the challenges of motherhood in your stride, to celebrate the joys with fervour, all the while knowing that your body and your mind remain resilient and capable of carrying you long into your future.

We know you can only do that if you’re well. And that, potentially, means you coming to see us.

It’s our job to convince you that we can help you, but it’s your job to invest in your own wellbeing.

Here’s the question I want you to ask yourself:

“Do I really value a beautiful Instagram-worthy nursery over the long term wellbeing and function of my own body and mind?”

I say this with love, because I truly believe it – but your money is better spent on supporting your wellbeing as a mother, than it is furnishing your nursery with pretty things.

I get it. I know how exciting it is to create the perfect nursery theme, to have all the latest baby gadgets with all the bells and whistles. But at the end of the day, they don’t compare to you being well, with you being emotionally resilient, with you avoiding a lifetime of incontinence.

Here’s something to consider:

If you choose the Boori Urbane Noosa Cot for $399, over the Boori Pioneer Cot for $699 – you would save $300 – that’s three one to one sessions with a Women’s Health Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist.

If you choose the Baby Jogger City Mini GT for $799 over the Bugaboo Chameleon 3 for $1519 – you would save $720 – that’s 12 weeks of personal training sessions with a womens health specialist PT.

If you chose a Collette Pocket and Zip Baby Bag for $79 over the Mimco Splendiosa Baby Bag for $299 you would save $220 – that could buy you four weeks of professional housecleaning while you spend that first month getting to know your baby.

Finally, just remember this – within a few years all those baby blankets will go to Vinnies, the cot and the pram will be sold on Gumtree, but that body you’re inhabiting? That’s going to be with you for a lifetime. Invest in it wisely.

Until next time, Sarah

ps. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article – comment away or email me at sarah@bloomwellbeing.com.au

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“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.

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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.

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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”.

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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 – not just muscle weakness

Postnatal Incontinence – not just muscle weakness

Whenever I talk to mothers (and fathers) about toilet training toddlers I always start with the suggestion that learning how to go to the toilet is a REALLY big task! Sure, we now do it on autopilot (most of us at least), but let’s look at all the steps involved in being able to successfully do a wee in the toilet:

  1. You have to be aware of the urge to urinate
  2. You have to recognise that urge in enough time to allow you to make it to the toilet
  3. You have to find your way to the nearest bathroom
  4. You have to be able to remove your clothing and underwear
  5. You have to be able to shift your body weight onto and off of the toilet
  6. You have to have the neural control required to release the urine from your bladder
  7. You have to have the ability to sense when your bladder is fully empty
  8. You have to have the manual handling skills to tear the toilet paper from the roll and wipe your perineum
  9. You have to be able to stand up from a seated position
  10. You have to be able to re-dress yourself
  11. You have to be able to remember to flush the toilet and wash your hands.

Phew! It’s no wonder toddlers take a while to get the hang of it! Ask my three-year old – she’ll tell you!

No, this isn't my three year old, and it's not my house. It's way too clean.

Learning to wee? There’s more to it than you think.

So what’s my point here? Well, toileting is a really complicated task. There are several body systems and processes at play in mastering the cognitive and physical elements within it, and it also requires us to integrate those systems and processes to work together. Which is why it takes us so long to learn how to do it as toddlers – and why we tend to have so many accidents.

Frequently, I come across parents who are frustrated at how long it’s taking their child to toilet train. I find encouraging them to remember the enormity of this task – all 11 points listed above – helps shift their mindset around their child’s toilet training.

Which brings me to the topic of postnatal incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction.

This is a common issue impacting on many postnatal women. Most recently given the less confronting title of “leakage”, postnatal incontinence has the potential to dramatically impact on a woman’s life. It can lead to issues with embarrassment, low confidence and self esteem, it can lead to women ceasing or reducing their favourite social, recreational and sporting activities, it change how they see themselves as a woman. At the extreme end, it can lead to serious mental health conditions such as depression or social anxiety. It’s difficult to feel free, spontaneous, athletic or sexy when you’re worried your pelvic floor is going to let you down. There’s such a stigma about incontinence in our society that it’s rarely spoken about out loud, and when it is, it’s almost always spoken on in diminished terms “leakage”, “light bladder leakage”, “LBL”.

Just like toilet training a toddler, dealing with adult incontinence also requires us to step back and look at a range of body systems and processes. Unfortunately the common understanding by the general public is that this issue is just related to weak pelvic floor muscles, which is not entirely true. Certainly the functional capacity of the pelvic floor musculature has a huge role in regaining and maintaining continence. But what else is there to consider?

Our overall posture: How we stand or sit throughout the day impacts on the length and function of our body’s postural muscles – many of which have connections with the pelvis and the pelvic floor muscles. Imbalanced postural muscles can impact the way our pelvic floor muscles function.

How we breathe: did you know the diaphragm (the muscle under your lungs) is designed to work in unison with the pelvic floor? To maintain good ‘intra-abdominal pressure’ they should work together – when the diaphragm contracts downwards the pelvic floor should relax downwards. When the diaphragm relaxes up, the pelvic floor should lift up. By the time we reach adulthood so many of us have developed poor breathing patterns, and we’ve lost our ability to breathe properly, or connect our breath with our pelvic floor.

What we eat and drink: A common tactic used by many women to address incontinence is to simply reduce their fluid intake. This is a huge no-no as it means the bladder becomes used to only holding small amounts of urine. Over time, it can lose it’s capacity to stretch to it’s previous size. To maintain good continence, we want the bladder musculature as functional as possible. Also, were you aware that caffeine is a stimulant for the bladder? Sometimes eliminating coffee from our diet can be a big piece of the puzzle.

Our habits: Going to the loo ‘just in case’, or because your friends are; ‘holding on’ because you want to avoid public toilets while away from the house; how about running the tap while you pee to avoid the embarrassment of someone hearing your stream on urine? We women have terrible habits when it comes to toileting – but honestly, it’s probably not our fault, it’s something we have drilled into us from an early age as young girls. The problem is, when our toilet habits become habitual or situational, it means we lose that important mind-body connection between our brain and our bladder. When we lose that connection, we lose the trust in our own bodies, and that has a huge impact on continence.

Poor toileting habits early in life can lead to continence issues down the track.

Poor toileting habits early in life can lead to continence issues down the track.

Our mental health: It’s a two way street – continence issues can increase the likelihood of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, but these conditions can also impact the prevalence of continence issues. When we experience depression, anxiety or social phobia, our habits and lifestyles change – which means that every one of those four areas listed above can be impacted. It changes our posture, our breathing, our nutrition and our habits. All of which can lead to pelvic floor difficulties.

Did someone say vicious cycle?

So you can see that treating pelvic floor issues is about so much more than just strengthening those pelvic floor muscles. The list above is by no means exhaustive either. But it’s enough evidence to be able to say that addressing incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction requires a truly holistic view of the individual involved.

The good news is there’s so many wonderful health practitioners out there who can support you if you need help with this area. incontinence is not something you have to live with. It can be treated, but for best treatment, you need someone who is going to look at the whole you – not just your pelvic floor. Search around for a Women’s Health OT (like me), or a Women’s Health physiotherapist, those of us who specialise in this area know that taking an integrated approach is the best, and only, answer.

Until next time, be well.

Cheers, Sarah xx

ps. If you want to know more about how to restore your pelvic floor function after having a baby, make sure you check out my Body Mind Baby postnatal wellbeing program. This 10 week online program covers a wide range of physical and emotional challenges faced by new mothers – with information and simple, practical strategies you can implement in your everyday life to positively impact your wellbeing – you can check it out here.