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Postpartum Recovery and Physical Therapy’s Role in it

Both pregnancy and childbirth are miraculous beautiful experiences, and yet, they can be an incredibly challenging time for mothers.  As can be expected, this time period can be marked by periods of great happiness, but what many people don’t think about, is that this period is often (dare I say almost always) emotionally and physically draining. 

New mothers have so much on their plates. Besides caring for a new baby, a mother has to focus on recovering physically from the effects of pregnancy and childbirth. In this article, we will discuss postpartum issues and how postpartum physical therapy can help women manage the physical challenges associated with pregnancy and childbirth.

Postpartum Recovery

There is a reason that people refer to the postpartum period as the “fourth trimester”. It is a challenging and transformative time for both the mother and baby. Immediately following birth, women  experience a range of things including vaginal bleeding, soreness,  swelling, and often pain from the birthing process. Hormones are also in flux at this time and can cause changes in mood, energy levels, and disrupt sleep. These are in addition to the many physical changes that a woman’s body has gone through.

Postpartum recovery marks the transformative journey that a woman embarks on after childbirth. This recovery period includes the physical, emotional, and social aspects of returning to a state of well-being after having a baby. It’s more than just trying to “bounce back”; it’s about embracing the journey of motherhood with resilience, strength, and grace.

The Physical Toll of Pregnancy and Childbirth

During pregnancy, there are many changes that occur in a woman’s body. These changes include hormonal changes, weight gain, posture changes, skin, muscle and ligament stretching, and even joint loosening (especially in the pelvic and hip area).

After giving birth, many women struggle with pelvic pain, perineal pain, abdominal weakness, back pain, pelvic floor issues, and problems with balance and posture. These issues can deeply impact a woman’s wellbeing and comfort during the postpartum period and beyond. As part of postpartum care, a physical therapist can do a comprehensive evaluation and recommend a personalized plan for postpartum physical therapy.

Overview of Postpartum Physical Therapy

Physical therapy serves as a true cornerstone in the care of postpartum mothers. A physical therapist will provide personalized support that can address the many unique physical challenges that can impact new mothers after childbirth.

Here are some ways that physical therapists can contribute to postpartum recovery:

Promoting healing of the tissues

Physical therapists can prescribe safe and appropriate exercises designed to promote circulation, reduce swelling, and improve tissue elasticity.

Treating pelvic floor dysfunction

Physical therapists assess and treat pelvic floor muscle weakness or tightness. Pelvic floor issues can lead to urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and other related conditions that can be treated through targeted exercises, biofeedback, and manual therapy techniques.

Easing back, pelvic or hip pain

Many mothers struggle with pain during and after pregnancy. A physical therapist can recommend therapeutic exercises, manual therapies, and ergonomic advice to help improve pain and mobility.

Treating diastasis recti

Diastasis recti is the separation of the left and right abdominal muscles which can lead to a gap or bulge in the belly. Physical therapists can treat this condition with exercises and guidance on proper body mechanics.

Core strength and stability

Under the guidance of a licensed physical therapist, core muscle strengthening can be beneficial to postpartum recovery. These programs can help with strengthening things like the abdominal, pelvic, and back muscles.

Scar management

Some physical therapists can provide treatment for both the mobility and appearance of abdominal or pelvic/perineal scars resulting from C-section or vaginal births.

Posture issues

Many pregnant women and new mothers have discomfort resulting from changes in posture and positioning during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. A physical therapist can properly assess these issues and address them.

Muscle Spasms and Myofascial Pain

Postpartum women may experience muscle spasms and myofascial pain in various areas of the body, including the back, neck, shoulders, and pelvic region. These can also be effectively treated with physical therapy.

When Should Women Seek a Postpartum Physical Therapist

If a woman is experiencing any physical pain or health issues, then a consultation with their doctor is needed. Often, physical therapy will be the recommendation, but it is important to be sure there is nothing more serious going on.

How Long Does Postpartum Physical Therapy Take?

The length of treatment will truly depend on the cause as well as the severity of the issue. Physical therapy for incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, for example, can take several weeks or months of therapy to see improvement, depending on how severe it is. Other issues, like pelvic pain or back pain, can see improvement within a few weeks of treatment.

Maximizing Postpartum Healing: The Role of Physical Therapy

Though it is difficult to focus on yourself in the days and weeks after giving birth, failing to do so can lead to delayed healing and ongoing struggles with pain and pelvic floor issues. It is important to take the time to focus on your healing and wellbeing during this period. Remember, you are not alone and most women deal with some of these issues at some point. With the help of your doctor and physical therapist, you can help your body to recover.