Postpartum Body Recovery.
Expectations vs Reality from a Women’s PT & What You Can Do to Start.
What can we expect of our bodies postpartum? Do you feel like you are constantly not measuring up to expectations postpartum? Are the expectations from yourself? Or are they maybe coming from a partner, your family members, your friends, or the media that you consume?
Hey all, I’m Alex Courts, a Doctor of Physical Therapy committed to women’s health during prenatal and postpartum. I’m so glad Dina invited me to write a guest blog post on body, and movement postpartum because it is such a hot topic that can leave moms either feeling empowered or deflated before they’ve even begun. So I’m here to set a few things straight!
If you’re curious and want to know really, really, what you can expect postpartum, this post is for you. If you’re here because you’re sick and tired of carrying the weight of expectations that just leave you constantly feeling defeated then this post is for you. And if you’re here because you want to show yourself some love and compassion, then this post is for you. I am going to help you gain a better understanding of what realistic physical postpartum recovery might look like, so that you can feel empowered rather than deflated because the last thing any mom needs is more guilt.
So let’s get to it!
9 Months of Change to 6 Weeks Postpartum – Say What?!
I’m going to pull out my mom card and paraphrase a line from my daughter’s favorite potty training song – “Our Bodies Are Amazing!”
Over 9+ months, our bodies slowly grow and house a tiny human. That is amazing!
That also means that our bodies are changing and adapting for 9 months. That is amazing!
So how long does it take for our bodies to return to their “new normal”? While the answer to this question depends on many factors, some of them individually, I can tell you that it takes more than 6 weeks. So if you are cleared by your provider at your postpartum visit to resume your previous activities, it is actually very normal to not be back to pre-pregnancy fitness levels of activity. Thank goodness because I do not want to be running a marathon while caring for a 6-week old. I might prefer the marathon to taking care of a newborn, but please not both at once. Also, full disclosure, I don’t even run marathons.
I start with this because I want to call out that so often we feel like, “Oh, Ok baby is out now …I should be able to do XYZ” but we are forgetting all the time baby was IN, and how our bodies were changing. So 9 months of change to 6 weeks postpartum just does not set our mindsets up well. We have to reframe how we are thinking about these two times and what’s actually going on physically, emotionally, and mentally.
What We Do Know – the Facts & Figures.
While there are still a lot of unknowns about postpartum recovery, I’m going to lay out the things that we do know.
- It can take 6+ months for our abdominals to recover.
At the end of pregnancy, we all will experience some separation between our abdominal muscles – this separation occurs to accommodate our growing babe. According to research, it can take up to 6+ months on average for this separation to return to its new normal.
- It can take 6+ months For our pelvic floors to recover.
Childbirth does increase the risk of many pelvic floor changes, including pain or discomfort with sex, leakage, or changes to the support of our pelvic structures. It can take 6 months or more for our physiology and support structures to resemble pre-pregnancy conditions.
- It can take 18 months to 2 years for overall recovery.
In my personal definition of recovery from birth, it is important to know when you may be able to expect to do the things that you enjoyed prior to pregnancy without restriction. While research on this is sparse, the consensus that I have heard from experts and fellow moms is that it can take 18 months to 2 years and sometimes more to get to this point. Ok, so it takes time.
And let’s not forget ….
In America, most of us will get one, that’s 1 SINGLE postpartum visit after leaving the hospital with our new bundle of joy.
Compare this to at least eight, that’s 8! prenatal visits on average, and no wonder why many of us may think that postpartum recovery should be a breeze compared to pregnancy, right?
While we are making strides in America, we have a long way to go to even meet the recommendations set forth by ACOG for postpartum care. So if you are feeling lost between your postpartum visit and returning to the activities you enjoy, you are not alone.
Ok, But What Can I Do To Start?
Here are a few ideas on how you can start reconnecting with your body. Note that this is for informational and educational purposes and should not replace the advice of your medical provider. If you need more support, see the information at the end of this post to find a women’s specialist that meets your needs.
1. Take care of the basics.
- You thought I was going to lead with an exercise tip, right? Before we get to exercise, we need to make sure that we are taking care of the basics to support healing and recovery. Things like sleep, nutrition, and mental health to name a few. If you don’t feel like your basic needs are being met in those areas, start there and then move onto exercise.
2. Start with reconnecting with your body.
- Even just a daily walk can be a great start when you are caring for a newborn. You can also start by connecting with your deep core and pelvic floor. This can start with gentle breathing. If you need ideas of where to start after clearance from your provider, you can find them here and in the Reconnecting with Your Abs Guide in this group.
3. Slowly progress your exercise.
- Whether you choose devoted workouts or make the most of your daily physical activity with the kids, you can start to slowly progress the resistance, amount, and duration of your activities while keeping healing time-frames in mind. Always listen to your body. Muscle fatigue may be a sign that you are building strength but pain is not.
Why Should I? And Who Can Help Me?
Still not sure if prioritizing your physical health is worth your time? The work you put in today does matter. It’s like saving for retirement. Some of your benefits may be long-term. After menopause, it is not uncommon to see the pelvic floor and bone density changes due to changes in estrogen levels, so improving your physical health now could help you enter menopause with a stronger pelvic floor and bones.
If you get stuck at any point on your journey, a women’s health PT can be a great resource. If you are experiencing pelvic pain, pelvic heaviness, or leakage a pelvic floor physical therapist can help. If you are experiencing other pain or abdominal separation, most PTs with training in women’s health can help. You can search for a provider with a focus on caring for pregnant and postpartum women here or ask a local PT if they can refer you to someone that can help.
Other types of providers (the list is not exhaustive):
- Women’s therapist, psychotherapist, counselor, trauma support, PSI (postpartum support international) — for mental wellness
- Sex therapist – for sexual wellness
- Chiropractor – for body alignment and nervous system wellness
- Health/life coach – for helping you make changes and integrate habits into your life for overall wellness
- Women’s personal trainer – to help ease back into physical movement
- Postpartum Doula – mom/baby/family care
About the Author:
Alex Courts, PT, DPT, PPCES is a physical therapist in Mason, Ohio. Alex helps moms use movement to thrive before, during and after birth. The choices we make before birth can affect our postpartum experience, and that is why Alex enjoys working with families in her Childbirth Prep Classes. After birth, many moms feel lost in how to return to the activities they enjoy, so Alex also leads Postpartum Workshops to bridge this gap.
To see more from Alex, visit her website
You can also find her on instagram @activelabor
Medical Disclaimer. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only.