Your body is amazing!
You're giving life to another human without asking for anything in return.
You're providing nourishment and safety to a precious new life.
Life changes when you find out you’re pregnant.
You may change your diet, your lifestyle choices, pick out baby gear, decide what type of diapers to use, and decide how best to raise your child.
You may be left wondering...
- What exercise is safe to continue or start?
- What's normal to feel or experience during pregnancy and postpartum?
- What birth is going to be like and how you’ll feel after baby is born?
Finding the answers to these questions is a journey of self discovery through proper education about maternal pelvic health and having support in developing a deeper body awareness.
Establishing a strong and balanced body from within gives you the ability to ride the ups and downs of pregnancy and postpartum with more ease, care for your babe with more joy, and establish a healthy pattern for your long term pelvic and physical health.
You would think that with my expertise and knowledge of maternal
physical health my pregnancies would be a breeze...
I can safely say, my first was not and second is debatable.
During my first pregnancy I was working full time in an outpatient rehab facility on my feet treating patients all day. Much of my work at that time was manual, so I had to be very mindful of my body to avoid injuring myself. I have hyper-mobile joints and some past injuries that may have become problems, so I was extra diligent with my strategies.
Despite my efforts of exercising daily, which was a combo of running, Pilates and Yoga - I still ended up with pelvic girdle pain. Being the hard headed person I am, I figured out ways to treat myself, which only enhanced how I am able to treat my clients.
One of my goals was to have a natural, out of hospital birth. I knew this was the best fit for me, but I also knew it would take some training to make sure I was giving my body the best chance to succeed.
I have a high tolerance for pain, but I also didn’t know what to expect! I have the belief that contraction pain during birth is meant to motivate and propel us forward and is not to be feared. So I went into my “training” with that mindset.
I worked through movements, pain management skills and postures that felt right for me. Then I practiced!
I created a mind body connection to assist my body automatically during birth when I knew I should allow my body to instinctively do what it needed.
A 12 hour labor and delivery. I slept through the first half only waking on contractions to do stretches that eased the discomfort and moved baby further into position.
We arrived at the birth center and I labored for 3 hours. I rocked and rolled and moved into whatever position felt comfortable during the contractions and eventually felt the best on hands and knees to push.
Eventually my midwives had me change position to cut the umbilical cord tightly wound around my daughter's neck. Once they did that I needed to “get her out.”
So at 12:06 pm she was born. I ended up tearing in that last push being more forceful and not combining it was a contraction.
My postpartum recovery was sore and lasted longer than 6 weeks. Did I feel ready to return to “normal” life...NO!
I knew I needed to do something, once I had allowed my body to rest. So once my vagina wasn’t swollen and bleeding had subsided I started to reconnect to my core with simple mind body exercises, and do gentle stretches and movements to ease tight and sore muscles.
Gradually, I incorporated more correction exercises to heal a diastasis recti (abdominal separation) and coordinate my core to improve the functional ability of my abdominal muscles.
Through this healing I developed a deeper understanding of the many layers to healing a diastasis recti to improve function and be able to resume simple and complex activities with ease.
By the time I felt ready for sex, it ended up being painful. Of course, another teachable moment for the pelvic therapist. I had already started doing scar massage because of the tearing, but this pain required more work. Again, I treated myself and learned new techniques and approaches I now pass on to my clients.
Since that pregnancy, my pelvic health has been a priority knowing that another pregnancy was in my future and my desire to avoid long term pelvic floor issues.
During my second pregnancy things were different. I’m now a full time mom and business owner. I have to work even harder to get me time in.
What I learned is being mindful and incorporating simple exercise throughout the day worked best for me. I danced with my daughter, I got on the floor to stretch or do some core exercises when she was playing, we went on walks and hikes. All the while I was being mindful of my posture, how I was using or not using my core and how to safely move my body to avoid problems.
Even though I did not have the same exercise regimen during the second pregnancy as I did the first I felt more in tune with my body.
This time around I was getting ready for a home birth, my dream. I even went as far as to put a soaker tub in our master bathroom knowing I wanted to have a home birth for our second.
And I know "they" say second births are easier...which I have heard contrary stories for...mine was.
I was fully into the rhythm on my body during the whole process!
I went into labor after a walk on a Tuesday afternoon and had him that night just before midnight.
The difference between my first and second deliveries?
I felt more in touch with my body. I allowed my body to move and react instinctively with my home birth.
Did that make the difference for no tearing and a faster recovery?
Maybe. I can't say.
All I know is going into the birth with a whole new mindset to give myself over to the process was powerful.
After having my son I felt ready to get "back to business" faster, but I respected that healing still needed to happen so I took my return to activity slowly (even though it felt like I was being lazy or was bored). I know from my professional experience that even if we feel good it doesn't mean we're fully healed.
Now 6 months postpartum, I've been working hard to reconnect to my body. I have an abdominal separation again, but it's healing faster than with my daughter. I feel more in tune with what my body needs than ever before and I feel ready to seize the day (unless my daughter wakes us all up at 5 AM).
Do I still get muscle aches and really have to be mindful of how I use my body?
I will take care of this body until the last breath leaves it, as it's all I have. I can't let my body flounder without a compass or guidance. Yes there is an innate ability for our bodies to work, but to work it still needs nourishment. And that nourishment comes from your choices to give it good food, plenty of water and healthy movement.
My philosophy has changed from needing to designate specific time to exercise to using every moment in my day as a way to be mindful of my movement, posture, fitness and overall health.
I bring this new thinking into my practice by nurturing a balance between efficiency and functionality in day to day tasks, exercise, and manual therapy to promote long term pelvic health benefits.
We all bring different backgrounds to pregnancy and we have individual needs. My journey may look nothing like yours and yet we may have the same goals.
I had to work hard to achieve the goals I set out to accomplish during my pregnancy and I knew it would take determination and the know-how to make them happen.
Are you ready to commit to your prenatal, birth and postpartum pelvic health goals?
Dr. Ryan is Doctor of Physical Therapy, earning her degree from the University of New England.
She is a Board Certified Women’s Health Physical Therapist and Prenatal and Postpartum Exercise Specialist with training in Pilates.
Dr. Ryan has extensive training in maternal pelvic health and exercise through the Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute and countless years of mentoring and work with women of all ages.
Dr. Ryan also has a special interest in family dynamics and early childhood development earning her bachelor's degree in Family Studies from the University of New Hampshire.