While the newborn baby becomes the centre of attention, it is important for mothers to get a thorough check-up done for her pelvic floor and abdominal muscles.
The initial weeks and even months after delivery are the most challenging. Sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, adjusting to new challenges, and learning new skills can unknowingly take a toll on the new mother’s health. So, it is advisable to a new mother at six weeks postpartum to not only visit the paediatrician and the obstetrician, but to also see a specialist women’s health physiotherapist.
While all the doctor visits are centred around the health of the newborn baby, the new mother also needs check-ups, especially it comes to:
- The healing of the stitches (either perineal/vaginal or from a C-section) .
- Conversation about birth control and family planning
- Postnatal depression, especially if there are any relevant signs.
However, in all of this a new mother should also consult a physiotherapist. Wondering why? Well in India, there is very little awareness about getting pelvic floor muscles assessed or plan for a systematic return to exercise.
That’s why we are listing five reasons why new mothers must consult a physiotherapist.
1. Pelvic floor muscle assessment
The pelvic floor muscles form a sling at the bottom of the pelvis. They are responsible for keeping our bladder and bowel from leaking, holding in our pelvic organs, supporting our lower back and pelvis, and maintaining optimal sexual function. If you had a vaginal birth, the pelvic floor muscles had to stretch up to four times their normal length to allow the baby to be born and delivered. The muscles may have torn or been cut. But even if they are intact, they have still undergone the equivalent of a sports injury and need adequate rest and rehabilitation.
At a postnatal assessment, the physiotherapist will assess your pelvic floor muscles. A vaginal examination gives good information about pelvic floor muscle strength, tone or a prolapse. The symptoms could be:
- Bladder or bowel incontinence
- A feeling of vaginal heaviness.
- Any pain in the vaginal area.
2. Abdominal muscle assessment
The stretching of two major abdominal muscles apart from each other is completely normal if you carry a baby to full term. So if this was assessed immediately after delivery, we would expect the muscles to still be sitting apart from each other and be quite weak in the midline. If this muscle isn’t back to being thick and strong by the sixth week post delivery, you will need to do specific exercises to rectify it. A specialised physiotherapist can assess the status and help in correcting the separation of abdominal muscles and strengthening it.
3. Musculoskeletal assessment
The physiotherapist will ask you about any current or past pain or injury to any joints or muscles. The most common complaints in these early weeks are:
- Pelvic girdle pain (pain in the pubic bone or buttock region)
- Back pain
- Forward head posture and rounded shoulder due to constantly lifting and carrying the baby, as well as breastfeeding round the clock.
Early diagnosis and management of these issues is essential to stop them from becoming chronic problems.
4. Bladder and bowel function screening
Many women experience bladder or bowel dysfunction during and in the early weeks after pregnancy. The physiotherapist will ask you questions about:
- How often you’re opening your bladder and bowels
- Whether you feel an urgent need to get to the toilet
- Whether you experience any urinary leakage.
Prevention is better than cure, and if we can find any issue at this stage, we can help in further dysfunction and correction.
5. Plan to return to exercises and goal setting
Every new mother has different postpartum goals regarding return to exercise or activity. One might want to run a half marathon in four months time, others may wish to be fit when carrying her newborn baby, another might want to get back to her pre pregnancy weight.
For such goals, a specialised Physiotherapist will guide you and monitor the progress .Their assessment will test the strength of your core and your ability to perform high impact exercises or lift weights.
This article first appeared in Healthshots- https://www.healthshots.com/preventive-care/reproductive-care/5-reasons-why-every-new-mother-needs-to-visit-a-physiotherapist/