Postpartum: The time after birth and the effects it can have on the health of mothers… and fathers
Why looking after your body postpartum (after birth) is essential for both mothers and fathers
Why our bodies are often under more stress after the birth that during the pregnancy and why both mothers and fathers need to pay attention
By Christophe Champs, founder of PODO Clinic and Workshop
The process involved in giving the gift of life is an incredible journey for the human body. We naturally consider the health of the mother while carrying the child and during the birth but, in fact, we should also consider the time after childbirth (known as postnatal or postpartum). The body is still under a lot of stress and will be moving in a way it is probably not used to. And it’s not just mothers who are affected, fathers need to consider the impact on their bodies too.
I have learnt during my years in practice that the two years after childbirth can be more difficult for a woman’s body than the nine months of the pregnancy. I have also seen that during those two years men develop more back and neck pain than at almost any other time. This is generally due to a lack of awareness about the health impacts of their new role as a father.
Therefore, I want to look at this two year period in a little more detail and share with you how some simple changes can prevent those unnecessary aches and pains you will experience during day-to-day activities and / or after standing for long periods.
1) Let people know
The end of the pregnancy journey is quite sudden (although some will disagree when remembering the hours of labour), and it takes time for the body to return to where it was before getting pregnant.
The main difficulty with the postpartum journey is that as soon as you take your ‘badge’ off and your body starts to shrink down, no one would notice that you are not 100% back in shape. This means they no longer feel the same compulsion to look after you. They don’t consider that physically you might not be entirely capable of what you were before. And they are far less likely to give up their seat on public transport.
As Thomas Erikson explained in his book “Surrounded by idiots”, we are just not trained to read others. We all send different signals and understand messages differently because we are all different. Therefore, we misunderstand many people and are misunderstood ourselves. This can lead to a range of ‘bad feelings’ when, in reality, we should probably just work harder on making ourselves understood. So, start by gently reminding your family, friends and colleague that you are not 100% back yet and still need a little extra consideration. Your body needs time to recover and shouldn’t immediately be asked to do everything it was comfortably doing before the pregnancy.
2) Carrying your new baby
Once you have a new baby you’ll have a lot to carry – and not just the baby him/herself, it’s also all the extras, like carry cots and prams etc. Whenever you are lifting something, you should bend your knees, keep your back straight, and then use your legs to power you and whatever you are lifting up to a standing position. That’s in a perfect world.
Of course, we don’t live in such a world and it’s highly unlikely you’ll manage to lift correctly every time, and probably not even most of the time. Nevertheless, do your best to lift correctly and safely as much as you can as it will help protect and strengthen your back. But don’t beat yourself up if it only happens sometimes.
If you feel any pain or your body tells you that you have pulled something or that all is not quite right, do seek help. Don’t ignore it as it will only get worse. The pain may go, but this is usually due to other muscles compensating, and then the injury or imbalance becomes embedded and for a while you may feel better but in the long run you will have done a lot more damage which is much harder to correct.
3) Me time with added benefits
Having ‘me time’ is something wellbeing and parenting experts talk about all the time. And it is important. But, just like correctly lifting your baby, it isn’t always easy to carve out that time for yourself. So here is a suggestion that solves both problems; book in with a health practitioner like an osteopath, chiropractor, massage therapist or biomechanics expert.
Why? We often find it difficult to set aside time for ourselves, but we are usually good at keeping appointments with others. So, if you make an appointment to see someone you’ll find a way to stick to it. Also, it is easier to ask someone to care for your baby for an hour if they know you are having a health-related appointment. And by booking in with one of the experts mentioned you not only get an hour that is entirely focused on you, you also get treatment that will help your muscles relax, reset your posture and alignment, and ensure that any aches or pains don’t get worse or turn into something debilitating that will prevent you from giving your baby the care s/he needs.
Looking after your own health can be ‘contagious’ and inspiring to others. Even more so to babies who capture every emotion around them and mirror every move they can.
4) Bad sleep, bad posture, bad back.
It sounds like the chicken and egg scenario, as you don’t know which issue is causing the other. So, I recommend you address them all by starting with whatever bothered you first or is limiting you the most.
Your sleeping issues, your deteriorated posture, and your back pain must all be tackled, and the great news is that they are all connected. So, by addressing one you will impact the others.
How can you deal with sleeping and resting issues?
Having a good night’s sleep - usually eight hours a day - helps the body to heal and reset before the start of a brand-new day. But during the postpartum period, getting eight hours in one go may be close to impossible. So, instead focus on building up eight hours across the 24-hour period. If that is eight one-hour sleeps, then so be it. Keeping your baby close when you sleep, sharing the task of getting up and reminding yourself that things will get better, are all ways to help you grab a few extra minutes of shut-eye.
Beside the quantity of your sleep, you can improve the quality by making sure that pillows and mattress are at their best, and that you lie comfortably and not twisted or bent in a chair.
A bad sleep (too superficial or too little) and poor rest will affect both your standing and sitting postures and stress and fatigue have the ability to manifest as a pain in your back and neck throughout the day. Sleep is not just about banishing tiredness, it will also help your body feel better and give you the strength you need to get through all the tasks of the day.
Interestingly, where the English say, “I am fed up” the French say “J’en ai plein le dos”, essentially expressing the idea that we have everything on our back and cannot take any more!
Is there such a thing as good standing and sitting postures when carrying a baby?
Your sitting and standing postures will not be perfect when carrying your baby, but for a good reasons.
WHAT IS THE IDEAL/CORRECT WAY – WHAT ADVICE CAN WE GIVE EVEN IF WE SAY (LIKE THE LIFTING) THAT IT’S UNLIKLEY YOU’LL GET IT RIGHT ALL THE TIME?
When dealing with sportspeople or patients with a handicap, it is quite common to break some rules in Biomechanics. Let’s keep the same open mind during the months of the postpartum.
You might adopt bad sitting and standing positions and get some niggles here and there, but pain is your friend. It is sending you a message. So, check your posture and sitting position and attempt to straighten and balance them. Ask your partner for help as it can sometimes be tricky to see an imbalance yourself.
Although one of our missions at PODO is to educate patients on the importance of having good standing, sitting and sleeping postures, we recommend that during the postpartum period, you let this go a little. Do the best you can but put your focus on stretching, strengthening and conditioning your body to cope with all those bad positions you might take and hold for long periods.
5) Using your body to help your mind
Physical and mental health are connected. The stretching and exercise you do manage to do will not only help your body, it will help your mind too. You can let go of stresses and worries (at least for a time) and focus on dealing with the day’s challenges with renewed vigour. So do your best to include some dedicated exercise/stretching time in your day. There are plenty of online videos to help you workout and stretch WITH your baby, so you can use the time to bond with your baby while also caring for yourself.
6) Your footwear
Finally, look at your shoes. Your body has changed shape during the pregnancy with its weight distribution having shifted. Now postpartum your weight and shape is changing again. Plus, you have all the other pressures on your body, so you need good support – and support for your body starts at your feet. As much as possible wear flat shoes that give good support on the arch and ankle. Slippers, flipflops, and strappy heals won’t do you any favours. Sure, wearing them for a few short hours on a rare evening out, or while at the pool, is fine, but for the rest of the time choose shoes that will help your body.
Opt for ‘walking’ style shoes that provide ankle support, ensure they can be laced up (this gives your foot much more support inside the shoe), and if you can, speak to a biomechanics expert to see if you would benefit from custom-made orthotics. By ensuring your body is balanced and aligned from the foot up, you will be much stronger and better able to cope with all the physical demands a new baby puts on you. This applies to men as much as women. A man’s body may not have changed shape in the same way, but there will be new demands on the muscles, back, neck etc., and therefore the importance of balance and alignment is the same.
We know that a woman who carried a baby has been affected by physical and hormonal changes that require time to settle. In addition, for both parents, the arrival of a baby comes with a loss of sleep and a lack of focus on their own bodies.
During the postpartum period (around two months) and beyond (up to two years), lots of back and neck pain can be prevented. The environment and circumstances are more challenging than ever but, with some help and guidance, you can enjoy the journey and take the worry of how your health will suffer off your list of considerations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christophe Champs is an expert in Biomechanics, and the founder of PODO Clinic and Workshop. Christophe works with clients to help correct postural and biomechanical issues that are causing pain or putting a client at risk of injury. By testing both the moving gait and the still posture Christophe can correct misalignment and asymmetry through creating custom-made orthotics to suit the exact needs of each individual client.