Having a baby is one of life’s greatest moments. But there’s no doubt it changes your life, and your body, in more ways than one! Many bubs have been born at the Matilda International Hospital over the years, and its team of specialists knows all about those changes and how to help you deal with them. The hospital’s senior physiotherapist, Brenda Tsang, gives us some health tips for mums-to-be to take better care of themselves during pregnancy and the postnatal period with fitness tips and breastfeeding guidance.
While not all pregnant women will experience every prenatal/pregnancy change, there are a number of physical health problems that are quite common, such as back and joint pain as a result of increased body weight. Sometimes hormonal changes lead to swelling and fluid retention, which makes leg cramps more likely. This can hinder your mobility, making it all the more difficult to rush around buying essentials before your due date!
As baby grows during pregnancy, there is an increased load on pelvic floor muscles; mothers with a weakened pelvic floor often suffer from stress incontinence, which means you may find yourself having to cross your legs every time you sneeze or laugh…
Your bikini-wearing days may also be a distant memory as your baby’s continued growth stretches the tummy further and weakens abdominal muscles. This can also cause back or joint pain as you lose core support.
Build it up
The good news is there are healthy ways to reduce the impact pregnancy has on your body with a fitness program. Here are some tips to help mums prepare:
- Build up your core muscles to help support the baby’s weight and decrease the pressure on your spine.
- Work on your pelvic floor muscles, through exercise, to help prevent incontinence and increase pelvis stability.
- Lower leg muscles need to be strong and flexible to help in supporting the upper body weight as it inevitably increases.
- Prenatal yoga and Pilates are great for building strength and helping you to focus on the right muscles. Generally speaking, classes can be taken from the 14th week of pregnancy (provided your doctor has given you the ok) and you can continue as long as you are physically able to, often right up until your due date.
- Mothers with a very heavy and big tummy – those carrying twins, for example – are advised to use a tummy belt to help support the tummy weight and reduce pressure on the back. They’re not very attractive but they do make a big difference in the later weeks of pregnancy.
Most new mums feel instant relief once their babies are born and the pressure on their backs is released. Many are also surprised by how soft everything is, and how much tone and strength they’ve lost during the pregnancy. Common postnatal physical problems include the following: further weakening of the pelvic floor muscles after a vaginal delivery, which can lead to incontinence; abdominal muscle separation because of the size of the baby and a weak core, leading to poor posture and back pain; an unstable or misaligned pelvis due to muscles loosening; and finally postural neck and shoulder pain as a result of carrying the baby and long hours spent breastfeeding.
If you’ve taken care of yourself and exercised throughout pregnancy, these effects will be greatly reduced. If you’ve had a vaginal, uncomplicated delivery, you can start exercising again four weeks after birth. For a caesarean delivery, you’ll need to wait six to eight weeks, and start slowly. Pilates is an excellent form of muscle training that focuses on the core and pelvic floor and a specific postnatal class is the way to go.
Be aware of your back and support it at all times, from bathing and changing to carrying baby or pushing the pram, everyday activities can all place strain on already overworked ligaments. If back pain or pelvic pain persists after delivery, you should consult a physiotherapist to have your spine and pelvis alignment checked and treated. With any luck you’ll be back in shape just in time for your next pregnancy!
Breastfeeding tips for good health
Breastfeeding, while great for your baby and for bonding, is frequent and repetitive, and can really take its toll on your neck and back muscles. Correct posture is crucial.
Make sure you follow this checklist the following:
- Hold your baby correctly, and try a few positions until you find one that is most comfortable for you.
- Use pillows for support.
- Avoid hunching; sit up straight, with your back well supported.
- Place your feet flat on the floor or slightly elevated, and if you’re reclining on a bed, place a pillow under the knees.
- Relax neck and shoulder muscles.
- Try feeding while lying on your side, to ease pressure on your lower back.
- Try and stretch neck and shoulder muscles between feeds.