Get back to your prenatal body

By Daniel Skulavik - Contributing columnist

Giving birth is a life changing experience. From a physical standpoint, childbirth has a significant impact on a woman’s body. Symptoms can vary greatly, and range from pain and headaches to tightness and incontinence.

Aches and pains are common during pregnancy and breast feeding. Discomfort can occur in the neck, lower back, pelvis and hips. However, there is good news. The right exercises, combined with postural modifications go a long way in increasing comfort. Correct planning during pregnancy helps with injury prevention and recovery after childbirth.

Prenatal care includes preventive and diagnostic measures to facilitate a healthy lifestyle for the mother and child. It involves blood pressure monitoring, pelvic exams, blood and urine tests and fetal heart rate monitoring. Postpartum weight gain is a common concern, and physical therapy (combined with healthy nutrition) plays an important role in gradual, progressive weight loss.

Here are some of the ways that physical therapy helps during and after pregnancy:

1. Breathing exercises: During pregnancy, the enlargement of the uterus puts a great deal of pressure on the diaphragm, an important muscle that assists breathing. As the tone of the muscle is reduced following pregnancy, it is essential to perform exercises to maintain and restore strength. Physical therapists train patients with different breathing exercises to improve diaphragmatic muscle tone.

2. Core stability exercises: The stretching of the abdominal muscles associated with pregnancy results in a significant reduction in muscle tone and strength. This can increase the risk of abdominal hernias. Gentle, progressive exercises to improve balance between the abdominal, oblique and lower back muscles are achieved with a pre and postnatal physical therapy program. This also helps prevent and treat low back pain.

3. Pelvic floor strengthening: Childbirth places a tremendous amount of stress on the pelvic floor muscles. This can result in pain, discomfort and embarrassing conditions like incontinence. Kegel exercises and yoga are popular ways to improve strength and control in the muscles of the pelvic floor. The patient will start with simple isometric (no movement) exercises to progressive exercises involving movement and weight bearing.

4. Manual techniques: Physical therapists can use a variety of techniques including myofascial release, manual therapy and various soft tissue mobilizations to reduce pain, restore mobility and even mobilize scar tissue.

In addition to these methods, physical therapists use modalities to reduce pain and promote healing, recommend abdominal braces for added stability and prescribe home exercise programs to help mommy recover as quickly as possible. After all, the mother needs to be healthy and happy to be able to look after the new baby!

Childbirth marks a new phase of life in more ways than one. It represents a period of abundant joy for the entire family. It also presents new challenges, both physical and emotional, for everyone involved. Physical therapy will help mom (and dad) achieve peak state and high energy levels at a time when they need it the most.

For best results, consult a physical therapist during, and after pregnancy. A little bit goes a long way, especially if you start stretching and strengthening exercises early in the pregnancy. The sooner you start exercising, the better. The physical therapist will teach you the right exercises and prevent overexertion. If there was ever a time when mom (and dad) needed a plan to remain healthy, this is it.

Physical therapy will not only prevent injury during pregnancy, but also enable mothers to regain their prenatal body. A healthy mommy leads to a happy baby. If you or anyone you know is about to have (or just had) a baby, ask them to give us a call. Physical therapy can change your life, and the lives of your loved ones. We look forward to working with you.

By Daniel Skulavik

Contributing columnist
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