Despite what women’s magazines and certain celebrities want you to believe, ‘bouncing back’ after pregnancy is a bit of a myth. Your body has been through a lot, after all.
As a women’s health physiotherapist, I’m used to treating new mothers who are surprised by some of the postpartum pain they experience. While it’s totally normal for women to have lingering physical issues after pregnancy and childbirth, it’s certainly no fun! I’ve rounded up some of the most common postpartum pain points below, along with some tips on how to address them.
Before we dive in, an important reminder: Always consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, as there are some situations where exercise may not be advised. This information should be used as a guide only and should not replace the advice of your medical practitioner. It’s also important to note that during your time on my program, your regular FIT planner may present information or advice that is not intended for women who are postpartum. Check with your doctor if you are unsure. Read the full statement on safety here.
Even if you kept up with your Kegels during pregnancy, your pelvic floor has been weakened by the process. Strengthening your pelvic floor is a key aspect of the FIT Post-Pregnancy program, and it includes a variety of exercises designed to help you do just that:
The classic clench and release Kegel exercise targets the muscle fibres of the pelvic floor and helps to reduce the downward force of the pelvic organs. Kegels can also prevent and treat pelvic organ prolapse and strengthen the closing ability of your bladder – which is essential for preventing leaking when you cough, sneeze or jump.
Your FIT Post-Pregnancy workouts include a number of variations on the standard Kegel – like Kegel holds and Glute bridge + Kegel to improve the endurance of your pelvic floor muscles.
Mini-crunch + core activation
Like Kegels, the mini-crunch exercise works the muscle fibres of your pelvic floor. A crunch with good form requires you to first engage the pelvic floor to withstand the downward abdominal pressure created by the crunch.
All-fours kickback + core activation
The muscle fibres between your deep core (transversus abdominis) and your pelvic floor are closely linked. Being able to engage the pelvic floor gently while completing exercises that target other parts of the body is a great way to mimic everyday movements.
The mini-crunch: a small move with big benefits.
Weakened ab muscles, an overall strength deficit and plenty of new movements (the bend and twist with the car seat, for example) mean many new mothers deal with significant back pain. Maintaining strength during pregnancy can help, but there’s no guarantee that will prevent backache entirely.
You’ll find exercises in the FIT Post-Pregnancy program that address back pain, like the All-fours kickback + core activation and the Alternating leg lifts + core activation. These will strengthen your foundational core muscles to take some of the strain off your back.
But addressing back pain is also about what you’re doing outside of your workouts. Practice bracing your core while going about your day – particularly when lifting things – to reduce the strain that daily activities can have on your back. When bathing or changing your baby, try to keep the working height around your belly button.
Heat packs, hot showers and massages can provide relief from pain, but make sure you continue strengthening your core to target the cause of the discomfort.
Generally, a sore neck is the result of poor posture. It’s easy to let your posture droop during all the feeding and cuddle sessions with your new baby. In particular, a rounding of the back and protrusion of the chin strains the muscles in the back of the neck, so try to keep your shoulders back and your ears over your shoulders.
FIT Post-Pregnancy includes Pilates angels and reverse flys to build strength in the upper-back muscles that help you maintain good posture. You’ll also encounter stretches like the Bow and arrow that alleviate neck pain caused by stiffness.
For a quick release from neck pain, try lying on the floor with your knees bent, arms by your sides, and your palms turned up towards the ceiling. Gently tuck your chin to your chest and you should feel your neck muscles relax as you do.
The Bow and arrow stretch will mobilise your rib cage and upper back to alleviate stiffness and neck pain.
Painful wrists and thumbs are so common for postpartum women that it’s often called Mum (or mom) thumb (official name: de Quervain's tenosynovitis). This inflammation of the tendons at the base of the thumb is usually attributed to repetitive actions of the wrist. If you pick up your baby by holding them under the armpits with your thumbs pointing towards you, you’re placing a lot of strain on the muscles and tendons of the wrist. Another common cause is holding your baby in one arm with a slightly bent wrist for long periods of time.
The first thing you should do when dealing with mum thumb is modifying the way you hold your baby so you don’t exacerbate the issue. The next thing you should do is book an appointment with a physiotherapist to get a targeted treatment plan – left untreated, this condition can get worse over time.
You should also modify any exercises that irritate your wrists and thumbs, like planks or lifting dumbbells. Your physiotherapist can tape your wrist to prevent the condition from worsening due to exercise.
Women’s health physiotherapist Phoebe Armfield has over 15 years’ experience in helping women take control of their bodies into co-designing the FIT Pregnancy and FIT Post-Pregnancy programs with Emily Skye. She holds a Master of Physiotherapy, a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise, is a certified Pilates Instructor (including pre and postnatal Pilates), and Certified Trainer.
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