Hallie and I have spent the last 5 years thinking about what it means to “get your body back”. When we began developing a rehabilitation program for new moms, we knew we wanted a program that helped women get “back after baby”. Like most physical therapists, we were thinking about the concept in terms of function- back to daily activities, back to work, back to exercise. We also thought the play on words was appropriate, as much of postpartum recovery involves the spine.
I recently did a google search and stumbled across an article that was published on WebMD in 2015. It was titled, “Get Your Body Back After Pregnancy: What Every New Mom Must Know”. I was curious, what does WebMD, a leading site for health information, have to say about getting your body back after pregnancy? It didn’t take long for me to figure it out. The next line read, “Dedication and patience are key to losing postpartum baby weight and looking like your pre-baby self again.” Really??? Really??? That’s what they have to say on postpartum recovery? Haven’t we come farther than this?
I’ll be the first to admit, weight loss after having a baby is important to many women, myself included, but it should not be the primary focus in a postpartum recovery program. The article eventually makes that point, but still continues to discuss appropriate methods of weight loss— sending the message that this is what new moms should be focusing on. I believe we’ve taken some strides in the last couple of years when it comes to postpartum care. Diastasis Recti has been getting more attention and has begun being treated as a medical condition versus just a cosmetic one. As women demand more, our medical community is slowly starting to take notice.
Our bodies go through so much change during pregnancy and after childbirth. Add the demands of infant care to those changes and there is often a breakdown in our musculoskeletal system. This breakdown could come in the form of a repetitive stress injury such as shoulder tendonitis, a disc injury in the spine causing pain, numbness, or burning in the arm or leg, or simply mechanical joint pain (knee, neck, shoulder, hip, sacroiliac or any other joints in the body). Pain is our body’s way of signaling this breakdown and although it’s very common, it is NOT normal. It’s time for women to be given the resources they need to fully recover from pregnancy and childbirth. This means rehabilitating the musculoskeletal system by restoring good core (pelvic, abdominal, hip, and back) muscle activation, improving joint stability, and increasing strength and endurance. Only by taking care of ourselves can we take care of our babies and “get back” to our lives without pain and dysfunction.
Back After Baby guides new moms through an assessment that tests how well they are engaging their core muscles in addition to their spinal stability, flexibility, strength, and endurance.
An individualized recovery program is designed based on this assessment. Each exercise includes a diagram of the muscles worked, an explanation of the functional benefits of performing the exercise (i.e. ‘helps you get off the floor more easily’), and an instructional video to ensure that you are performing the exercise correctly.
Once you feel you have mastered the exercises in your recommended list, you can complete the assessment again before moving on to the next phase of the program. Each phase has a unique focus and builds on the previous phase so that you are continuously challenged. Over the course of the program, you’ll notice better posture, improved muscle activation, and increased strength. Once you finish the third phase of the program, your postpartum recovery is complete and you are “back after baby”! Back to what? That’s completely up to you!