There are few things in life that alter a human body quite like having children. While that’s something to of course be celebrated, many women feel that even after their babies have been born, their bodies still aren’t quite their own… or at least not the same as they were before.
Going to see an osteopath, even if you hadn’t been having treatment during your pregnancy, can be a way of reclaiming your body – and can help to strengthen up some areas you may feel weak in.
Let’s first talk about some of the anatomical shifts in your body postpartum. The major one we must talk about is what I like to call the abdominal box. This is a rough cube, made up of your abs at the front, your oblique abdominals at the sides, your spine and spinal muscles at the back, your diaphragm muscle at the top, and the pelvic diaphragm at the bottom side of the cube.
Let’s now cover each side of this cube and how pregnancy can leave it changed, even postpartum.
The Abdominal Muscles
Think of a six pack – this is the muscle we’re talking about here, the rectus abdominis. In pregnancy, the seam at the centre, called the linea alba, can become stretched and split open. This is very common, and called rectal diastasis. Most diastasis will come together by itself in a few weeks after your baby has been delivered, but in more severe cases it may require some specific physio rehab.
Even if your abdominals haven’t undergone a notable diastasis, it is still advisable to engage in some proper exercises. These need to be given to you by a physio or an osteopath to make sure they are correct for postpartum, as traditional ab crunches can make diastasis worse.
The Oblique Abdominals
The sides of your abdominal box are subject to a serious amount of stretch in the last few months of pregnancy. These need to be properly strengthened postpartum to bring some dynamic strength back to your core. We’ll include with these (for any anatomy or Pilates buffs) the Transversus Abdominis muscle, the deepest layer of our abs, which acts as the corset muscle – giving us strength and shape.
The lumbar spine makes up the back wall of the abdominal box, and is often placed under strain as the centre of gravity shifts forward with your growing belly. Postpartum, your spine will be readjusting to it’s previous mechanics, and so it’s a good idea to get it checked out by your osteopath.
The spine is also going to be under new strains with tasks you might not have had to do before – getting cars seats in and out, moving buggies and cots around, and carrying your little person around most of the time, all on very little sleep. You might not have the time to exercise or stretch like you did before you became a Mom, so a regular trip to the osteo can help to keep things in check.
Remember that reflux from when you were pregnant? Or maybe it was heart burn and indigestion? Either way – it was most likely caused by your little person occupying way too much space in your abdomen. After birth, your osteopath can check in on your rib and diaphragm function and give you the peace of mind that everything is working the way it should be. Diaphragm release and breathing exercises can also be a lovely way for anxious mothers to learn mindfulness techniques to help them relax in the first few months of motherhood.
The Pelvic Diaphragm
This can arguably be the side of your pelvic box that changes the most after giving birth. Some ladies have difficult births, episiotomies, or tears, that mean their pelvic diaphragm has been mechanically compromised. You might have done all the kegels and peroneal preparation in the world while you were pregnant – but sometimes things just don’t go to plan.
If you’ve tried strengthening up the rest of your abdominal box, and it’s not working – your osteopath can give you advice on the next step to see a specialist.