1. The Specialty Knowledge of a Women’s Health Physical Therapist is Very Different to an Obstetrician’s
It’s important for all pregnant and postpartum women to understand that the role of a Women’s Health/Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist (or as we call it in Australia, Physiotherapist!) is very different to that of an Obstetrician or other perinatal health providers, such as midwives. You see, to optimize your health during pregnancy and postpartum, you need to be seeing both of us.
As you likely know, it is the responsibility of your perinatal healthcare provider to ensure your baby is healthy throughout your pregnancy and is delivered safely, whilst keeping an eye on your health. As a result, their main focus is the baby. On the other hand, a Women’s Health Physical Therapist is focused on the health and wellbeing of you, the mother. Our mission is to make sure you are educated and empowered with all the information you need to have the best pregnancy, birth and recovery possible.
Our role actually starts when you are pregnant. I always recommend pregnant women to have several sessions with a Women’s Health Physical Therapist (who has postgraduate qualifications) to learn:
Pelvic floor exercises
How to exercise safely during pregnancy
How to prevent and manage pelvic pain
How to best prepare your body for childbirth
Early postpartum recovery – so you can optimize your recovery in the first few weeks at home.
After having your baby, the ideal time to have an appointment with a Women’s Health Physical Therapist is 6 weeks postpartum. Regardless of how you gave birth, this is necessary for all women.
2. You Need a Full Assessment of Your Pelvic Floor and Deep Abdominal Muscles
The pelvic floor is one of the areas Women’s Health Physical Therapists specialize in. We do comprehensive pelvic floor assessments via a vaginal examination to assess the strength and state of your pelvic floor following birth.
Commonly, Obstetricians/GPs do not perform vaginal examinations at your 6-week check, so it is up to you to book an appointment with a Women’s Health Physical Therapist to have a pelvic floor assessment. Even if they do perform a vaginal exam, their purpose is not necessarily to check your pelvic floor function, but to see that a tear/episiotomy is healing.
Women’s Health Physical Therapist’s can also use a real-time ultrasound machine to teach you how to activate your deep abdominal muscles (transversus abdominis) postpartum. These muscles work with your pelvic floor muscles to stabilize your spine and pelvis, and are the key to rehabilitating your abdominal muscle separation.
3. You Can Prevent and Manage Common Women’s Health Issues
Since childbirth is a risk factor for developing prolapse and bladder leakage, Women’s Health Physical Therapists help to both prevent and treat these issues. In fact, the evidence shows that pelvic floor exercises during the perinatal period both prevent and treat prolapse and incontinence. This is why they are so important! Since many women (43% in one study*) do a pelvic floor contraction incorrectly, a Women’s Health Physical Therapist will teach you the correct technique.1
Another common postpartum issue is painful intercourse (dyspareunia). This can result from perineal injury during childbirth (tear or episiotomy) and the development of scar tissue. Left untreated, the pelvic floor muscles can increase in tension and dyspareunia can often worsen. Painful intercourse is not just something you have to put up with because you birthed a baby; it is both preventable and treatable. Women’s Health Physical Therapists can:
Teach you how to best prepare your body for childbirth
Teach you how to best care for your pelvic floor in early postpartum
Provide treatment to improve scar tissue and muscle tension
Educate you on self-management strategies
4. You Deserve Individualized Care and Support
Since every body and birth is different, Women’s Health Physical Therapist’s provide individualized education and treatment according to your symptoms and preferences. In the session, we will ensure you feel comfortable to talk about the birth of your baby, and how your pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, bladder and bowel are recovering. We can then ensure we are giving you the best care possible.
We are very aware that motherhood is unknown territory for many women and can be daunting, tiring and emotional. We offer a safe space for you to be completely vulnerable, and talk about any issues you are having, physically and emotionally. Your health and wellbeing is our priority, and we will support you in any way we can.
5. Guidance on the Safe Return to Exercise Postpartum is Key
Returning to exercise after having a baby needs to be done slowly and safely. With social media these days, new moms can feel pressure to look Insta-fit straight after having a baby. But this is completely unrealistic and unsafe! Instead, it’s important to appreciate what your body has just gone through during pregnancy and childbirth, and make decisions that are safe for your pelvic floor and recovery.
Women’s Health Physical Therapist’s will help guide you through what exercise is safe for you according to your birth and recovery. Since every woman has a different birth, recovery, pelvic floor strength, abdominal separation, fitness levels and goals, this is likely to differ from woman to woman. However, there are some general guidelines that should be followed.
For example, prioritizing rest and recovery in the first 6 weeks postpartum, as this is when most of the healing takes place in your body. During this time you can focus on optimal posture, gentle pelvic floor and core muscle activation, stretching, and gentle walking.
With these 5 reasons in mind, my advice to all new moms is to prioritize an appointment with a Women’s Health Physical Therapist. You won’t regret it!
Excerpted from: http://www.thewholemother.com/postpartum