As a physical therapist with a board-certified specialization in women's health, I have worked with hundreds of patients who were either pregnant or postpartum. So when I became pregnant myself, I was sure that this would be a walk in the park.
I quickly realized that would not be the case. However much I thought I knew from my research, education, and practice, there were some big things that I had been missing.
1. Ignoring pain because it “isn’t that bad” is usually a mistake.
Towards the end of my first trimester, I noticed that it was slightly painful at my groin to stand or plank on one leg in yoga. I immediately stopped doing any action that involved this motion and successfully avoided developing a full-blown pubic symphysis dysfunction.
I did not take this same approach when it came to the wrist pain I experienced with lifting my newborn. I obviously couldn't stop lifting her, but I also did nothing to change my behavior because the pain "wasn't that bad" at first. But the pain quickly worsened and four months later, I still do not have full function of those joints.
Your body will send you signals when something is wrong or even slightly off. You need to pay attention to these signals.
Your body will send you signals when something is wrong or even slightly off. You need to pay attention to these signals and take them seriously right away. Whether you feel pain, are suddenly peeing when you sneeze or find that certain tasks just start to feel "different," the more immediately you can seek help and take action, the more likely you are to prevent developing serious issues that are much slower to heal and harder to resolve later on.
2. Sleep is everything.
Like most people, when I don't get enough sleep, it makes every part of my day that much more difficult. So lack of sleep was (perhaps naively) my greatest fear about having a newborn.
I realize now that, although I was right to be fearful, it was not for the appropriate reason: The real harm in getting less sleep was not its impact on my sanity (at least not in the short term), but on my body's ability to heal.
The real harm in getting less sleep was not its impact on my sanity, but on my body's ability to heal.
Within weeks of becoming a parent, my wrists and thumbs very quickly went from feeling slightly annoying to painful to completely immobile. Exercises and massage helped but it wasn't until my baby began to sleep for longer stretches, finally allowing me to sleep for longer stretches, that I started to recover.
I then realized that the greatest "perk" of having a full and good night's sleep was that my body was simply not doing something else. When I was asleep, I was not lifting or carrying a baby, I wasn't responding to text messages, and I wasn't making my injury worse. That's the key, while sleep helps your mental health, physical energy, healing, and recovery, it ultimately just gives your body — your muscles and joints — time to rest.
3. Nine months of pregnancy > one day of delivery.
Nine months of pregnancy will cause a dramatic transformation to your body and your physical capabilities. But since that shift is typically gradual and expected, it can be tempting to attribute any postpartum issues to the intense and life-changing experience of childbirth rather than to all the quiet moments that take place beforehand.
I know that I didn't develop a rectal prolapse while pushing a baby out of my vagina; I developed it towards the end of my first trimester while my growing baby was still confined to my pelvis. I didn't lose the ability to do a sit-up because I just birthed a baby; I lost that ability months earlier, once I could no longer tie my own shoes.
The months leading up to that intense moment also play a huge role in our postpartum experience.
While delivery can of course lead to injury and a slew of other issues, it's important to remember that the months leading up to that intense moment also play a huge role in your postpartum experience. The times when I would skip an exercise class or the fact that I would constantly forget to drink enough water all made a difference. And, in the end, the impact of those 9 months on my body was greater than that 1 day, however I look at it!
4. Most advice is useless.
If I don't know how to get up on my own from a low sofa while 9 months pregnant, then receiving that guidance is a game-changer. But if I've already figured it out, then that same advice immediately becomes useless to me.
Because people are resourceful and creative, when something isn't working, most will try alternative methods to fix it on their own first. This is why most advice is useless: whatever someone else might recommend, I've probably already tried it and while some recommendations might work well for others, they may do nothing for me.
I instruct pregnant people on how to log roll in pregnancy. My partner and I share a queen-size memory foam mattress and I discovered that log-rolling in that scenario is literally impossible. This advice that I share every day is completely useless to me. That said, for many of my patients, for some reason, it helps!
I've realized that when giving recommendations as a pelvic floor PT, I'm playing matchmaker: trying to find out which person will find which bit of advice to be priceless. But in that process, I have come to understand that most advice for most people is useless.
Taking care of our health and our bodies must be a team effort.
Taking care of our health and our bodies must be a team effort. Physical therapists, along with all medical providers, are a part of that team and a terrific resource for advice, exercise guidance, and lifestyle modifications. But the most important member of that team is you. As the guardians and caretakers of your body, take a moment —several moments — every day to check in, ask for help as soon as you need it, and get some rest. Because you've earned it.