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How To

Postpartum Physical Therapy

September 3, 2020
6 mins
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Dr. Sarah Clampett, PT, DPT

Sarah is Origin's Los Angeles Clinical Director. She attended the University of Southern California, where she studied Kinesiology and Psychology.

How your body changes postpartum

Your body has endured an extremely challenging and life-changing event in birthing your baby. Whether through vaginal or cesarean delivery, you can be proud of the hard work you've put in and take awe at the resilience and capability of your body. 

Once pregnancy ends, your entire body's hormones, shape and demands change overnight. Almost immediately postpartum, your body begins to produce milk, your center of gravity normalizes, and your abdominal muscles exhibit decreased tone, leaving your back vulnerable to injury. In addition, if you experienced any complications during delivery, you may have varying degrees of tissue damage that now must heal, for example in the abdomen following a cesarean or in the perineum following vaginal delivery. You also may have developed a diastasis or may be experiencing ongoing incontinence.

For those women now caring for one or more newborn babies, you have the urgent task of learning to breastfeed and assist your baby in developing a good latch. You are also facing new musculoskeletal challenges related to the repetitive nature of many childcare tasks, such as lifting, carrying and changing diapers. For those women in the tragic position of experiencing a miscarriage or still birth, your body will likely undergo similar physiological changes that can feel especially painful to address immediately postpartum. Whatever position you find yourself in following delivery, you and your body continue to deserve care and attention.

How does physical therapy help postpartum?

In some countries, every woman is automatically provided physical therapy postpartum. We have some catching up to do in the United States. The postpartum period can be a very tumultuous time and, at Origin, we don't believe that anyone should have to handle it alone.

Our physical therapists are equipped to support you at any point following delivery. Evidence shows that physical therapy is an effective and safe method to reduce symptoms of incontinence, prolapse, and painful intercourse, to modify and relieve ergonomic stresses, and to rebuild strength and function. Our therapists are trained in the postpartum care you need, ranging from scar tissue mobilization to pelvic floor muscle retraining to strengthening so you can return to your favorite work out class. Together with your physical therapist, you will cocreate a plan of care that targets your unique postpartum needs and goals. 

We understand that it can be difficult to prioritize yourself after childbirth, and relearning your body and rebuilding your sense of self can feel daunting. Remember that you are resilient and capable and, whenever you are ready, Origin's physical therapists will be there to help.

Additional Reading and Sources

Gonzales AL, Barnes KL, Qualls CR, Jeppson PC. Prevalence and Treatment of Postpartum Stress Urinary Incontinence: A Systematic Review. Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery. 2020 Apr DOI: 10.1097/spv.0000000000000866.

Huitt, C., et al. "069 Physical Therapy and the Effects of Exercise Intervention on Common Musculoskeletal Impairments in the Postpartum Population." The Journal of Sexual Medicine, vol. 16, no. 6, 2019, doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2019.03.511.

Stephenson, Rebecca G., and Linda J. O'Connor. Obstetric and Gynecologic Care in Physical Therapy. SLACK, 2000.

Von Bargen E, Haviland MJ, Chang OH, et al. Evaluation of Postpartum Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy on Obstetrical Anal Sphincter Injury: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery. 2020 Apr DOI: 10.1097/spv.0000000000000849.