Pregnancy has a profound impact on your body. While pregnancy and motherhood bring on new challenges and experiences, it is almost impossible to be prepared for them all.
Every woman experiences pain in different ways. So, the write-up is a guide. It goes without saying that persistent or significant pain, especially immediately post-partum, should be assessed by the doctor.
Back Pain: A growing baby has profound impacts on your back. There are two core reasons for this. First, that as the baby grows, it places new weight and stresses on the spine and supporting muscles; second, your posture may change as the baby grows.
Back Strain: A 2010 study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that an estimated 50 percent of women experience strained muscles/ligaments in their lower back as a result of pelvic alignment due to pregnancy and childbirth.
Intense activity, especially if your back hasn’t fully recovered from pregnancy/childbirth, can exacerbate injuries or cause new ones.
Remember, your abdominals, lumbar spine, hip flexors, pelvic floor, and other parts are very much in “recovery mode” after delivery.
Diastasis Recti: Approximately two-thirds of pregnant women develop diastasis recti, where the space of connective tissue between the left/right sections of your abdominals had widened allowing your stomach to be more visible.
During pregnancy, intense and consistent pressure against the abdominal wall can cause them to stretch.
If this happens, be mindful of your body when performing daily activities.
Working with a physiotherapist can help you heal faster, improve your pelvic floor health, and reduce pain associated with diastasis recti.
Hip Pain: This is common. The hip joints, ligaments, and muscles expand widely during delivery, often to the extremes.
During labour, the body releases hormones that cause the ligaments in the hips to soften- this is to facilitate delivery of the baby. Endorphins are also released, which serve to minimise pain.
Perineum Pain: A 2012 study published by Elsevier found that approximately 90 percent of women experience pain in the perineum (the area between the anus and pubic bone). Most of this pain is due to the act of childbirth and the toll it takes on the entire pelvic region.
Leg Pain and Cramping: Leg pain that develops immediately or shortly after childbirth may be a result of nerve entrapment in the lumbar spine.
Pain from cramps can occur due to a nutritional imbalance (a lack of potassium) or a localised shortage of electrolytes in the legs (due to breastfeeding).
Headaches & Neck Pain: In Canada, a 2005 study of 985 new mothers, published by BJA Education (BJAE) found that 39 per cent (381) reported headaches and/or neck pain within a few days of childbirth. Reassuringly, only four percent were reported as incapacitating.
Most headaches after childbirth stem from a few sources: Neck and shoulder muscle strain; a child dramatically changes your routine; nutritional imbalances – breastfeeding mothers give their babies a lot of energy, vitamins, and minerals in their breast milk.
Wrist & Hand Pain/Numbness: You may not realise that carpal tunnel is fairly common in new mothers. While the pregnancy itself doesn’t cause carpal tunnel, adapting to new demands placed on your hands and arms often comes with a fair amount of soreness and strain.
There are many ways of dealing with pain, including the following.
In most mothers, pain after childbirth is a temporary problem. Visit your doctor if you have a sharp or severe pain, or if your pain has become chronic and is not getting better (even with treatment from a physiotherapist).
If muscle strain is the cause of your pain, using a heat pad can help relieve pain. Muscle inflammation and irritation benefit greatly from heat therapy. Be sure to follow appropriate safety measures when using anything hot.
Do not use a warm compress on an area that doesn’t have normal sensation, and never apply a hot pack/heat pad directly on the skin.
Conversely, using a cold compress or an ice pack on a sore muscle will help reduce inflammation.
As with a hot pack, never place an ice pack directly on the skin, and don’t use it on an area that doesn’t have normal sensation.
Physiotherapy can help relieve many aches and pains that result from childbirth or the responsibilities a mother has after. Physiotherapy can help improve your posture, joint mobility, and overall flexibility.
Many people view massage as a tool for relaxation. For women that have recently given birth, massage can be an effective way to break down scar tissue, relax sore muscles, and help your body heal and recover.
Pain changes you in subtle ways that can be challenging to deal with. Reducing your stress and anxiety levels can benefit you, your baby, and your family.
NELLIE NTHIGA, BDM, C&P Health Centre.