Postpartum women's health and fitness issues and tips to work on them

Published on Jul 17, 2022 06:25 PM IST

From dealing with hormonal changes to adjusting your routine to your baby's needs, deciphering its cries, reworking your relationship with your partner and managing work if you choose to, the list of postpartum women's health and fitness issues are mounting. Here's how to work on them

Postpartum women's health and fitness issues and tips to work on them (Sarah Chai)
Postpartum women's health and fitness issues and tips to work on them (Sarah Chai)
ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi

Motherhood is a blessing and the feeling of holding your bundle of joy for the first time is one that compares to none other. However, being a new mom is like wading into uncharted territory and the hormonal instability, the stress of taking care of a newborn, the ingrained societal expectations and the feeling of not knowing your body can be daunting and exhausting.

Childbirth is a challenging journey: both physically and psychologically and once you become a mother, you are likely to focus more on the baby rather than on yourself. Motherhood is indeed a beautiful journey a woman can experience in her lifetime but after childbirth, a mother can expect to have some physical changes and symptoms, however they are usually mild and temporary. Severe health issues are rare, vaginal birthing is a huge physical event and a C-section is no less than undergoing a surgery.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Tanveer Aujla, Senior Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in Noida's Motherhood Hospital, shared some of the tips for new mommies:

• Full body recovery - First and foremost fitness tip for the postpartum period is resting and recovering. The recovery of the body post delivery is of utmost importance and a complete rest for 15-30 days is advisable.

• Eat full balanced diet - As the mother will be breastfeeding and is bound to feel very hungry often, balanced nutrition is of paramount importance at this stage.

• Mild exercises - Exercise proves a safe and effective way to improve the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of early mothers. It lowers the risk of obesity, postpartum depression, and metabolic disorders. Proper exercise also helps in relieving stress, promotes better sleep and reduces the symptoms of postpartum depression.

• Be aware of the symptoms of postpartum depression - Postpartum depression is quite common owing to a new, restricted and tired lifestyle a mother goes through. The challenges of having a new tiny life in your arms who is completely dependent on you for their growth along with some very new pains and weight gains can have an immense impact on your mental well-being. New mothers should not hesitate to ask for help when needed. Don't be a hero and try to do everything on your own. It is ok! Ask for help and assistance from your family members.

• Diaphragmatic breathing - This newly motherhood period could be exhaustive and lead to tiredness, lack of sleep, low motivation, physical or health limitations. Focusing on deep belly breathing could help in eliminating such disorders. Diaphragmatic breathing which engages the muscles of the stomach, abs and diaphragm, can be of utmost benefit.

Cautioning that some health problems might arise in the coming weeks or months afterward, Arpita Jain, Premium Coach at MyHealthBuddy, revealed that many are not aware of the following warning signs -

1. The root cause of all issues - Postpartum weight gain - Being a new mom is stressful, the long feeding hours, sleepless nights and the shifting hormones all create a rise in cortisol (stress) hormone leading to extreme hunger pangs and erratic eating patterns. The sudden increase in weight is the root cause of so many underlying lifestyle conditions like thyroid, diabetes and even PCOD. A balanced diet with special emphasis on eating enough protein in each meal and having a regular walking/activity routine will help to keep weight in check.

2. Postpartum incontinence - Peeing when you sneeze, jump rope, or laugh is not normal during postpartum and we must look out for the signs. Changing hormone levels, plus the stress of carrying and delivering a baby causes trauma to the pelvic floor leading to weakening of the pelvic floor muscles and hence leakage of urine during any strenuous activity. Practicing kegels from pregnancy will definitely be helpful, But if one experiences frequent urine leakage, consulting the doctor or finding a professional health coach will address the major problem( Kegels are not the answer always ).

3. “Mom pooch” or (Diastasis recti) - Diastasis recti Abdominis is the separation of rectus abdominis in front of the abdomen , the rectus abdominis are the primary muscles that make up the so-called “ 6 pack”. DR creates havoc on the body, contributes to poor posture, lower back pain, weakens the core and can contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction. Research suggests that at least 60 percent of women have DR six weeks after birth and 30 percent of women have it a year after birth but surprisingly most women have never heard of the term. Make sure to check for DR 6 weeks post your delivery through a simple home test ( widely available on the web). In case you do feel any gap, avoid any traditional exercises like sit ups or crunches, instead go for Transverse Abdominal Breathing (TVA breathing) or simply get in touch with an experienced DR professional/health coach who will help you to heal your gap.

4. Weak joints and back pain - During pregnancy, there is a surge in the levels of relaxin, progesterone and estrogen that causes joint relaxation but immediately post delivery the levels of these hormones starts to decline, leading to an overall feeling of tiredness, joint pains and back aches. Few things to remember here:-

a) Never haste into a fitness routine post delivery and give yourself at least 6 weeks before you start with light exercises and outdoor walks.

b) Make sure you focus on maintaining the right posture while breastfeeding the baby and lifting the baby from a very low position.

c) Most importantly try to have a well balanced nutrient rich diet with a daily dose of supplements as prescribed by the doctor.

5. Postpartum depression (PPD) and vulnerability - Postpartum or perinatal depression is a form of depression that occurs following the birth of a baby. It’s relatively common affecting up to 1 in 7 new mothers after birth. PPD makes one feel empty, vulnerable and helpless for a long time after birth. It's a serious condition and should not be taken lightly. Being in PPD doesn't make you a bad parent, it just needs to be addressed at the right time (when you notice the first symptom). Make sure you talk about it to your partner or any family member/friend you can trust. Additionally, find an activity that interests you and takes your mind off this. In case you feel too overwhelmed, don't hesitate to visit a doctor who could prescribe some medicine.

Talking about the challenges of post-natal recovery, Anika Parashar, Founder of The Woman’s Company, said, “From dealing with hormonal changes to adjusting your routine to your baby's needs, deciphering your baby's cries to reworking your relationship with your partner and managing work if you choose to, the list is mounting. Each day can be different and each day is a new battle.” She listed some measures that might help navigate this new phase:

1. Postpartum stress - Amidst this chaos, Postpartum stress more often than not is hushed and not taken seriously While life with a new baby can be thrilling and rewarding, mothers are also being pulled in a million different directions and the emotional roller coaster is a scary ride. It is often advised to talk to your doctor and your friends and figure out what helps you cope with this overwhelming feeling.

2. Ask for help - Having extra hands on deck can help you organize things in a better manner and may even free up some time for you to sleep or look after yourself. Dealing with postpartum depression experience includes storming emotional highs and lows, frequent crying, fatigue, guilt, anxiety and so much more. From mild discomfort to excessive mood swings and inability to function, PPD experiences are different for different people. The key is to talk to a specialist and be ready to accept and ask for help.

3. Accept that your body has changed and take the longer route - Bringing life into this world does take a toll on your body. Women, in general, have to deal with unrealistic body image and as a new mother, this pressure increases exponentially. Furthering this duress are issues such as incontinence, diastasis recti, back pain due to breastfeeding et al. Storming this loss of control over your own body and at the same time having to deal with the impossible standard set on women by the beauty and wellness sector behemoths is bound to derail your fitness journey, giving your insecurities an impetus for growth. Although it is easier said than done but it is crucial that you remind yourselves about the superhuman task you have just achieved of bringing life into this world and know that your body will take time to recover.

4. Ease into exercise - While it’s good to be active and squeeze in exercise in your schedule, be accepting of yourselves and all that you continue to achieve each day. Start slow and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Bringing life into this world takes almost a year so adjusting to the new normal and getting your body back is going to take at least that much time. Allow your mind and body that time to reconfigure themselves and find their centre.

5. Find your tribe - The mother we think we’ll be is often very different to the mother we become and that is the truth we need to make peace with. The transition to motherhood is a road sprinkled with a lot of hard work and it does bring a change to your identity. The fourth trimester is about experiencing and experimenting. The adjustments require a lot of time and effort, from rebuilding your day-to-day life activities to making every decision regarding your baby and their wellbeing. Amidst the chaos, there is often a lot of advice pouring in from friends, family and colleagues. Consult only your doctor for your queries and doubts and have a chosen few that you can rely on to help you in this new journey. No one knows a child better than their mother so trust in your intuition.

Comprehensive postpartum care must include a full assessment of the physical, social, and psychological well-being of a new mother including emotional well-being, infant care, sexual comfort, physical recovery from birth and health and fitness maintenance. Just remember, your motherhood will be more joyous when you know how to take care of yourself!

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