I often meet women who are suffering with a post-partum symptom many years after childbirth. They may have an abdominal separation (diastasis recti), urinary incontinence or a scar that is painful during intercourse. These women are surprised, and grateful, when they find that physical therapy can often resolve their symptoms, even so many years after birth.
After achieving success in just a few sessions, many women express regret that they ‘did not know sooner’ about physical therapy. Their children may now be teenagers, and they wonder how much they have missed out on due to their symptoms. Perhaps they could have returned to their favorite exercise routine, felt more confident in their clothes or enjoyed greater intimacy with their partners with more timely care.
In some parts of the world, all post-partum women are automatically referred to physical therapy. The referral is received with no sense of shame or secrecy. Women work to regain coordination of their pelvic floor and abdominal muscles and learn how to massage and soften scar tissue. Their early post-partum therapy allows them to return to exercise and intimacy, and likely protects them from future pelvic floor dysfunction.
In the United States, there is no automatic referral to physical therapy following childbirth. In one post-partum medical visit, the new mom is deemed ‘healed’ and ready to resume all exercise and sexual activity. During a time of great vulnerability and healing, the woman is suddenly discharged from the healthcare system. For many new moms, after months of frequent medical visits, this sudden change feels like being dropped into an abyss.
Without the proverbial village to support them, new moms often put their own needs on the back burner, as they focus on issues of baby feeding, sleep and socialization. In the months following birth, many moms walk the streets like wounded warriors, sporting wrist braces, abdominal supports and pads for leaky pelvic floors. It may take a woman many months, or years, to find a physical therapist and manage a way to attend appointments.
Over a year ago, I became a new mom myself. Despite my professional knowledge and experience, there was nothing that could have really prepared me for the complex and challenging transformation into motherhood. I, myself, neglected my own health appointments and need for self-care, as I was unsure how to leave my baby or navigate a way to meet both of our needs.
Shift into Motherhood is an integrative post-partum program that is grounded in both my professional experience and my personal journey as a new mother. Like countless women before me, I have learned that there is no ‘going back’ to one’s pre-baby self. In thinking that I would be the same person before and after birth, I set myself up for patterns of harsh self-criticism and frequent feelings of failure.
Instead of striving to ‘return’ to our former selves, what if we were encouraged to acknowledge and respect the complicated transformation into motherhood? What if our society offered improved support for women as they journeyed through the birth of themselves as mothers?
I believe that all women who have experienced pregnancy and childbirth deserve prompt and compassionate support during the post-partum period. Although we cannot return to our former selves, we can become physically, emotionally and energetically more resilient in our transformation.
Shift Into Motherhood is designed to support new moms in all aspects of their adaptation. Physical therapy sessions are aimed at helping women reconnect with their breath, abdominals and pelvic floor muscles. Women are also taught how to massage their own scar tissue and how to track the closure of their diastasis recti. Functional exercises are aimed at preparing moms to squat, lunge and lift their babies (and their baby gear!).
Once they have mastered the foundational exercises, women are encouraged to progress from physical therapy to one-on-one Pilates, yoga or personal training. These sessions serve as a carefully supervised transition from rehabilitation to holistic fitness.
Recovery from childbirth does not end with the attainment of physical rehabilitation. The journey through conception, pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood requires support beyond the physical body. In addition to physical therapy, women are nurtured with the integrative modalities of massage, Reiki and acupuncture. Our clients are offered a complementary health coaching session and are guided in the development of long-term holistic wellness practices.
At the first session, a personalized plan of care is developed based on each woman’s physical, emotional, spiritual and energetic needs. Women are fully supported as they move through their healing at their own pace and with the modalities of their own choosing. Babies are welcome to join mom at physical therapy appointments and be fed and soothed as desired. The calm and relaxing environment at Shift supports both mom and baby to feel at ease.
Moms are tasked with nurturing our next generation. They deserve our best care.
Join us as we Shift the way people think about post-partum health.
Written by: Rachel Parrotta, DPT, ATC, Pelvic Health Specialist and Creator of Shift Into Motherhood