The end of the pregnancy journey is quite sudden (although some will disagree when remembering hours of labour), and it takes time for the body to return to where it was before getting pregnant. A huge challenge of the postpartum journey is that few, if any, notice that you are not 100% back in shape. There’s not a lot you can do about not being offered seats on public transport as often as you used to, but you can and should gently remind family, friends, and colleagues that you still need a little extra consideration.
You also need to look after yourself, so here are a few tips to prevent unnecessary aches and pains you may experience during day-to-day activities and/or after standing for long periods.
Take care when carrying your baby and their accessories
Once you have a new baby, you’ll have a lot to carry (carry cots, spare nappies, etc.), and you won’t always remember the best way to lift things: bend your knees, keep your back straight, and use your legs to power you (and whatever you are lifting) up. It’s highly unlikely you’ll manage to lift correctly every time but do try as much as you can as it will help protect and strengthen your back.
If you feel any pain or your body tells you that you have pulled something or that all is not quite right, do seek help. Do not ignore it as it will only get worse. The pain may go, but this is usually due to other muscles compensating, and then the injury or imbalance becomes embedded for a while, you may feel better but in the long run, you will have done a lot more damage, and that is much harder to correct.
Whether you are standing or sitting with your baby, you now have to look after two postures, the baby’s and yours. Backs must be straight, neither twisted nor slouched, and the knees forward. It will get easier as your baby builds up some muscle and develops motor skills.
You might adopt bad sitting and standing positions and get some niggles here and there, but the pain is useful. It is sending you a message. So, check your posture and sitting position and attempt to straighten and balance them. Ask your partner for help as it can sometimes be tricky to see an imbalance yourself.
Make time to look after yourself
We often find it difficult to set aside time for ourselves, but we are usually good at keeping appointments with others. If you make an appointment to see someone, you’ll find a way to stick to it. So, book in with a health practitioner like an osteopath, chiropractor, massage therapist or biomechanics expert (bonus: it is easier to ask someone to care for your baby for an hour if they know you are having a health-related appointment). By booking in with one of these experts you not only get an hour that is entirely focused on you, but you also get the treatment that will help your muscles relax, reset your posture and alignment, and ensure that any aches or pains don’t get worse or turn into something debilitating that will prevent you from giving your baby the care they need.
Don’t sacrifice sleep and rest
Having a good night’s sleep (usually eight hours a day) helps the body to heal and reset before the start of a brand-new day. But during the postpartum period, getting eight hours in one go may be close to impossible, so focus on building up eight hours across the 24-hour period. If that is eight one-hour periods of sleep, then so be it. Keeping your baby close when you sleep, sharing the task of getting up and reminding yourself that things will get better, are all ways to help you grab a few extra minutes of shut-eye.
In addition to the quantity of your sleep, you can improve the quality by making sure that pillows and mattresses are at their best, and that you lie comfortably and not twisted or bent in a chair.
Bad sleep (too superficial or too little) and poor rest will affect both your standing and sitting postures and stress and fatigue can manifest as pain in your back and neck throughout the day. Sleep is not just about banishing tiredness. It will also help your body feel better and give you the strength you need to get through all the tasks of the day.
Remember that physical and mental health are connected
The stretching and exercise you do manage to do will not only help your body, but it will also help your mind too. You can let go of stresses and worries (at least for a time) and focus on dealing with the day’s challenges with renewed vigour. So do your best to include some dedicated exercise/stretching time in your day.
Choose footwear wisely
Your body has changed shape during pregnancy with its weight distribution has shifted. Now postpartum your weight and shape are changing again. Plus, you have all the other pressures on your body, so you need good support, and support for your body starts at your feet. As much as possible wear shoes that give good support to the arch and ankle. Slippers, flip-flops, and strappy heels won’t do you any favours. Sure, wearing them for a few short hours on a rare evening out, or while at the pool, is fine, but for the rest of the time choose shoes that will help your body.
Opting for “walking” style shoes that provide ankle support, ensures they can be laced up (this gives your foot much more support inside the shoe), and if you can, speak to a biomechanics expert to see if you would benefit from custom-made orthotics. By ensuring your body is balanced and aligned from the foot up, you will be much stronger and better able to cope with all the physical demands a new baby puts on you.
Christophe Champs is an expert in biomechanics and the founder of Podo. Christophe corrects postural and biomechanical issues to alleviate pain and prevent injury for clients.