Why Women feel pressure to shape up
Some women have barely birthed their new, soft little bundle, when the feelings of ‘oh good grief, where did my body go’ start creeping in. Our society has a lot to answer for, what with the Instagram and Facebook images and posts about ‘how I got into my size 8 jeans two weeks after childbirth’. Social media does little to support a woman’s feelings about her body image, during what is potentially one of the most vulnerable times of her life.
There is pressure out there for women to return to their pre pregnancy weight, shape and level of fitness very quickly after baby. This is not only inappropriate, but an unhealthy expectation, as it takes, on average 500 days to heal and recover your baby after birthing. (Childbirth Trauma – Stergios 2016). The mental and emotional trauma of birthing can also embed into the memory of the body’s tissue, so this needs to also be taken into account when healing from a birth that perhaps was not so straightforward (Trauma Release Body-Mind Processing Bodywork Issue 86 March 2003).
Cultural Differences in the Postnatal Period
The post-natal period in many other cultures is considered a special time in which a mother as well as a baby is born. In some countries women are not expected to carry on with their usual lives but given time to adapt to the new journey in life they are beginning. In Japan, for instance, the mother is put to bed for 30 days, waited on and indulged while she recovers from the birth. In the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, new mothers stay at home for 22 days and are pampered. The period of rest is seen as vital to the delicate nervous system of the mother and baby. Few visitors are allowed.
In parts of Southeast Asia, there is the practice of ‘mother warming’. After the birth, the house is closed up and a sign put on the door to inform the community of the new arrival. The father then lights a fire and keeps mother and baby warm in a womb like environment, removed from the demands of daily life for several days. In Holland, where many births take place at home, a specially trained live in maternity nurse stays with the new mother for 8-10 days. She reports directly to the midwife and keeps her posted on the progress. She also cooks, and looks after the other children.
What’s wrong with our Modern Approach to Postnatal Recovery?
Many women in our society, forgo optimal healing practices, such as resting at home, eating wholesome fresh nourishing food, sleeping during the day, taking baths in salts to replenish the body from depleted mineral supplies, drinking special herbal teas to balance and support hormones and asking for help with chores and childcare of older siblings.
So why do women, in the UK, feel like they have so little time to physically and mentally recover from the birth experience? Why do mums search for ‘quick fixes’ like ‘magic capsules’, waist trainers and crash dieting, all of which are inappropriate, and are not backed by quality clinical research.
Our fast paced society means that women are feeling the burden of being back to ‘normal’ by their six week check up with their GP. Mothers are under the impression that by the time they reach their 6 Week Postnatal Check, it’s ‘back to business as usual’
In terms of pre-pregnancy exercise such as weight training, HITT, Cross Fit, running and other high impact fitness, this check does not mean you are ready to return to these types of conventional fitness!
Some areas of the UK have stopped these postnatal checks altogether. How will mothers now benchmark their recovery, now there is no formal check-up? When will they know that they are ‘good to go’ in terms of exercise post birth? Could this make matters worse, and that women start earlier than six weeks, or perhaps, women will come to realise that there is no magic or expected time to recover, that everyone is different, and the six week postnatal check-up doesn’t mean a woman is ready for her usual fitness regime.
What does the postnatal check involve the UK?
At these appointments, you may be surprised to discover that GP’s ask little about a mother’s recovery, and the main questions asked, relate to contraception and postnatal depression. These two practices, in my opinion, are important to help space siblings and allow healing, and to signpost mamas who may be totally overwhelmed with their parenting role.
However, these checks cannot possibly gain all the information necessary to be able to inform mamas that they can commence or return to their usual fitness regime, give appropriate nutrition advice for healing and recovery and signpost to the relevant professionals for physical or emotional post birth trauma.
What about questions such as, ‘are you wetting yourself or have any bowel urgency’? ‘Do you feel everything has returned to normal with your stitches in your abdomen or vagina’? ‘Do you have abdominal separation’? Is there anything that doesn’t feel right when you have sexual intercourse or when you are active?
It may actually be a lot later on after childbirth that issues really surface. Many women realise that their problems many months or years down the line have surfaced from the time they gave birth, and do not know where to turn to address the issues.
In terms of how and when you return to fitness, the six week check is not right the place to get all the answers. You need to approach a specialist who understands what is involved in getting you connected back with your body, and understanding how you can get it working again to its full potential, without injury, pain and incontinence.
In my blog next month, I discuss why conventional exercise is not suitable for rehabilitation after childbirth, and what a mother’s focus should be, to get their body fit and functioning normally again.