Pregnancy Can Wreak Havoc On Your Body, Seek Help Early If You Have Lingering Pain

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shutterstock_108320885__1381865413_142.196.156.251We often only hear about weight gain and depression when we talk about the physical toll pregnancy takes. But there are other effects pregnancy has on the body that if not dealt with in a timely manner may be painful and hard to overcome.

There’s an article in the Wall St. Journal today about the significant strain pregnancy can put on muscles and bones:

“It’s a massive physical challenge” to have a baby, says Jessica McKinney, director of the Center for Pelvic and Women’s Health at Marathon Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine based in Boston. Abdominal muscles lengthen significantly during pregnancy, the spine moves into an exaggerated S curve, caesarean section can leave internal scar tissue, and the hammock of muscles in the pelvis that support organs and bones, called the pelvic floor, stretches or even tears, she says. Left untreated, the changes can cause problems down the road, from pelvic and low back pain to incontinence and other issues.

Many mothers just view post-pregnancy pain as something they have to deal with that will eventually go away. This may not be the case. There may be physical therapy or certain exercises that can help alleviate what is causing the pain.

After my both my c-sections, the majority of my pain was focused in my abdominal region. I realized my lower abdominal muscles had been cut through (obviously) but what I didn’t realize was that the “six pack” abs actually separate – a condition called diastasis recti. This condition doesn’t always resolve itself on its own. After my second pregnancy, my midwife informed me that I should wear some kind of support wrap while I was exercising my abs – something I was not told after my first. I’m now four months postpartum and can still feel the separation between my abs. I wonder if not caring for my abs properly after my first pregnancy has caused some lasting damage.

With a new baby to care for, women often ignore seemingly small things like pain, says Ms. McKinney of Marathon Physical Therapy. Patients think “I have to throw myself at the altar of motherhood,” and it’s normal that my body doesn’t work as well, she says.

Postpartum women can also experience problems caused by a weak pelvic floor. I’ve heard many anecdotes of women who sometimes pee a little when they laugh too hard. Apparently, if something like this is left untreated, it can cause real problems later in life:

“I will hear, ‘After my first pregnancy I occasionally leaked as I coughed’ ” or I had some pain, but I didn’t see it as a problem, says Secili Destefano, a physical therapist and director of research for the American Physical Therapy Association Section on Women’s Health. Then a woman ages, her muscles start to deteriorate and her hormone levels change. “And now your body is doing things you don’t want it to,” she says, and finally you go to a doctor.

With kids to think about, we often put ourselves on the back burner. I guess the lesson is, if you are experiencing lingering pain or problems after pregnancy – get help as early as possible.

(photo: Sam72/ Shutterstock)