What is ‘the postnatal period’?
It is not a small window of time that exists after you have a baby. It’s not a finite period when you have temporarily become a mother. It’s not a brief stop in your journey along the way. Often I’m asked by clients ‘am I still postnatal, my baby’s over a year?’, or ‘I had my baby three years ago so I’m not postnatal any more’. In my view, if you have ever had a baby, you are postnatal. For the rest of your life.
I think the word ‘postnatal’ is misunderstood – it’s swept under the carpet, banished, humbled, belittled. We try to narrow it down to an arbitrary period of six weeks. Something to get through, to pass, to deal with and then move away from and ‘get back to normal’.
But – you have changed. Your body, your heart, your mind has changed. Forever. You have experienced your matrescence. It’s true that a very important and intense period of postpartum healing occurs in the few weeks and months after you have had your baby, when you’re riding the hormonal and emotional rollercoaster and often in free fall, blindfolded. When that settles and an equilibrium is found, you’ve completed your metamorphosis. Often, though, the physical healing journey is ongoing – particularly if you’ve had a Caesarean birth or otherwise experienced physical or emotional trauma.
You may be craving getting back to ‘regular life’. To have this postnatal period end and become ‘normal’ once more. But please be gentle with your new self. The postnatal period doesn’t end just because you’ve stopped breastfeeding, gone back at work or once you fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans. You will be labelled by healthcare and most fitness professionals as ‘no longer postnatal’, but this undermines the fact that the physiological (and psychological) issues of pregnancy and birth have a long-term impact. Never allow yourself to be fobbed off because you had your baby ‘ages ago’ but are still suffering from a weak core or pelvic floor issues. Investigate these things rather than wishing they would just somehow go away. You can always make yourself stronger.
The former UK Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies admitted in an article in the Daily Mail in 2018 that she still suffers from incontinence 20 years after having her babies. She is still, decades later, suffering from issues directly caused by giving birth, yet she wouldn’t be classed as ‘postnatal’ by the medical profession. I suspect that she’s not alone in this experience. Many of the issues encountered by women in the menopause may stem directly from birth injury suffered decades before, but that link is not fully explored or recognised. Birth is a feminist issue…
I met with Dame Sally in 2018 as part of campaign group the Pelvic Floor Patrol, to discuss with her how postnatal care could be improved and pelvic floor rehabilitation awareness. She told us that had she known about the benefits of physio and how regular pelvic floor exercises could impact on symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction this would have changed her life.
That’s your sign to own your postnatal recovery. You only get one life. Never stop checking in with your pelvic floor health, your mental health, your physical health, your emotional health. Be aware and curious. Never stop reaching out for information and guidance. Nothing breaks my heart more than hearing women say, ‘of course my back and pelvic floor is buggered, I’ve had three children’. Don’t settle for feeling like crap. Never belittle or ignore your needs. Never stop caring for yourself. You are worthy of healing.
Pilates for Pregnancy by Anya Hayes