We all know the female body undergoes a lot of changes during the nine months spent growing a baby. After giving birth, it seems we sometimes forget that those changes don’t just instantly reverse. The growing weight of the baby throughout pregnancy puts an enormous amount of strain on the muscles in the bottom of your pelvis. Your pelvic floor is responsible for working with your diaphragm and core muscles to create the “abdominal canister” which maintains pressure in your abdomen and supports your spine. You can see below how the pelvic floor looks like the bottom of the basket and the sides are your pelvic bones. That visual makes it easy to understand why it would be important to make sure the bottom of your basket is functioning properly before you stress it too soon by increasing your activity levels post-partum!
The diaphragm makes up the roof of our abdominal canister and sits right under the lungs. When we take a breath in, the diaphragm contracts downward which helps pull air into the lungs. You can imagine that when there is a baby taking up space underneath the diaphragm it would be difficult for it to contract and allow you to take full breaths. The body learns this shallow breathing pattern and often needs to relearn how to take deep breaths once there is space available again. Maintaining the shallow breathing pattern post-partum alters the way pressure is controlled in your abdomen which can lead to too much pressure being put down on your pelvic floor and not enough pressure to support your back.
Lastly, let’s talk about how the “walls” of the abdominal canister are affected during and after pregnancy. The walls are made up of several core muscles, but mos important is the transverse abdominus and internal obliques. The muscles undergo significant lengthening throughout pregnancy which decreases their ability to contract and support you as you move throughout the day. It is incredibly important to learn how to contract these muscles again after giving birth. The picture below shows all the pieces together and you can see how these groups of muscles make a canister or a can. Imagine trying to crush an intact, full, closed can of soda. It would be nearly impossible. That’s how strong our abdominal canister should be. Now imagine if you pop the top or have a cut in the side, all the pressure and support is lost and you can now crush the can. Often after having a baby, there are “indents” or “cuts” in our canister that can lead to a wide variety of issues and potentially pain if it is not addressed.
These are several of the many reasons why women should be referred to physical therapy after having a baby. We can teach you how to relearn a deep breathing pattern, make sure you can both contract and relax your pelvic floor, as well as teach you how to properly engage your abdominal muscles to make sure your whole canister is working together to set you up for success and guide you as you return to the activities you love.
If you have had a baby and are looking for guidance for return to activity or are experiencing back, hip, neck, or shoulder pain contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-618-9290 to schedule a postpartum physical therapy evaluation with one of our skilled physical therapists at Girl Fit Physical Therapy in Newton, MA. To learn more about pelvic health physical therapy to address dysfunction of the pelvic floor muscles related or unrelated to childbirth, check out or recent blog on Pelvic Health PT.
Christina Verhorevoort, PT, DPT
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist