By Nicole McMurray, B.Sc, RMT
The body goes through many changes throughout pregnancy. So, what happens after pregnancy? During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin causes the joints of the body to loosen, and in turn causes the muscles of the body to tighten to help support those joints. Once the baby is out, the body tries to return to normal but things may feel a little different and less stable. This process sometimes creates a few hiccups as the body adjusts to new activities, and a new posture.
Beyond typical reasons for one to seek massage, I wanted to address what else massage therapy can be effective for post-pregnancy, including: body awareness, C-section release, breast massage, abdominal massage for digestion and exercise.
Awareness can be tough with a baby on your hands! But it will help to fend off some common aches and pains associated with being a parent.
Consider how your daily activities have changed – picking up your baby (with an ever-increasing weight) out of a crib, bending over to pick them off the floor, breastfeeding, or holding your baby on one hip. You might even do these actions up to several times per day.
Consider the stress that these actions cause for the joints and muscles if done improperly. Let’s start considering these actions as exercises, and just like exercises, you need to make sure you perform them correctly. Consider the following tricks to help you manage your posture and muscular tensions:
- Like lifting boxes, lift from the knees to take pressure off the sacrum (tailbone) and lower back
- Try maintaining an upright posture with a baby on your hip. Can you straighten up your spine versus leaning to one side? Have you tried alternating which side you’re holding on?
- Collapsing the shoulders inwards with breastfeeding can cause chest tension. Try keeping the shoulders relaxed and neutral, avoiding unnecessary chest muscle workouts.
Cesarean Scar Release
Where it is normal to experience some discomfort at the site of the scar post-birth, this tends to fade as it heals. In some cases, adhesions or the scarring from the incision can restrict movement of muscular tissue, causing a pulling sensation through the abdominal muscles or pain around the scar/abdominal region
Graston Technique®, along with massage techniques, can help to mobilize the scar tissue caused from the c-section, providing relief of discomfort or pain. To read more about Graston Technique®, visit my previous article on the technique OR on how to address scar tissue.
The best timing for this type of therapy would be when the external scarring is almost healed, or about 6-8 weeks post-birth. The scar will always be assessed prior to any massage to the area.
Breasts can be painful or sore post-pregnancy due to increased milk production, swelling, and chest muscle tightness from poor posture.
Massage can provide relief to the breasts through direct massage to the breast tissue but also to the pectoral or chest muscles. Lymph nodes in the armpits (which help with the movement of fluid out of the breast) can become restricted in tight chest muscles and can cause swelling. Posture plays a huge role in tight muscles, so it is also important to address postural changes.
The abdominal muscles have a role in the excretion of waste from the body. Post-pregnancy, the abdominal muscles become stretched out and weakened, decreasing the body’s ability to easily have a bowel movement. Abdominal massage can help to promote movement of excrement through the bowels by addressing the colon, and can act to loosen up areas of restriction around the hips.
Strengthening will work in your favour here! It has been a while since the body has moved without a baby belly, and will now function differently.
Like we discussed earlier, your daily actions will also change (who knew you’d be weight lifting several times a day!). It’s important to strengthen the core muscles, to help rebuild those stretched out abdominal muscles, but it’s also important to strengthen the back, gluteals, and chest to help support the body.
Vaginal births still take a toll on the abdomen, however exercise can be completed soon after birth whenever you start to feel comfortable. C-section births require the abdomen and scarring to heal prior to exercise, this could be up to several weeks. Please consult your doctor prior to starting any new exercise regime to make sure it is right for you.
The changes that we see postpartum can be difficult, but there are a bunch of different ways that we can help the body adjust. Please ask your doctor prior to treatment regarding massage therapy to ensure it is right for you and your stage of recovery. If you have any further questions or would like to discuss what massage therapy can do for you, I would be happy to help!
Book an appointment with Nicole to see how massage therapy can support your health post-pregnancy.
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