Treat childbirth like an athletic event
Anybody who has gone through childbirth knows that it is emotionally joyful, but can be hard on your body. With that in mind, researchers from the University of Michigan did a study using MRI imaging to see just what kind of injuries can happen during childbirth.
The study team included obstetricians, midwives, radiologists and nurses. MRI’s were used in order to get a view of childbirth as an athletic event, and they found some surprising results.
The team discovered that up to 15 percent of women in their study sustained pelvic injuries that took up to eight months to heal and some women had a prolapse of the uterus or bladder that will not heal without surgical intervention.
The MRI images in the study showed that one quarter of the women had fluid in their pubic bone or sustained fractures similar to sports-related stress fractures. Two-thirds showed excess fluid in their muscles, indicating injuries similar to severe muscle strain. An alarming 41 percent sustained pelvic muscle tears with the muscle detaching partially or fully from the public bone.
For the study, researchers specifically chose women who were at a high risk for muscle tears and who had weakened pelvic floors, which predisposed them to injury. But, the findings also point to the fact that perhaps all expectant mothers should prepare for childbirth the same way an athlete trains for a sports event.
“A runner would not attempt to run a marathon without adequate training and expect to perform well or recover quickly,” said Cape Cod Healthcare physical trainer Danny O’Keefe, ATC, TPI. “Why then would you similarly attempt what is likely the most physically stressful event the human body endures without preparing accordingly?”
O’Keefe said there is a precedent for this theory in the pre-habilitation concept of training. He explained that in the rehab world, when a patient is preparing for a major orthopedic surgery, he and his colleagues often see the patient for a number of rehabilitation exercises before the surgery.
“The reason for this is that the stronger the muscles are before the surgery, the speedier they recover after the surgery,” he said. “Of course, there will still be major atrophy as a result of the surgery itself, but recovery tends to go much faster and much more smoothly compared to a patient who does no physical conditioning prior to the operation. The same holds true for childbirth. By training your core and pelvic musculature prior to the event, you set yourself up for a speedier recovery afterwards.”
The first thing O’Keefe recommends for expectant mothers is to learn proper pelvic positioning. Most people are prone to having a pelvis that is pulled away from the neutral position. A trained practitioner can return your pelvis to neutral and guide you through the proper exercises to keep it that way. Making sure your body is positioned the way it was designed to work best can reduce unnecessary damage and complications from the birthing process.
Once you’ve taken the important first step of proper body positioning, O’Keefe recommends beginning a strengthening routine. Strengthening your pelvic floor is a great place to start, but other exercises would be beneficial too.
“The glutes are also very important in maintaining good pelvic position,” he said. “Core strength is a must in order to ward off lower back injuries from the added weight you will be supporting throughout your pregnancy and to ensure your abdominal wall recovers quickly.”
Kegels, which are designed to help strengthen the pelvic floor, are important, but O’Keefe said a lot of people do them wrong. He advised finding a reliable website or seeing a trained professional to learn the proper techniques.
Since mobility is just as important as strength training, O’Keefe advises taking a yoga class specifically designed for pregnant women. Prenatal yoga classes keep your joints limber and help you maintain flexibility. Yoga strengthens your muscles, stimulates blood circulation and helps you relax.
“Yoga is very beneficial for the body because it can help prevent pain and tightness,” he said. “It’s also good for the mind. Meditation is another great way to take a few minutes for yourself and clear your mind. It’s even more beneficial for learning proper breathing patterns and building mental toughness.”
O’Keefe last advice is to make sure you get proper nutrition during pregnancy. It will help you feel better and your body will be better prepared for the stress it is about to go through. Good nutrition is also another key to a speedy recovery.