Top 10 tips on keeping pain free with a new baby!
When Hazel asked me if I would write a guest blog for her about how to look after yourself physically once your new baby has arrived I was delighted to say yes. I remember only too well how physically demanding having a new baby can be, even though my two are now both teenagers, and I see many new parents in my clinic suffering with baby-related aches and pains. I also remember how little time you have to wade through long, dry pieces of writing full of technical information! Bearing that in mind I have kept my advice to my top 10 hints and tips of easily manageable adjustments to help both parents have a more comfortable start to new-babyhood.
Plan ahead and think practical. The equipment you buy before baby even arrives is important. It’s a bit of a minefield because there is so much baby-care equipment on the market and it’s easy to get distracted by the latest trendy piece of kit, wanting a pram that comes in your favourite colour or being sentimental about using the family cot passed down through generations. However, the primary reason you buy any of this stuff is because you’re going to need to use it, day in, day out, for months or years on end. It has to be practical, and often adjustable. For example, if one parent is 5’4” and the other is 6’6” can the pram you are looking at be adjusted so both parents can push it comfortably? Once it’s folded down is it light enough for you to lift in and out of the car boot? Does it have anywhere you can stash your stuff or are you going to have to carry a rucksack to take along all the bits you and baby need for your outing. All of this type of practical thinking applies to the baby car seat, the moses basket and especially the nursery furniture too.
2) Back pain tips-part 1. One of the problems that often brings someone into my clinic when they have a new baby is upper back pain so let’s look at that next. It’s not the first thing you might think of as a new baby problem but it affects so many people. One of the commonest causes for this is your position while feeding your baby. When you are sitting to feed, whether it’s bottle or breast, bring baby up to you rather than stooping down to baby. Use cushions or pillows to get yourself sitting upright with your back supported, and then more cushions to put under baby and so lifting him/her up towards you. The V-shaped pillows are fantastic for this. If you are feeding while you are out use the same principal of raising the baby by using a rolled up coat or jumper or even your changing bag to avoid you ending up leaning downwards. If you are at home and breast-feeding you might want to try varying the positions you use, eg side-lying and laid-back feeding. To find out more about these and other breast-feeding ideas why not have a look at the following link to an article about breast-feeding positioning https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/positioning/.
3)Back pain tips-part 2. The other obvious cause of upper back pain is holding this little but rapidly growing bundle of joy. Babies become heavy, even the lightest ones, when you are holding them for hours on end. Think about how you hold them and review it regularly as they grow. What works well when they are 8 or 9lb won’t work the same when they are 14 lbs! You might want to think about using a sling or other baby carrier that has been properly measured and fitted to you. If you want to try out various slings why not try a sling library where you can hire them to try? There are various local sites where you can access the library locally- look at the Kent Baby Matters website https://www.kentbabymatters.org/kent-sling-library/. As your baby grows try to avoid carrying them on one hip for too long as this can create muscular tension and pain. Alternate hips where possible and maybe use a hip-seat such as the Hippychick Hipseat for short spells, which provides a seat for the older baby or toddler to sit on and avoids the need to hitch your hip up to support their weight. Variety is the key!
4) If your perineum or undercarriage is sore and making you sit awkwardly then take action! This problem is common and not un-expected in the short term. If needed use a donut cushion or valley-cushion to ease the pressure on stitches, swelling or hemorrhoids. If you can’t sit squarely because of pain you will be using your muscles in your back, hips and abdomen in ways they aren’t used to and they will quickly become tired and sore. If your perineum remains sore for more than 6 weeks, or if the pain is worsening rather than improving then please make sure you see your GP, midwife or health visitor. You can ask to be referred to a Women’s Health Physiotherapist or you can see one privately. If you’d like to know more about how this might help you then please take a look at Tonbridge-based business Restore Physiotherapy’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PTRestore/.
5) Do your pelvic floor exercises! This applies whether you have had a caesarian or a vaginal delivery. We are all vaguely aware that after giving birth we are meant to do some sort of clenching exercise to stop us accidentally weeing when we sneeze. Well, there are many reasons why pelvic floor exercises are important, and yes, avoiding ongoing urinary-incontinence is one of them. However your pelvic floor health is also important because of it’s relationship with your internal organs, your abdominal muscles, your back muscles and your diaphragm. It is a vital part of the support network that keeps you moving and functioning well and you need to look after it. If you are not sure how to do your pelvic floor exercises or you just never remember to do them there is a brilliant app called Squeezy that you can download on your phone that can teach you and remind you.
6) Move more. As I said earlier, variety is key. We can get stuck in an endless round of feeding and changing, falling asleep in awkward positions and feeling stiff and achy. You don’t need to dedicate an hour to exercise, unless you want to of course, even a few moments spent moving differently can help a great deal. For example, while you wait for the kettle to boil shift your hips from side to side and and then in circles for about 30-60 seconds. Then stretch up towards the ceiling with both hands and onto your tip-toes and then slowly come back down and curl down towards the floor. Do this 3 times, nice and slowly. If you are changing baby on a mat on the floor, take a moment to stretch or move in any way that feels comfortable, being careful to listen to how your body feels. Alternatively, if you get the opportunity, go for a short walk around the block on your own, even 5 minutes spent walking with your arms swinging freely (ie not pushing the pram!) gives your whole body a great work-out and can relieve the building tension.
7) Don’t push yourself too hard. Having just told you to move more I am now going to tell you not to do too much. There are two scenarios I have in mind here. One is that being at home more we are only too aware of how much there is to clean, wash and iron and it’s hard not to spend every spare minute that baby allows getting stuck in to a job. But remember, hoovering the house top to bottom may be too much a month after giving birth and, depending on the nature of the delivery, lifting heavy washing etc may have to wait quite a while. The second is that if you are keen on sports and exercise you are probably a) missing the endorphins you get from it and b) worrying that if you don’t do it for long you will lose your shape and fitness. It’s good to move but please don’t keep pushing yourself to your limits. In the early days, weeks and even months your body is still recovering from pregnancy and healing from birth. The physical effects of the hormone relaxin that increases in your body during pregnancy can still be present until about 5 months after giving birth and so you do need to be aware of the effect this can have on your joints. Physical work/activity of any sort needs to be gradually introduced when your body is ready and needs to be built up in stages. Exercising is very positive generally but if you push yourself too hard you can end up paying the price for it with strains, pain and exhaustion. There are some fabulous classes available that specialise in post-partum exercise, eg some pilates and yoga classes, some gym sessions and the right personal trainer. Swimming is a good way to get moving again too when you feel ready for it.
8) Eat well. With a new baby in the house self-care often drops off the radar. However, we need good nutrition to recover from pregnancy and to heal any tissues damaged during child-birth. We need a good variety of nutrients for health and energy and in particular we need a good source of protein for helping the body heal. If you’re not managing to cook healthy meals then try to snack on fruit, veg sticks and houmous, boiled eggs, nuts and seeds. Taking a good quality multivitamin can help and consider a protein supplement such as a protein shake to support tissue repair for the first few months.
9) Sleep well. I nearly bottled out of writing this one! I can hear you all now saying “yeah right, good one!”. We now know being tired can increase our perception of pain, along with adding to stress that increases tension in our muscles and therefore adding to our pain again. Getting 8 hours uninterrupted sleep clearly isn’t going to happen, however you can make the most of any opportunity to sleep during the day or night, or even just close your eyes and rest for 5 minutes. Believe it or not the world won’t fall apart if you can’t see your carpet for a few months and the kitchen doesn’t get scrubbed every week, but catching those few minutes sleep whenever and wherever you can will make a difference. So nap, in a sensible, supported position, it all adds up and it all counts.
10) Seek help. If you have pain that lasts more than a week, is severe, or isn’t improving ask for help. Obviously if you have any medical concerns go straight to your GP who will advise you what to do. For aches and pains and stiffness, whether it’s in your back, neck, hips, pelvis, knees etc go and see your osteopath. They will take a thorough history from you and, depending on the nature of the pain, may need to know details of your pregnancy and your baby’s birth. They will then do a thorough examination and will be able to discuss with you options for treatment and self-care. Often you won’t need a lot of treatment so don’t be worried about the expense and put it off, it’s usually quicker and easier to deal with something if you tackle it early on.
I’m Claire Terry and I am an osteopath and massage therapist, owner of Tonbridge Osteopathic Clinic and Head to Toe Health in Avebury Avenue, Tonbridge. I have been working for 20 years now and I love helping people reduce their pain and restrictions and get back to enjoying their lives with their families, hobbies, sports and work.
If you have any questions about what I have written above, you’d like to find out whether osteopathy can help your specific problem, or you’d like to make an appointment for a consultation then please get in touch with me, I’ll be happy to talk to you. My contact details are all on my website www.tonbridgeosteopathicclinic.co.uk.