The physical and emotional Impact of having a baby: How patience and support are key to healing our bodies and minds
I would like to start with a very warm hello to everyone in the LushTums community! My name is Kim and for several years I've been working as a LushTums pregnancy yoga teacher and a doula in Brighton and Hove, as well as looking after my two daughters. I am very excited to announce that I am now also teaching Postnatal Yoga!
This new class is very important to me because I see so many new mums struggling and having all these expectations of themselves; feeling like they ‘should’ be coping better than they are and their bodies ‘should’ be functioning better than they are. Although our bodies are strong and capable, it also takes time to heal. So I wanted to write something encompassing all the changes and shifts a woman’s body goes through both physically and emotionally as she transitions from pregnancy to being a mother.
It is quite a journey and I thought it might help some of you to put into perspective how incredible your bodies and minds truly are, and that with time, patience and a little bit of inner wisdom and strength you can heal in mind body and spirit. You won’t feel like you used to. When we have a child it changes us forever. But if we learn to embrace those changes and give ourselves time to heal and grow, then quite often we may find that we are exactly where we are supposed to be and can find strength and beauty in our postnatal bodies and minds.
It is common for new mothers to be suffering with a whole list of physical ailments. It can be disheartening because we often assume that after giving birth our bodies will feel like they used to, or at least more comfortable than during pregnancy. But it really is no surprise when you consider what our bodies have been through in order to carry, birth and then look after our babies. We should really sit back and take a moment to marvel at how incredible our bodies truly are. When you think of everything that occurs from conception, through birth, to becoming mothers it is really quite miraculous! It is no small feat, that’s for sure. But as a result we need to understand that our bodies really need plenty of time to heal and recover.
To begin with, during pregnancy our bodies constantly change as they make space for our growing babies. Internal organs are compressed, and the ribs and hips widen. The spine actually changes position during pregnancy and is under an enormous amount of pressure, as are the legs and feet with the increased weight. Women are more prone to varicose veins and swelling in the legs, feet and ankles as a result which can be very uncomfortable. The hormone relaxin, which the placenta produces to aid women during labour, increasing elasticity in the connective tissues and ligaments, as well as making the pelvis and spine more flexible- all of which can create other problems in the body. This increased flexibility can cause abnormal motion in many other joints which can lead to pelvic girdle pain and inflammation. With the extra weight of the baby the pelvic floor also weakens which can lead to misalignment and instability in the body and occasionally incontinence after birth.
After the baby is born there is still plenty of relaxin in the body. All of the new mother’s attention is naturally on her newborn, but as a result she may be less conscious about how she moves, picks up her baby, or what her body can and can't do at this stage. The body has been through a huge transition, and depending on the birth there may be some bruising, stitches, or surgery that the body has to recover from. Breastfeeding can take time to get the hang of too, with some women developing mastitis or cracked swollen nipples. The pelvic floor is now weaker and mum is generally holding, breastfeeding or cradling her baby, all of which can lead to mid back ache, shoulder and neck pain. In fact, her whole body may be out of alignment which can cause pain and discomfort in numerous areas of the body. The impact of all these physical ailments, coupled with the hormones, and huge responsibility a new mother faces, can lead to a whole array of emotions, and for some even postnatal depression.
The more we can find ways to acknowledge and accept that all women will have different stories to tell, that there is no ‘right’ way to experience early motherhood, that all feelings- whether positive or negative, are just part of the deal and perfectly natural, the more new mums will have the chance to relinquish guilty feelings and stop putting so much pressure on themselves. That is why it’s so important for women to be able to share and express their true authentic thoughts and feelings about motherhood. The good bits, the funny bits, the heartbreaking bits, the overwhelming bits, the not so good bits, and the even the really dark bits. Like the places we can go to when we are severely sleep deprived. We need to create more space for open discussions about women’s experiences, unfiltered and uncensored.
I read an interesting article the other day that highlighted the difference between how we view fathers and mothers. For instance, if we see a dad doing anything parental like playing with his kid, putting them to bed, giving them a hug, we say “ Oh what a wonderful loving dad!” and our hearts melt, whereas when the majority of mothers are doing all of those things all the time we don’t stop and say “Oh what a wonderful mother!”. And why not? Maybe because of expectations. Because it's expected of women to be good mothers, to be ‘perfect’ even. And as soon as she is not she is an open target for criticism. So much pressure from all directions, so much information everywhere about what we should/shouldn't be doing. And very little acknowledgment of what a woman goes through in order to keep her child safe and happy. All her daily struggles often go unnoticed, unpraised, unrecognised.
A mother leaves behind almost everything when she has a newborn. Her life is completely altered. I remember as a new mother feeling like I didn't quite understand why I hadn't morphed into this calm, soothing earth mother type as soon as my baby was placed in my arms, like they always do in the movies, like everyone promised me I would. Why did I feel so anxious, so unsure? Why did I miss things about my old life? I loved her with all my heart and soul, so what was scaring me so much? Hadn't I read all the books? Didn’t I love babies? Wasn't I as prepared as could be? Turns out, no. Because you can't be completely prepared, no matter how many books you read. For months I would see myself in reflections or mirrors or photographs holding my baby, going through all the motions of being a mother but where was that calm serene expression I expected to have? It was about 10 months later when I caught sight of it in a reflection. There it was. That serene look. Smiling, more relaxed, more at ease. For the first time I felt like I wasn't playing a role, I was actually a mother. And not only that, I was beginning to feel like I was not just a mother, but I was a good mother. Or at least a good enough mother. But it took some time feeling that way. And I now realise that's ok. In the end the answers were all inside of me. I found my inner mother as soon as I put down the books and started really engaging with my baby and working out who she was and what she needed and going with my instincts. Who could know better then me what my baby needed? And as soon as I understood that, and had faith in myself I began to relax and really enjoy being a mother. But the more interesting question is why did I assume I would turn into someone else as soon as I had a baby? Why did I think in order to be a good mother I had to be superhuman? Calm and serene all the time? It's because of how mothers are portrayed in books, films or even adverts. This expectation of what a mother should be. Calm, centred, mellow, softly spoken, soothing, warm, and always patient and gentle. But we are not always all those things.
Sometimes we are all of those things, and other times we are tired, tearful, angry, agitated, hormonal normal coping women juggling with so many different things at once and just trying to keep our head above water. And so what? We have a lot on our plates. We are entitled to feel all of these feelings without being made to feel guilty, or like we are bad mothers when we are simply being human. So I say let’s allow women to give their open and honest accounts of what motherhood feels like or them-with all its highs and lows. There are so many of both. And sharing our frustrated feelings is just as valid and as important as sharing our happy besotted ones. Just because a mother accepts and needs to talk about the lows does not for one second mean she does not value or experience the highs, or that she is not grateful for her beautiful baby. Most likely it is because of the sheer love she feels that she has the strength to carry on even when she feels completely exhausted. Most likely after a tiring day she will still watch her baby sleep for a few minutes and feel such immense love and gratitude. But lets not forget that with this immense love also comes fear, heartbreak, sacrifices, responsibility and so many sleepless nights.
So let's support her in loving her baby by listening to her when she needs to vent her frustrations. Let's not make her feel any guilt or shame. From my experience mothers are already far too familiar with both these emotions as it is and feel them on a daily basis. Guilt for putting their feet up while baby naps instead of doing the dishes, shame for having yelled at their toddler when they were throwing a tantrum, instead of accepting they were probably just tired. These feelings come with the territory. And lastly, let’s all keep in mind that new mums are all at once their most powerful selves and their most vulnerable selves. Let’s allow space for both, and also recognise that there is great strength in being vulnerable and allowing that side of ourselves to surface. And that is exactly what I would like to be able to do. Create space for mums to just be themselves. So now after having worked with mothers as a doula through birth, and as a pregnancy yoga teacher throughout pregnancy, I am very happy and to be able to also support women postnatally .And on that note I would just like to extend a very warm welcome to any new mums in Brighton and Hove to come and join my postnatal yoga class at the beautiful Tree of Life Centre on Portland Road!
These postnatal yoga classes will provide you with a safe and welcoming space, where you can come with your babies, and where everyone is accepted just as they are. It gives you a chance to bond with other women who have just had babies, to really reconnect with your bodies, to stretch out tired achy muscles and to slowly and consciously strengthen and tone your pelvic floor and core, strengthening from the inside out. In the postnatal period less is often more and we focus on doing each pose with precision and control. You are encouraged to include your babies and allow them to be part of your practice, fostering connection and also an acceptance of your babies just as they are, whether they are sleeping, crying, joining in, or feeding. You will also have a chance to relax and restore yourself with nourishing breath exercises and relaxation techniques. The aim of the class is that you will leave feeling a little lighter, a little calmer in yourselves and your bodies, and slowly and gradually build strength, easing any pelvic pain and back ache and helping to restore the body.
Kim will be teaching Postnatal Yoga classes at the Tree of Life Centre on Portland Road, every Friday from 1.30- 2.45pm. She also offers Pregnancy Yoga @ Tree of Life on Mondays and Fridays- check out the Brighton and Hove timetable to book your space for either. Kim also works as a doula so please feel free to contact her to request any more info or if you fancy a chat : 07861 926441.