Pregnancy Prehab: training aimed at preventing pregnancy injuries before they occur
What if I said you could improve your postpartum recovery by learning a little bit about your body before even getting pregnant? I’m going to tell you a little bit about what I’m terming “pregnancy prehab.” And it starts not with exercises but with knowing more about your own body.
I know thinking about all the things that could happen to your body after giving birth is a little scary. We talk about diastasis recti or pelvic organ prolapse, and a lot of us (myself included) get a little nervous!
But last week, I watched a video by a fellow physical therapist, Julie Weibe. You can go read her post and watch the video on her website here.
In it, she talked about how knowing your body before giving birth can help empower you and remove some of the fear of the bodily changes we may experience after being pregnant.
Why is this important?
Again, let me say, this is about empowering you to know your body (something pretty helpful while going through labor btw) so we can throw off fear and anxiety after giving birth. Moreover, it’ll give you a goal for what you might choose to aim for postpartum.
When you go to see a provider postpartum – myself included – we have scales for “normal.” But those scales may or may not be close to normal for you. More below, but knowing what is specific to your body and situation can change the way you look at healing and the way you communicate what you need.
How pregnancy prehab can help you:
- Get healthcare providers to listen to you!
- Unfortunately, providers don’t always hear your real concerns. But they’re better understood when you can give specifics. For example, “Before pregnancy, I had a one-finger-width gap between my abs. Now it’s 3 finger-widths” versus “My stomach feels different but I’m not quite sure how to explain it.”
- Gives you something you can do now
- You don’t have to just “wait and see” – you can learn about your beautiful body and give yourself some good information and understanding
- Peace of mind
- Instead of wondering if “it’s all in your head,” you’ll actually know what is or isn’t different. And you’ll know when you’re getting closer to “normal” for you
- Connect with your body now for labor and reconnect after birth
- You’ll have already started the mind-body connection to your core/pelvic floor, which are super important to both labor and postpartum recovery
Good to know for pregnancy prehab
Width between the two sides of your abdominal muscles
As your belly bump grows, so will the space between the two sides of your abdominal muscles. This stretched tissue is called the linea alba. And the clinical term for this increased stretching of the linea alba and resultant space between the two sides of the abdominals is called diastasis recti.
For some women, this stretched tissue wider, which could be correlated with other issues such as low back pain or pelvic organ prolapse. And other women find that they don’t like the way their bellies look.
Studies say that up to 100% of women experience some amount of abdominal separation during pregnancy. But what we don’t know, is how much?
If you are able to check yourself for a diastasis even before you start growing your baby bump, you’ll have a much better guide to what you might want to aim for during postpartum recovery. If you were at 2 finger-widths before pregnancy and are at 2 finger-widths after, that might change your feelings about your “gap”!
Now there are more issues to diastasis recti than just the space in between the two sides, you also need to be able to create tension across the gap. But that’s a story for another day.
If you want to check yourself for diastasis, this is a great video from Moms Gone Strong.
What your lady parts look (and feel) like
I know. You’re not excited about the idea of looking or maybe feeling “down there.” I’m speaking of the vulva, or the external female genitalia, and the vagina.
But hear me out.
Knowing what your vulva and vagina look and feel like before giving birth can help give you some clues if things have changed after giving birth.
It may help answer these questions and concerns:
- Do I have pelvic organ prolapse? (descent of the pelvic organs into the vagina)
- Am I doing a kegel correctly?
- How can I get more connected with these muscles? (for labor or sex!)
- Did I have pain in this spot before?
- Can I help decrease my risk of tearing with birth?
- If I do tear, what does it feel like compared to before?
- Why does sex hurt?
How to take a peek at your private parts
So maybe you’re somewhat willing to think about looking at your vulva – if not feeling around. But how does one go about this?
- Wash your hands, grab a hand mirror, and head somewhere you feel comfortable spreading your legs.
- Start by just looking and getting more comfortable with this area of your body
- Now spread apart your lady lips aka labia minora. If you’ve ever used a tampon, you’ve likely spread your labia minora on either side of the opening of the vagina. If you’re up for it, do this and see what it looks like.
- The opening to the vagina is where you would see pelvic organ prolapse if any exists.
- Try to kegel!
- You should see everything lift up and in towards the inside of your body.
- Watch to see if you can also relax all the way back to your resting position. If not, this may mean you have too much tightness in your pelvic floor.
If you’re interested in more anatomy, Tracy Sher has an amazing resource.
How you feel about your body
Perhaps the most important topic on this page, your body image arguably affects your experience during pregnancy and after more than the others.
Your body will change postpartum. And it’ll change while you’re growing your human!
You may think you don’t have any body-issues, but often they’re hiding under the surface. And, trust, I speak from experience.
But most women I talk to experience some anxiety about their bodies. From worrying about stretch marks to gaining weight, to concern about how they’ll look to their partner, that mean girl voice inside is too loud, too often.
One of my friends and I were talking a few weeks ago about how much her perception of her body has changed since her pregnant belly has started to grow.
She said she never knew how much of her identity was wrapped up in being an athletic, fit woman. Her feeling about her body before getting pregnant was, on the whole, positive. Yet she realized it wasn’t founded in her true worth: simply being human.
Friend, no matter what your body looks like now, or 10 years from now, you are still lovely. You are enough, right where you are.
And if you can fight for that truth, you’ll have a much better perspective on all things postpartum. Heck, you’ll have a much better perspective today.
Pregnancy prehab starts with knowing your self
If you’re looking to get pregnant or are in the early months of pregnancy, take at your core and pelvic floor. You can set yourself up for a more knowledgable postpartum.
And no matter where you are on your pregnancy journey, please remember this: be kind to yourself.
Which of the three will be the most challenging for you?