Postpartum Physical Therapy: A Way to Heal After Birth
Written by Kaylene Hernandez, pelvic health physical therapist at IU Health North Hospital
Postpartum rehabilitation includes occupational therapists and physical therapists who are specialists in recovery after pregnancy, labor and delivery. We work with moms to address their goals and help them return to the activities they love. Sometimes it seems that the focus can quickly shift from the pregnant mom to the care of the newborn baby immediately after delivery. Social media also often reinforces the catchy but unrealistic message of “bounce back culture.” However, postpartum rehabilitation provides a resource to support postpartum women in the “fourth trimester,” the early weeks and months following delivery.
Postpartum physical therapy is beneficial for a variety of women.
We can help address many common but frustrating symptoms that arise after pregnancy, labor and delivery. Maybe a patient is struggling with returning to running due to urinary incontinence, working on returning to exercise safely with a diastasis rectus, managing painful intercourse or dealing with a painful scar after a c-section. Postpartum rehabilitation can provide applicable solutions and realistic strategies to support the postpartum journey.
The time needed for rehabilitation can vary.
All women can benefit from postpartum rehabilitation. However, the care is individualized to the patient’s needs. The time needed for rehab can vary greatly. One patient may only need a single visit for a brief screening while another patient may need extended care to address a variety of symptoms. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology released a statement in 2018, “ACOG now recommends postpartum care should be an ongoing process, rather than a single encounter and all women have contact with their OB/GYN or other obstetric care providers within the first 3 weeks postpartum.” One six-week OB/GYN postpartum check is standard practice, but postpartum rehabilitation can offer additional and ongoing support. Even if a patient is symptom-free, we can provide preventative care, education about early warning signs, perform screenings and assess readiness to return to exercise.
Treatment is based on each patient’s specific needs.
Postpartum rehabilitation treatment varies based on a patient’s needs. After the evaluation, we create a treatment plan specifically for each patient. If a patient is in pain, therapists are likely focusing more on relaxing tight muscles and increasing range of motion. If a patient is experiencing muscle weakness, a therapist is likely focusing on strengthening and building support. However, treatment ranges from manual therapy, scar management, dry needling, posture training, therapeutic exercises, functional activity progression, pelvic floor muscle training and neuromuscular re-education. The intervention tools and principles that are commonly used in physical therapy and occupational therapy are still used in postpartum rehabilitation, but in the hands of postpartum certified therapists.
It is a misconception that postpartum rehab is only for women who recently had a baby. These symptoms can arise at different times across a woman’s lifespan. It is never too late to reach out to a women’s health therapist to receive care. For more information, call IU Health North Rehab Services at 317-688-2021 or visit iuhealth.org/childbirth.