Depression, painful sex, poochy belly and urinary incontinence. These are all symptoms a woman can experience after having a baby.
Resuming normal activities too soon after giving birth can make the symptoms worse, according to Ahwatukee physical therapist and Movement Warrior founder Tracy Hill.
Hill has an orthopedic background in treating sports injuries and now is using that experience to help postnatal women, many of whom are triathletes and runners in Ahwatukee.
“I was treating a lot of these higher-level runners who were having some of these symptoms, including lower back pain,” said Hill.
“But then after stepping back and asking them some other questions about childbearing, (like) ‘Do you leak urine when you run?’ and seeing those answers were starting to be yes, I was definitely seeing that connection.”
As the mother of two boys, ages 2 and 5, Hill has experienced postnatal challenges firsthand.
“Labor and delivery with my first boy was very traumatic, and it left me with a lot of dysfunction,” she said. “And I remember that feeling of going to my six-week follow-up with my doctor and him telling me to do what you normally do.
“For me, it was running 30-40 miles a week. And intuitively I knew that that was not OK, but the athlete in me wanted to do what I normally did. I wanted to run. I was excited.”
The following weekend, Hill went for a run.
“I came back crying because I was a mess,” Hill said. “I felt like something was going to fall out of my body and I knew that this was not normal…But it also challenged me to think that hopefully, I’m smart enough to step back and deal with my issue before I make it worse and progress safely.”
As a result of her personal experience, she wants to help other women with postnatal issues.
“There’s so much buildup to having a baby and so much care giving to a pregnant woman, making sure the baby’s healthy,” said Hill. “But then there’s this disconnect when a woman has a baby. They basically just send a woman on their own.”
Like Hill, many women are told the same thing: resume their normal activities after six weeks.
“Women want to lose their baby weight, they want to get their normal body back or they want to compete or do whatever recreational activities they previously did,” said Hill. “So, when they hear from their doctor to ‘go back and do whatever it is you do,’ they don’t know how to do it.”
As a result, women can injure themselves trying to achieve their goals.
“Women are pushing themselves to do activities they enjoy doing, and it’s at the cost of either leaking urine when theyrun or jump or even just sneezing and coughing,” explained Hill, adding:
“A lot of women struggle with the baby pooch in their belly, where they feel like it’s a fat thing of the abdomen because of having a baby. They think they just need to lose weight.”
But it could actually be a much more serious problem, such as a separation of the abdominal wall that can make a woman look like she’s still pregnant.
It also can lead to more serious problems, Hill said.
While the body undergoes a lot of healing in six weeks, not all women are ready to resume their exercise regimen.
“That’s where we need to do a better job of educating women after having the baby,” Hill said. “They can get back to their normal activity but need to do it with a safe progression under the guidance of a physical therapist who understands these issues. They can actually get back better and stronger vs. suffering from a lot of issues over the years.”
Not all women experience postpartum symptoms right after delivery. Hill said some symptoms can emerge up to eight years after having a baby if they weren’t initially addressed.
“I want to help these women who don’t know any better and they don’t know there’s help for them,” said Hill.
Resuming a normal sex life can also be a challenge after having a baby.
As a therapist focusing on sports injuries, Hill used to treat patients with scar tissue.
“But, unfortunately, when that scar tissue is vaginal, all of a sudden, we don’t talk about it,” said Hill. “It’s a tissue just like anything else, and it’s a tissue that needs to be healed and recover just like anything else.”
She said it’s not uncommon to have “pain during sex after having a baby,” something that’s not talked about.
“People don’t talk about painful sex and people don’t talk about peeing their pants when they run because it’s embarrassing,” Hill said. “So, I really want to break that taboo and say, ‘Yes, these things are common so let’s talk about them, let’s get them out in the open.’”
“I think it’s hard for a woman to express that to a man because a woman doesn’t want her husband or boyfriend to feel like he’s hurting her,” she added, stressing that communication with a partner is key.
Hill wants all women to know they can regain a normal, healthy functioning life again if they just take care of themselves.
That’s why she’s launching a six-week postpartum class that women attend once a week in person. Each week there are extra progressions women do at home accessed through an app.
To get the app and sign-up for classes, email Hill at email@example.com.
The six-week course is $350 and includes a specialized training ball designed for pelvic floor dysfunction.
The six-week live series can help at any stage of postpartum. Dates and locations scheduled so far:
Wednesdays at 5 p.m. starting today, Jan. 31 at Trainer’s Club, 6909 W. Ray Road, Chandler.
Wednesdays at 7:30 a.m. starting Feb. 21 at Strong’N’Sexy Fitness, 8154 S. Priest Drive, Tempe.
Saturdays at 8 a.m. starting March 3 at Strong’N’Sexy Fitness.