Lisa De Sanctis might be your go-to for style advice via her thoughtful and beautiful Instagram and blog See Want Shop, but did you know she’s a qualified womens health physio? Currently in the third trimester of her own pregnancy, we asked Lisa to fill us in on what a women's physio does, and why you should make it a postpartum priority appointment.
What happens at a postpartum physio check
“At your six-weeks post-birth appointment, a women's health physiotherapist will provide some really important assessments and advice for new mums,” says Lisa. “They will assess the function of your pelvic floor muscles, check in with you regarding your bowel and bladder control, assess if you have any abdominal separation as well as provide you with individual guidance in your return to exercise.” In your postpartum GP appointment this can sometimes be brushed over quite quickly (there's a lot of other things to get through), but the physio's check is very dedicated.
It’s important, whether it was a C-section or vaginal birth
“Seeing a women's health physiotherapist postpartum is beneficial for all women after birth, not just those who have experienced C-sections or an instrumental labour,” says Lisa. “In saying that, it is vital that women who have experienced significant perineal tears, an episiotomy or are having problems with bladder control are assessed at this time as their pelvic floor function is more likely to be compromised.”
Pelvic floor, core and more
There are several things a women's health physiotherapist can focus on to aid your recovery. “Your physiotherapist can provide you with feedback as to whether you are performing your pelvic floor exercises correctly and prescribe you with an individual program as to how many and often to be doing these at home,” says Lisa. “It is very common for women to perform pelvic floor exercises incorrectly so having this one on one feedback is essential in ensuring you are strengthening these important muscles correctly.” Ab separation is another big issue they help with. “If you have any separation of your abdominal muscles, a physio can provide you with advice on how to protect the area as well as what exercises you should perform to encourage healing.” And there’s more, “If you are experiencing any musculoskeletal issues such as pelvic girdle pain or upper back pain, which are common postpartum, they can also assess and provide a management plan for these conditions. They will also give you individualised advice as to how to safely return to exercise.”
It’s never too late
“Ideally your first appointment with a womens physio would be at 6 weeks postpartum,” says Lisa. “However, if you miss this timeline do not fret! You can of course see a women's health physiotherapist at any time and there is no cut off point. Even if you are months or years postpartum, there are still benefits of being assessed and treated. You definitely don't need problems to occur or worsen to book an appointment, and you can always book in earlier if you are feeling concerned about your symptoms.”
The prep work can pay off
“There is lots of great evidence to support exercise in pregnancy and it can make a significant contribution to your postpartum recovery,” says Lisa “In saying that, everyone's pregnancy journey is different so please don't compare yourself to others. Some women can be severely limited by issues like pelvic girdle pain and other musculoskeletal issues which are very common in pregnancy. Again, it is always best to be assessed by a women's health physiotherapist who can provide you with advice about what exercises you should be doing and what movements to avoid as there are many movements which can aggravate your pain. There are some great low impact exercise options in pregnancy which are great at keeping your cardiovascular fitness up and can help prepare your body for labour including yoga, pilates, swimming and stationary bike riding.
Lisa’s prep and recovery plan
“I was very active prior to pregnancy so I have tried my best to keep my fitness levels up throughout my pregnancy,” says Lisa. “I do pilates, as well as low impact cardio training like swimming laps and peddling on the stationary bike. I was experiencing some pelvic girdle pain earlier on in my pregnancy and since then I have been doing pilates 2-3 times a week to strengthen the muscles in and around my pelvis. It has made a huge difference so it's been nice to practice what I preach! I am also doing my pelvic floor exercises regularly and some gentle abdominal strengthening to minimise any potential postpartum separation. I would have loved to join an antenatal exercise class but unfortunately due to lockdowns/COVID these haven't been running. Postnatally, I will start with pelvic floor exercises, gentle abdominal exercises and something low impact, like walking. I shall of course book in for my six-week check up with my women's health physiotherapist before returning to any exercise beyond that.”
“Equipment like exercise bands, ankle weights and foam rollers can be great for home exercise programs prescribed by your physio,” says Lisa. “For those experiencing pelvic girdle pain, taping, mitton belts and tubi-grips can be beneficial in managing symptoms. Postnatally, supportive clothing such as SRC shorts and leggings are fantastic for pelvic floor swelling and heaviness, pelvic girdle pain and recovery in general.SRC Recovery Leggings