Many new mums think their bodies will just bounce back after having a baby. They assume they have their 6-week postnatal GP check up and then simply get back to life as it was. However, in my 20 years of looking after pregnant and postpartum women, I’ve found that it takes around 10–12 months to recover fully from pregnancy.
Sleep deprivation, a lack of time for self care, fluctuating hormones, breastfeeding and a cocktail of varying emotions all play a large part in the time it takes to recover. It’s important to have realistic expectations of yourself and your body, and to make sure those around you have the same expectations.
Consider your internal recovery, not just your external recovery. This includes the functioning of your bladder, bowel and pelvic floor muscles. Postnatally, women can experience an array of different pelvic symptoms, which can be unpleasant and embarrassing as they’re intimate issues that aren't often discussed.
Women say they feel like ‘the only one’ going through these things and that it’s difficult to find help. However many new mums have the following symptoms – and there is help available.
1. Urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence is a common symptom both during pregnancy and in the months following childbirth. You may experience this when you cough, sneeze or laugh (stress urinary incontinence), or if you really need to pass urine and you can’t quite get there (urge urinary incontinence). You may also notice you need to pass urine more regularly than you’d expect, or a strong desire to empty your bladder and difficulty holding on.
2. Bowel issues
Women can also experience problems with their bowels, such as leakage, urgency or difficulty controlling their wind. These symptoms can be particularly distressing, but are not uncommon, and can occur particularly after more significant perineal trauma, such as a third or fourth-degree tear.
3. Heaviness in the vagina with back or abdominal aches
Many women report a dragging or heavy sensation inside the vagina, or a feeling that there is a lump inside, which can be present alongside a back or lower abdominal ache. This may be due to some vaginal laxity or may be symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse.
4. Pain from tearing or caesarean section
85% of women will have some vaginal or perineal tearing as a result of vaginal childbirth. And although tearing is common, it can take several of months to heal fully. Don't dismiss any pain arising from this, particularly if it’s impacting your return to sex. Women who've experienced birth by caesarean section can also complain of soreness, tightness or sensitivity around their scar.
What to do if you have any of these symptoms
We recommend you seek help if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. There’s lots of medical assistance out there – speak to your GP, obstetrician or see one of our Pelvic Health Physiotherapists.
We’re passionate about supporting new mums on their journey back to health and our team of Pelvic Health Physiotherapists specialise in assessing and treating all of the issues above. Many mums benefit from assessment and individualised treatment to address their symptoms and having the support of a professional can really help in the recovery process. Treatment can include scar massage, pelvic floor muscle exercises and lifestyle modifications.
Last updated Friday 5 May 2023
First published on Tuesday 7 September 2021