When you’re busy growing another human, it can certainly take its toll on your body.
Whether your pregnancy and birth were plain sailing all the way, or more bumps in the road than you anticipated, there is one given; your body will need time to heal.
Having a hungry newborn, an ever-growing pile of laundry and a haphazard sleep schedule doesn’t go well with the post-partum recovery period, and frequently we see the expectation that new mums will simply “bounce back” within a matter of days or weeks after birth.
But the reality of that can be much different.
The NHS reports that soreness going to the toilet, bladder control issues, a swollen tummy, stretched abdominal muscles and pain are commonplace after birth. But for some mums, their physical and mental health can fall by the wayside when caring for a newborn.
Enter the Mummy MOT.
The basis of a Mummy MOT is to ensure that a new mother is given a thorough screening so she is supported back to full function. This may be because she wants to exercise, or just wants to check the tummy muscles are closing correctly and that everything is healing the way it should.
So what exactly is a Mummy MOT?
Ever heard of the fourth trimester? Well, if you’ve just given birth you’re about to enter it.
Not everyone has heard of this post-baby trimester, but it is a time when mother and baby get settled into their new life.
It can come with a few hitches as you begin a new way of life but in those first couple of weeks you may need some extra help, particularly while you are recovering from birth.
Antonia Adeniji, an osteopath, nutritionist and Mummy MOT expert, shares that the emphasis of a session is based on three examinations.
‘The vulnerable areas are the tummy muscles and pelvic floor, and there are plenty of cases of women presenting further down the line with bulging tummy gaps, pelvic pain, prolapse or urinary incontinence having stressed their body before they had fully recovered and developed sufficient strength over time.
We check the abdominal muscles and whether there is sufficient closure at the midline of the abdomen.
We also look for pelvic integrity externally for the function of the joints associated with the pelvis, as well as internally for the condition of the pelvic floor.’
She shares that some mothers may choose not to have an internal examination and focus more on other aspects of the MOT.
‘Some women are symptom-free and keen to exercise again, they simply want a thorough check to know that they are fine to go back to exercising after birth. We can help instruct them to build strength and to set realistic exercise goals.’
But what about the 6-week check-up with a doctor?
All new mums will have a 6-week check-up from their local doctor but sometimes things can be missed.
Antonia stresses that history taking and examination provide an opportunity to find things that may have developed since labour.
‘An example of this might be extreme fatigue that is unusual even for a new mother which could be related to nutritional or hormone issues. We can then refer the mother back to her GP with a letter explaining our findings and ensuring that she gets the attention she needs.
We also communicate with any relevant exercise professionals such as PTs, Pilates or Yoga teachers. We provide a report that will help inform the teacher about the pace and suitability of particular exercises for that individual mother given her birth history.’
She also shares that not only is it a physical examination but the shock of birth can bring a mixture of emotions in new mums.
‘While we are not mental health therapists, we often find that we are unofficially providing a space where a new mother can express a range of emotions that come from such a momentous life event.
Some women with traumatic experiences can be holding it together to care for their baby. Others find we are a safe space to articulate the enormity of the life change and mourn the loss of their autonomous working life without feeling judged. So while we screen and work with the body, we find we sometimes provide an unofficial emotional safe space too.’
How will a mum know if she needs a Mummy MOT?
Many mothers have no symptoms and are just curious to dig deeper to know that everything is healing well. But for some, they may have deeper concerns- quite literally.
‘New mum’s can have a bulging gap at the midline of their abdomen (diastasis recti), pain related to an episiotomy or tear, continence issues, painful sex, painful caesarean scar, pelvic pain or heaviness in the vulva, low back pain, bloating and retained shape of pregnancy, and even stiffness and pain related to long hours feeding,’ says Antonia Adeniji.
Can a mummy MOT help with diastasis recti?
Many women have never heard of diastasis recti before they have a baby but the separation of tummy muscles is common.
To discover if you have diastasis recti, the NHS recommends lying on your back with your legs bent and feet flat. Using the tips of your fingertips, regularly check if the gap has become smaller by feeling the inside edge of the muscles, just above and below your belly button. Some people can even push their fingers into the gap which varies from person to person.
Antonia advises that there is a lot that can be done with diastasis recti.
‘The muscles and connective tissue of the core can be worked on with manual therapy.
If there is chronic tightness in these areas, it can contribute to the gap at the front failing to close. Gentle exercises activating the core muscles and pelvic floor and then gradually progressively loading them appropriately is the way to help close the gap.’
But there is one big no-no with diastasis recti. She does not recommend any high-intensity crunches, situps, or leg lowering which can actually cause the muscles to fail, rather than strengthen, because the tissue is too weak for the load it is being given.
‘Women who have been very fit previously sometimes find the slower graded exercise a bit frustrating, but it bears long-term fruit in the end.’