Giving yourself and your body grace after giving birth


by Amy Owens, PT, DPT

May 8, 2023

Today’s society creates unreasonable expectations for women after giving birth. We can all look good with the right filter, angle and lighting—but that isn’t reality. As women, we need to understand the enormous changes in our bodies that have occurred in the nine months it took to create our child!

Our role is not to look perfect, “bounce back” quickly or dress a certain way. Our role is to be a caregiver to our new infant, and we should be proud of our bodies for what they have accomplished.

New life is a miracle. I’m here to remind you to give yourself grace and allow yourself to focus on connecting with your newborn. Forget any unrealistic expectations you may have placed on yourself (or that others may have placed on you). This is a time for healing, bonding and celebrating the new life you’ve created.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you adjust to the changes in your body and gently start to regain your pelvic floor strength.

Be proud of yourself and your body

What kind of bodily changes happen after giving birth? Stretch marks and stretched skin, of course! You’re likely well aware of these.

Between the first and third trimesters, a woman’s posture also changes significantly. The curve in your low back increases, the pelvis tilts forward, your head moves forward and your center of gravity moves forward. This can also cause balance problems. Biomechanical function can be altered, which can create pain at the low back, pelvis and hips.

Other changes depend on if you had a vaginal birth or a caesarean section, also known as C-section. If you had a vaginal birth, it is important to understand the changes to your perineum. The perineum is the skin between the vagina and the rectum. That area becomes stretched and sometimes ripped or cut to allow baby’s head to fit through the birthing canal.

If you had a C-section, however, you may experience different changes due to the surgical incision. After the incision completely heals, it is important to mobilize the scar through a technique called crossed friction massage. Place the pads of your fingertips on the scar, gently press into your skin and mobilize the deep tissue perpendicular to the scar. It is important to break up scar tissue that develops to eliminate any adhesions or potential for pain.

I often remind women of these massive changes that their bodies have undergone in those nine months—changes to your muscles, ligaments, skin and joints. It is not realistic to expect your body to snap back to its previous position overnight. It takes time.

Have grace! Love your baby, respect your body and understand the sacrifice you have made to create your miracle. Stay focused on those things, and please, do not compare yourself to anyone else, especially to any unreal portrayals on social media. Be proud of your body and what it has accomplished!

Easing back into exercise

After giving birth, women should always focus on rest and recovery physically, mentally and emotionally. As far as when to return to activity, talk with your OBGYN because every birth is different. Once you are cleared for activity, a pelvic health physical therapist can help guide you on your journey to regain strength and achieve your goals.

Immediately after birth, the focus should be on medical stability, mobility, pain management, positioning baby for feeding and scar management, if applicable. In addition, you should also focus on the ability to completely empty your bladder and fully evacuate your bowels. If the pelvic floor muscles are too tight, we don’t want to tighten them more; we want to teach those muscles to relax. If you don’t have any problems with those tasks, then begin exercise with your doctor’s approval!

Exercise is a powerful tool during this time. It can help us improve flexibility, strength, postural control and endurance. In addition, the chemical changes in your brain make you feel good!

With that said, your body is healing from a major event. I’ll tell you what I always tell women I work with: listen to your body. It will tell you what you can and can’t do. If you have increased pain or increased bleeding, then you’re doing too much. Take a few days to focus on rest and then ease back into exercise when you feel ready.

How to properly do a Kegel

Pelvic floor strengthening (also known as a Kegel) is very important as your body recovers from giving birth. However, a Kegel is more than just a squeeze. To properly contract your pelvic floor, follow these tips:

  • Gently draw in and lift up your pelvic floor muscles. They are attached to your pubic bone and create a sling that attaches to the tailbone (coccyx). • To contract those muscles, gently squeeze and lift those muscles and you should feel them lift toward your head.
  • Make sure you breathe normally while you hold those muscles!
  • The goal should be to contract your pelvic floor while you breathe for 10 seconds and repeat it 10 times.

Never contract your gluteal muscles or inner thigh. However, you should also feel your lower tummy tightening at the same time as your pelvic floor muscles. This is called your transverse abdominus, and it is very important that these two muscles work together in tandem to help support your core.

Celebrating your body

I believe everyone should find what brings them joy when it comes to exercise. This is especially true during the postpartum period when so many aspects of your life are changing. Focus on forms of movement you enjoy rather than forcing yourself into a workout routine you’ll dread keeping up with.

As you regain strength and ease into your new “normal” with a baby, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. If you have questions about how to adjust to the changes your body is experiencing or any concerns about how to safely exercise, talk to your OBGYN or find one near you today.

About the Author

Amy Owens is a pelvic health physical therapist on staff at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation in Grapevine and Argyle. She has her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Creighton University and is a Certified Pelvic Health Therapist. She enjoys helping both men and women address their pelvic health impairments.

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