It’s that time of year again, where fitness advertising cashes in on the fact that we’ve all eaten too many biscuits and have been sitting on our bums a lot for over a week. What do you think about new year’s resolutions? Do you make them? Do you ever keep them?
I think there’s a lot to be said for assessing things that you’ve achieved over the course of a year, and looking ahead to what you’d like to put in place in the next. But I also know that most new year’s resolutions involve giving up something, or becoming something entirely different. Which may set you up for failure before you’ve even begun.
How about new year’s intentions? Spring is a time of rejuvenation and can often feel overwhelming with the urge to find your “new beginning”. Instead of a drawing up a long list of resolutions of things to change, or goals that you need to achieve, how about beginning a habit of setting an intention every morning?
“Today, I promise to be kind to myself”
“Today, I will slow down and try not to rush”
“Today, I will believe in myself”
“Today, I will be my own best friend”
“Today, I will truly listen to my body and honour its needs”
Breaking down your goals into micro daily intentions make them more doable, and has the knock on effect of giving you a small regular dose of achievement, self-love and positivity if you keep your intention in mind throughout the day. And if you don’t remember, well, tomorrow is a new day, right?
It’s been a pretty amazing 2018 with ups, downs and the carousel of life in between. Sending you all the wellness, health and vitality for 2019.
Much love and thanks for being here, it’s much appreciated!
Motherhood is the one thing able to send you from feeling like a million dollars to a piece of poo, in one swoosh of a baby wipe. It contains our zenith, and our nadir. You’re having a great mothering day: you wake up after three hours’ unbroken sleep (which constitutes a great night), you manage to have a shower, feed and clothe your children, brush all teeth and bundle them out the door vaguely on time. You’re feeling bloody amazing. Then BAM! A thoughtless comment from someone slaps you round the face, making you feel like a shit mum:
‘You had an emergency caesarean? That must be because you had an epidural. I managed on just lavender oil for all my home births.’
‘My two have always slept like a dream, I think it’s probably because I’m quite a chilled out mum, they can sense that. Maybe if you were more relaxed your children would sleep better?’
Looking a little deeper, you may be able to recognize that, depending on the day, time, moment, that perfect supermum isyou, sometimes. Imagine those moments when you’re not judging yourself harshly, because all is calm – when you are the fleetingly glossy schoolgates mum kissing your smiling child goodbye, running happily after the non-tantruming toddler, no glitches, no hitches, no spanners – how would you look to another mum in the playground in those moments? It’s all about your own perception.
A recent study of 2,000 mums in the UK (a chocolate-filled crepe company commissioned the survey, possibly acknowledging that being a mum and eating chocolate is a marriage made in heaven) revealed more than half have a number of friends and acquaintances who “portray themselves as the perfect mother”. But 60 per cent claim they find these kinds of mums “highly irritating”, while nearly three quarters dislike it when mums “show off their prowess on social media”. So it’s a tricky internal tug of war – we are collectively reaching for an unattainable ideal of Supermum perfection, but we also sort of hate those smug mums who appear to have achieved it.
The Supermum Mythis a book for those seeking to find a shift in perception and stop the tugging from one side to the other. Through learning about the psychology behind our core belief system, and breaking down why we react and behave the way that we do, we can work out why we have come to our Supermum imagined ideal. Then we can learn how to turn it around: to change your reactions to perceived judgements, view your own achievements in a different light, be kinder to yourself – and by implication, to others. We’re all struggling our own battles.
In the book my goal is to help you rebuild your confidence in your own intrinsic wisdom, and drown out the niggling competitive doubts that can grow to cause some serious psychological problems: low self-esteem and anxiety. Embracing the imperfect, and being good enough. It’s not about lowering your expectations of yourself, it’s about accepting and acknowledging how well you’re doing.
The Supermum Mythaims to help you lift yourself up in those days you feel you’re failing at motherhood, when all you seem to see is images of Instagram feeds full of smiling mums cherishing perfect mothering moments, when you feel your life in comparison is a shambolic mountain of weetabix-encrusted Lego.
Negative feelings such as envy creep in, and we judge other (super)mums as “smug” if they seem to breeze through the daily grind taking it all in their stride (and celebrating every minute on their social media), while we’re stuck feeling bored, tired, incompetent and inadequate in comparison.We seem to have an internal battle: desperately reaching for perfect supermum status – while secretly despising those women you feel are achieving it effortlessly.
I just worry all the time that I’m not a good enough mum to her, that she is bored at home, that I’m not setting a good example, not making her happy. I want her to feel safe and happy and loved and wanted, but I don’t know if I’m achieving that. I don’t want her to be damaged by my inability to cope or respond appropriately to the more challenging bits of motherhood. I ultimately want her to have the happy childhood that I didn’t. I feel I am failing.
Sally, mum of 1
Become a happier mum
Ultimately, we just want to be rewarded with an acknowledgement that we are doing a Good Job. But this kind of concrete reward system doesn’t really happen as a mother in the way that it might have done in our education or professional life before we became mums. We want our children to be ‘safe, loved and happy’, and all our actions are geared towards this one arguably intangible goal, so we often don’t allow ourselves to recognize the achievement that striving for this goal in itself makes us pretty awesome mums.
The Supermum Mythwill provide you with the tools to actively move forward positively in softening into your mothering reality vs. perfect ideal, and unlock the reasons why you got to where you are, by retracing psychological steps to how your core belief system was formed, and the factors that shaped your opinions and desires when it comes to your own mothering. Essentially, this book is here to help you to feel ok about the fact that sometimes you think you’re a crap mum.
We’re all looking for some guidance occasionally. Seven years into my motherhood adventure, it’s still a constant source of amazement how incompetent my children can make me feel on a daily basis. How any poise and authority I might have wielded in a previous life or in my career is instantly thrown out the window when my son calls me a poo poo head and refuses to put his shoes on. When we feel helplessly incompetent, we lose trust in our instincts and can only seem to focus on what we’re crap at: the cup becomes half emptied.
Getting the hang of motherhood is less about controlling everything and more about realising what makes you happiest as a mother, and feeling confident enough to trust your instincts. With parenting, much of our underlying unhelpful thinking is a form of perfectionism, of aiming for ultra high-achievement. But it’s hard to see it for what it is, as it manifests itself as extreme self-doubt.
We tend to think of perfectionism as an affliction that applies to highly strung Stepford mums who have perfect hair and could win Bake Off in their sleep. But it’s just as likely to strike anybody who simply really cares about doing their best for their child (that’ll be all of us, then?!). Once you accept that the anxiety and self-doubt are a manifestation of an unhelpful mental habit, it becomes easier to challenge them.
The Supermum Myth will wander through flash points at various mum-life stages: Pregnancy, post birth, the toddler tunnel through to school days, juggling work around all this, with quotes and experiences from mums throughout. We’ll explore how you’re feeling and the range of what’s totally normal emotionally, hormonally, etc, for you at each of these phases. There are activities peppered throughout, utilizing different therapies with suggestions, tips, techniques on how to overcome obstacles, negotiate difficult experiences and tricky feelings.
If you’re feeling low on energy, depleted as a mum and painfully aware of your inner critic every day, this book could help you get back on an even keel. How are you today?
Anxiety organises our responses to threats to our life, health and wellbeing. Focuses on our escape from danger. It encompasses feelings of unease, worry and fear – and this includes both the emotions and the physical sensationswe might experience when we are worried or nervous about something. This is related to the ‘fight or flight’ response – our normal biological reaction to feeling threatened. So, for example: pre-historic man used to have to go out and hunt for his dinner, and he may well have come across a sabre-toothed tiger on the lookout for its own, human-shaped, meal. Being alert and able to flee at any given moment was what enabled pre-historic man to survive. We still have this exact same fight-or-flight hormonal and physical response to perceived threats and danger. But the vast lucky majority of us are not under any physical threat, and our perception of ‘danger’ can escalate out of all proportion, leaving us feeling like crap, or gradually becoming scared of and avoiding the activities that we used to be carefree about, because everything is veiled with cloak of fear.
Challenge your thoughts. Don’t believe every thought you think, know that you have the power to either welcome thoughts in, or ask them to leave. Anxiety makes us view the world as very threatening. It’s important to aim for a healthy balance, between what’s real and what’s your anxiety simply making shit up. Imagine you’re in a maze with your child, having fun on a day out: then anxiety pushes us into believing its cul de sacs are safe and convinces us to stay there whimpering, waiting to be rescued.
Recent figures (2016) from the NHS show that anxiety is on the rise, particularly among young women. As a mum, you’re more likely to suffer from anxiety if you have suffered miscarriages, or had a traumatic birth, or if you had problems with fertility. Or it may simply have come out of the blue, possibly a symptom of postnatal depression, or a result of being physically and emotionally depleted by your birthing and mothering experience and losing some of your resilience. Let’s have a look at some strategies for dealing with the physical effects of anxiety. Anxiety is a normal healthy reaction. It happens to everyone in times of danger or in worrying situations. When you are anxious, your body system speeds up. In certain circumstances this can be an advantage (e.g. if you are in danger). It means you are ready for action and enables you to respond quickly if necessary.
Anxiety and your body. When we feel anxious a chain of automatic responses happen in our bodies, which prepare us for action. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response and can be traced back to our evolutionary past. Imagine the primitive caveman threatened by a wild animal. He needs to be prepared for vigorous action: either to fight or run away from the threat. We still possess this survival reaction although nowadays it is often triggered by situations that are not actually life threatening.
The physical symptoms of anxiety include: difficulty relaxing, butterflies in the stomach, shakiness, palpitations (heart beating quickly), difficulty breathing, feeling faint, tense muscles, excess sweating or blushing, needing to go to the toilet more often.
When a person anticipates or encounters a dangerous situation, a hormone called adrenaline is automatically released into the bloodstream. This causes a number of changes in our body which are designed to prepare us to respond to the danger (i.e. by fighting or running away). Our breathing rate increases because we need more oxygen in the body in preparation for increased physical activity. Our heart rate increases to pump the additional oxygen and adrenaline round the body quickly. With all this increased activity, our bodies heat up so we sweat more, which is how the body cools itself down when it is overheating. We need to go to the toilet more frequently and the function of this is to eliminate excess weight so that we can be ready for action. In other words, these changes are anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety symptoms are the body’s automatic response to being in a threatening situation, and are designed to prepare us to fight the perceived danger or run away from it. The problem is that sometimes the fight flight response switches on in situations that are not actually physically dangerous. When the fight flight response switches on in a normal situation, such as in the supermarket, or in a meeting with someone, it can become problematic.
Very often when we have bouts of anxiety they experience disturbing thoughts. For example, we may think something terrible and catastrophic is going to happen, and can’t see beyond that reality. Many people are unaware that they are even having these thoughts until they have been consumed by them, which makes you feel more anxious or frightened. These thoughts are not useful or even true. So once you begin to recognise this type of thoughts you can learn to challenge them. THOUGHTS ARE NOT FACTS. Concentrating on what is actually happening right here, right now, rather than what you think might happen, will help break the charge of anxiety.
Top tips for making friends with anxiety
Remember anxiety is a normal emotion, a purposeful emotion which ultimately aims to look after you and keep you/your child from harm. Look at your anxious thoughts, physical sensations and behaviour habits. Write them down. Understanding what anxiety looks like for you will help you tackle it.
Breathe. Deep breathing is the number one way to switch off your anxiety. Is your anxiety a cat with bristled fur, ready to pounce? See how you can get your cat to curl up and purr blissfully instead. Practise calm, breathing and soften your body.
Feel your fear, and do it anyway. Work out what kind of situations you tend to avoid or cause you fear. And try to actually go towards these situations. I’m not saying actually put yourself in danger obviously, but gently expose yourself to situations that normally you would allow yourself to run from without question. The idea is that you try to remain in the situation until your anxiety gives up and goes home. It’s not the easiest road, but it does work in the long term for reducing symptoms of anxiety by ultimately making you realise that ‘it’s not that bad actually’.
You can also find plenty of other ways to soften your anxiety in The Supermum Myth. How is your anxiety today? xxx
Mindfulness is definitely a buzzword, like many a new fad in the wellness industry we may have reached peak saturation in terms of hearing about this as a skill/method/technique. Which is a shame as I think it makes people roll their eyes when they hear the word, rather than prick up their ears. How do you feel about mindfulness? For me, it has been transformational in terms of my day to day length of tether. Sleep deprivation and the associated other demands on your body and mind through pregnancy and motherhood can leave you feeling scattered, tetchy, angry, Hulk Mum. Mindfulness offers a bit of a pause, a life buoy for those moments when you feel like you’ve fallen into a choppy sea of anxiety or anger.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental discipline that enables us to respond differently to challenging circumstances, sensations, emotions and thoughts rather than follow our habitual reactions. Mindfulness is now widely considered to be an inherent quality of human consciousness – what makes us human is our capacity to turn our attention and awareness to the present moment. Mindfulness can be cultivated through meditation practice and increases engagement with what our habits and behaviours are, allowing for a clearer understanding of how your thoughts and emotions can impact on our health and how much we enjoy our life.
Mindfulness-based approaches in healthcare began in the late 1970s the USA with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. In the 1990s Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed; drawing from CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and MBSR, by Mark Williams at Oxford University, John Teasdale at Cambridge and Zindel Segal in Canada. MBCT is now a recognised and recommended way of reducing the risk of recurrence in depression and anxiety disorders (NICE 2009).
The definition of Mindfulness
‘The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non- judgmentally’
Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems during pregnancy, with around 12% of women experiencing depression and 13% experiencing anxiety at some point – many women will experience both. Depression and anxiety also affect 15–20% of women in the first year after childbirth.
How can Mindfulness help in pregnancy and motherhood?
MBCT is already established and recommended by NICE as an effective treatment for the prevention of recurrent depression
Research into the prevention of depression in pregnancy and the postnatal period has not yet identified an effective treatment (Dennis et al 2005)
Early research suggests mindfulness could be beneficial in the perinatal period
‘Participants showed increased childbirth self-efficacy and a trend towards lower pain catastrophizing and significantly lower depression symptoms post-course than controls; the difference grew in magnitude postpartum’
Duncan, L et al (2014). Mind in Labor: Effects of mind/body training on childbirth appraisals and pain medication use during labor
‘A mindfulness-based course that combines mindfulness training with information and coping methods regarding pregnancy, childbirth and parenting concerns is more likely to optimise maternal well-being during this unique and important reproductive interval’
CM Guardino et al (2013) Randomised controlled pilot trial of mindfulness training for stress reduction during pregnancy
Practising mindfulness allows you to cultivate skills to enhance pain management, release stress, anxiety and other scrunchy emotions during the often turbulent transition to parenthood and, well, everyday life with small people
You learn to truly pay attention to present moment experiences (sensations, thoughts, feelings), what you’re feeling right here, right now, deliberately and non-judgementally
Mindfulness help participants to see more clearly the patterns of the mind, helping to avoid an escalation of swirly negative thinking and the tendency to be functioning on autopilot
Mindfulness for childbirth and parenting has the potential to reduce the risk of postnatal depression and increase your ‘availability’ of attention for the baby. Offers you a buffer for those days when everything is a bit pharghhhnnngggg! Literally offers you a bit of breathing space to process and respond rather than constantly react.
All the skills you learn through focusing on mindfulness are relevant throughout pregnancy, through your childbirth experience and day to day parenting … and are transferrable life skills – for the whole of motherhood life.
What I love about mindfulness approaches
The thing that I personally find so effective about the mindful approach is that it works with YOU, with your body, your senses, your thoughts, it’s simply a way of tuning into your internal radio which is constantly playing. It works beautifully with movement such as Pilates, so for me it’s a natural link to what I already teach mums for working with their body – looking to have a similar focus on the mechanics of the mind as well. It’s simply offering you a kind of map to understanding your mind and being able to navigate without feeling so lost. Steering yourself as opposed to being blown by the winds of your mind without realising.
Are you interested in finding out more about how mindfulness can help you in pregnancy and birth, and can help you in your mothering day? Have a look in The Supermum Myth, there are plenty of mindfulness-based activities within, which will start to foster a deeper connection and awareness of your mental landscape. And in Pilates for Pregnancy I offer lots of mindfulness-based approaches for your BODY-MIND, including some hypnobirthing techniques for your birth experience.
I offer one-to-one coaching packages and workshops for pregnancy and early motherhood, helping you to be the calmer, confident mum you always knew you could be. Get in touch if you’d like to work with me.
I’m so delighted and proud to say that I have passed my first level of Teaching Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy with the British Mindfulness Institute. My own mental health as a mum has been so powerfully enhanced by MBCT techniques in the writing of The Supermum Myth (such a huge learning curve for me and one that definitely has changed my life!), and I can’t wait to bring this knowledge and insight into my pre- and postnatal workshops and classes. I’m also launching my MIND-BODY for Mums toolkit next year, so watch this space.
Here’s a mini meditation which you can do daily (multiple times a day if you need to!), to check in with your body, your mind, your tension, your heart. Even just building in awareness day to day can help ease any pressure and allow you a bit of insight about how you’re doing, which can keep the pot from boiling over. A mini mediation is perfect for feeling like it’s not something ‘extra’ to add to your To Do list but something that you can slot into the gaps. 2 minutes here, 3 minutes there. Can be done anytime, anyplace – at softplay, in the playground, wherever you are.
Mind, Body, Heart Mini Meditation
Sit up a bit taller. Softly close your eyes, or gaze down at the floor. Take 3 deep, slow, conscious breaths. As you breathe:
Mind: Take a moment to notice what thoughts are here. Stories, images, planning, memories, critique…what is the narrative that is most loud today? Notice your thoughts, and imagine each as a butterfly. Are there thousands of butterflies jostling for space? Can you notice them, and allow them to release? Are there some that just stick around refusing to budge? Try not to get caught up in your thoughts, simply let them be noticed. See them as separate mental events, not as part of you. Try not to judge or label: they aren’t good, or bad, they just are.
Heart: What emotions are you feeling? Can you identify what is the ‘loudest’ emotion present? Anger? Sadness? Happiness? A mixture? How strong is the energy from your emotion? Do you feel any physical sensations related to it, once you’ve noticed it?
Body: check in with your body. Notice what’s happening – what’s the weather like? How do you feel? Tension? Aches, pains? How’s your energy level? Don’t try to change anything or judge what you notice, just be open to it, listen to what your body is saying.
Now, continue to breathe and expand your awareness to your whole self – what are you feeling right now in mind, heart, body, breath. Breathe, deeply, fully, here for as long as you have available – be that 1 minute or 20.
Allow this spacious awareness to continue to take in sensations, thoughts, emotions as they arrive and as they leave, like waves onto the shore.
Pregnancy workshop this week
Join me for a pregnancy workshop in Peckham this Thursday introducing a toolkit of tips to help you release anxiety and soothe your body as you enter the next phase of your life.
Your Confident Mothermorphosis
This workshop uses techniques from Pilates and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to connect to your body and calm your mind and spirit, enhance your feelings of self-compassion and confidence in the journey ahead. Including a guided meditation and breathing techniques which will equip you well both for your birth experience and into early motherhood.
I’m a pre- and postnatal Pilates and wellness coach specialising in pelvic floor and diastasis recti. I’m also a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) teacher, weaving together body–mind work to help alleviate the mental health issues that motherhood and pregnancy can present, such as anxiety, self-doubt and overwhelm. My mission is to help mums feel stronger, happier and calmer.
Get in touch – are you pregnant, or a new mum? Do you suffer from anxiety or a constant feeling of not quite achieving enough? Are you feeling physical under par? I think I can help – you’re not alone x x
We’ve all heard of ‘postnatal depression’ and it looms large in your imagination as a scary ‘thing’ that might happen after the baby arrives. Increasingly being recognised, though, is the fact that heightened levels of anxiety or low feelings during pregnancy can increase the risk of developing postnatal depression. And perinatal anxiety is more commonly being diagnosed as a standalone condition, separate from postnatal depression. ‘Perinatal’ is the period which encompasses pregnancy and the first year into early motherhood.
Figures released in 2015 by the Royal College of Midwives suggest that up to 20% of women experience perinatal mental illness during pregnancy and in the first year of their babies’ lives. It’s particularly common if you’ve struggled with fertility issues, or have had recurrent miscarriages. The new pregnancy guidelines published by NICE for healthcare professionals suggest that there should be ‘screening questions’ asked at regular pregnancy checks, to look out for warning signs, and support should be offered where needed.
Anxiety is the natural response to times of change: it is a normal human reaction, your brain is hardwired to perceive threats and respond to those threats by asking you to run the hell out of there, or fight, or freeze like a rabbit. When you’re pregnant, your future suddenly looks different, and your brain is physiologically changing to equip you for motherhood, which means that the area of your brain responsible for your fight or flight, the amygdala, actually grows during pregnancy, ensuring that you are more alert for dangers that could affect your baby. A wonderful and miraculous brain adaptation to ensure the survival of the human species… but less handy for modern motherhood when it’s work-related emails, financial worries or the stress of your commute which may be triggering this response day to day, rather than a predator in the bushes.
When anxiety comes out of balance in your emotional “team”, and begins to speak more loudly in your internal dialogue is where it can cause problems. Perinatal anxiety is an issue only where it reaches beyond regular normal ‘worry’, and into something that affects and influences your day to day behaviour and decisions – you’d have to be slightly unusual to sail through pregnancy without ever freaking out about your growing baby, your life ahead, the birth, the fact that you’ve run out of chocolate digestives … No, this is where normal worry tips into something that starts to control your life in a negative way and needs to be managed.
The Maternal Mental Health Alliance describes perinatal depression and anxiety as including constant symptoms such as ‘tumble-dryer mind’, insomnia, feeling tense and irritable, social paranoia, shakiness, blurred sight, racing heart and breathlessness. If you recognise these symptoms in yourself, make sure you chat to your midwife or GP, and please, you’re not alone and there is no shame in seeking help, so don’t suffer in silence.
‘I was surprised by how I seemed to change from being relatively easy going to suddenly very fearful and jittery about everything. I spoke to my midwife about it and apparently it’s quite normal. My GP referred me for a course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) to try and deal with it before it became serious.’ Rosie, mum of 2
What can I do about it?
Question your thoughts – anxiety thrives in the space between your thoughts and your emotional response to them. So, tell yourself that THOUGHTS ARE NOT FACTS if your mind has gone into overthinking overdrive. Journal, when your thoughts seem to be overpowering your brain’s ability to temper their force. And meditate. Offer your thoughts a chance to shine – give them centre stage, and try to observe their acting as if on stage, removed with a curious distance, rather than listen within the emotional whirl.
Share the load and talk to someone about it. It takes confidence to speak up, but try not to feel scared to admit to feeling less than ecstatic if it’s clear that you’re feeling low or anxious most of the time. Even if you’re not able to confide in your partner or open up to your midwife, acknowledge to yourself that you’re feeling this way and try to incorporate managing techniques into your pregnancy – take a regular yoga or mindfulness class, or allow yourself some pampering time – or, simply take five deep breaths. Your breath is the surest way out of fight or flight, as deep breathing physically triggering the balancing parasympathetic nervous system to calm and soothe you. Anything that reduces tension in the body will help you to calm the mind. If you feel happy to, ask to be referred for counselling, which can give you some tools to keep your mental health on an upward trajectory.
‘I did worry about how parenthood would affect me. I’m not a fan of uncertainty and in lots of ways your first pregnancy is one of the most uncertain times of your life!’ Natalie, mum of two
Could it be serious?
If left unchecked and out of balance, perinatal depression can unfold into postnatal depression and really impact on your enjoyment of motherhood, so it’s really worth investigating and taking steps to improve your understanding of anxiety and learning how to soothe yourself into calm.
I’ve just finished writing Postnatal Pilates – I cannot wait for this to be available as a resource for mums to take ownership of their physical and emotional recovery after birth. But, what exactly is “the postnatal period”?
It is not a small window of time that exists after you have a baby. It’s not a finite period where you have temporarily become a mother. It’s not a brief stop in your journey along the way. Often I’m asked “am I still postnatal?”, or “I had my baby two years ago so I’m not postnatal any more”…but, in my view, if you have ever had a baby, you are postnatal. Always. For the rest of your life.
The word “postnatal” is misunderstood – swept under the carpet, banished, humbled, belittled. We try to narrow it down to an arbitrary period of 6 weeks. Something to get through, to pass, to deal with and then move away from and “get back to normal”.
But – you have changed. Your body, your heart, your mind has changed. Forever. You have experienced your matrescence.
It’s true that a very important and intense period of postpartum healing occurs in the few weeks and months after you have had your baby, when you’re riding the hormonal and emotional rollercoaster and often in free fall, blindfolded. When that settles and an equilibrium is found, you’ve completed your metamorphosis. Often, though, the physical healing journey is ongoing – particularly if you’ve had a caesarean birth or otherwise experienced physical or emotional trauma.
You may be craving getting back to “regular life”. To have this postnatal period end and become “normal” once more. But please be gentle with your new self. The postnatal period doesn’t end just because you’ve stopped breastfeeding, gone back at work or once you fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans. You will indeed be labelled by healthcare and some fitness professionals as “no longer postnatal”, but this undermines the fact that the physiological (and psychological) issues of pregnancy and birth may have a long-term impact. Never allow yourself to be fobbed off because you had your baby “ages ago” but are still suffering from a weak core or pelvic floor issues. Investigate these things rather than wishing they would just somehow go away.
You will be strong, vital again. You will have energy. You will find your identity. It may simply take a bit of thought and love. You’ll get there. And you’re not alone.
If you have any questions or just want to chat about your journey into motherhood, get in touch! xxx
If I could have known the power of JUST ONE THING postnatally first time round, it would have been the immensely healing and restorative power of abdominal massage. Particularly post-caesarean, but arguably essential as a general post-pregnancy recovery tool. All new mums should be given the gift of understanding how much power you have in your own hands to stimulate your healing, to foster your sense of self-compassion, to begin to reconnect to your belly again now that your baby has evacuated the premises.
In many cultures, there is a confinement period for new mothers: in China women “do the month” and are tended to by their relatives and community for a month in order to look after their physical recovery. In Malaysian villages, women are massaged and wrapped with sashes infused with healing essential oils, to ensure that their body and heart are protected and repair after being so opened, physically and emotionally, by the experience of giving birth. These practices offer a time when the new mother is looked after, nourished and helped to heal, her breastmilk production is stimulated, the blood circulation to her organs is enhanced. There are practices such as in the Closing the Bones ceremony, which hails from Ecuador, where the mother is offered a sacred space to connect to her body again after the epic adventure of pregnancy, her bones are literally closed, her hips rocked and massaged to rebuild her pelvic strength and integrity, the massage helping to heal and close the abdominal stretch of the rectus muscle.
And what do we do here in the west? We go straight home from our birthing experience, shaken to our core albeit hopefully elated, and hope to get into our “pre-pregnancy jeans” as son as we can, and eat biscuts on the sofa receiving a thousand visitors, without any real time to soften and rest, to lie naked with your baby and allow your body and hormones to play into the very vulnerable and fragile domino effect of their natural recovery process. And then two years down the line we accept our pelvic pain, incontinence or back ache as an “inevitable” part of motherhood.
Part of your recovery is being able to let go and release tension, physical tension, AND mental, emotional, visceral. Connecting to your tummy through massage is an extremely powerful way to do so. As women, we often have little love for our tummy, there is a world of complex emotional responses when we think about our bellies and particularly post-pregnancy with societal expectations of “getting your body back” (IT NEVER WENT ANYWHERE!). We regularly sucking the muscles in tight and create extra tension after birth. Simply not breathing widely, fully and deeply can impact your healing as breathing is so inextricably linked to pelvic floor optimum function and release.
Self-massage allows you to reconnect to these muscles, to help them to let go, allowing you to move your whole body easier. Massage will enable you to release tightness in your breathing process which will enable the diaphragm to release fully into your belly, triggering a full open pelvic floor release and lift. Stimulating your blood flow which will help to reduce swelling, which will bring back sensation, which will make you FEEL BETTER. Massage can help to ensure that adhesions don’t form: this is scar tissue forming in the fascia between your muscles which can stick your organs together like glue. There are so many layers of healing that go on post birth but particularly post-caesarean that it is, in my view, absolutely outrageous that we are not told about the benefits of abdominal massage post-section, as it can help to prevent myriad aches, pains and worries in the future. Not only that, there is strong research that massage can help improve bowel movements, which in turn helps alleviate pressure on your pelvic floor, scar and abdominal separation.
And the best part of all, massage is soothing and healing. It is sensual. It fosters a sense of self love and forgiveness. And it’s free! What’s not to love about that?
You can read more postnatal tips in my Pilates for Pregnancy book, which is out now. I’d love to hear your questions about pregnancy or postnatal strength and healing. Get in touch! xxx
I’m excited to be adding two monthly workshops to the schedule in the new year. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you’re in south London, come along!
For mums to be
Your Confident Mothermorphosis
A workshop introducing a toolkit of tips to help you release anxiety and soothe your body as you enter the next phase of your life. This workshop uses techniques from Pilates and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to connect to your body and calm your mind and spirit, enhance your feelings of self-compassion and confidence in the journey ahead. Including a guided meditation and breathing techniques which will equip you well both for your birth experience and into early motherhood.
Pelvic floor and core restore
Pilates for postnatal rehabilitation. This workshop focuses on breathing, alignment and pelvic floor awareness, releasing tension and finding your deep inner strength – suitable if you’re suffering from diastasis recti. Find out how to connect to your centre in your day to day activities rather than make time for “pelvic floor exercise”. Rebuild your foundations to feel more energised in your mothering day. We’ll finish with a short (baby-friendly) guided meditation to leave you relaxed and uplifted.
How do you feel about your pregnancy and early motherhood experience? I’d love to hear. Get in touch and tell me your story xxx
Forward leaning when feeding your baby is literally a pain in the neck. In some ways aches and pains are inevitable as a new mum, but being mindful of your posture will go some way to avoiding the worst of it, and more importantly, ensure that you’re not entrenching pain into your body for the long term.
When you’re feeding, particularly when breastfeeding but also relevant if you’re bottle feeding: bring your baby up to you rather than hunching forward for your boob to reach your baby’s mouth. Prop baby or your elbow up with enough pillows and cushions, maybe have a couple of pillows on your lap underneath baby to support his body closer to your own without strain.
Always remember to bring baby to boob, rather than lower your boob to baby. Notice what kind of position you adopt when you’re feeding. Often we’re crouched and distorted, balancing on our toes with a crook neck, to ensure that our baby is happy and comfortable – mother yourself a bit. Bolster your back and arm with pillows, make sure you have a footrest if you need it. You’ll avoid longer term neck, lower back and foot issues by taking a moment to consider your own comfort.
Neck stretch and release
After each feed, make sure you do the following:
Take a long deep breath in and sigh the breath out through your lips, as if you’re fogging a window in front of you.
Relax the jaw and features of your face. Lengthen the crown of your head towards the ceiling.
Sitting upright, nod your right ear down to your right shoulder, looking forward.
Then, slowly and gently turn your neck to look down towards your right shoulder. Allow your left shoulder to release away and feel the stretch.
Return slowly to centre, then repeat to the left.
Return slowly to centre, then look up, opening the throat. Then slowly look down, nodding your chin to your chest.
Your wrists and arms are put under so much strain when you have a newborn with lots of regular activities suddenly introduced into your habitual movement: nappy changing, picking up and handling your baby, putting your baby to the boob, pushing a buggy. Often this causes real tension issues and it might be worth investing in a wrist support rather than ignoring it and hoping it gets better. Always make sure you stretch your wrists and forearms as follows:
Sitting upright, relax your shoulders and neck.
With bent elbows, bring your hands together at your chest in prayer position.
Then bring the backs of the hands together, fingers pointing down.
Release one arm down, and with long fingers, circle the lifted hand all the way around 5 times, in both directions.
Change arms and repeat. Stay soft and lifted through the torso, relaxing the shoulders.
More exercises and stretching tips can be found in Pilates for Pregnancy, available now! If you’ve got any questions about pregnancy or postnatal strength, healing and recovery, get in touch! xxx