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.
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.
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
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
In the first few days and weeks after giving birth you’ll probably feel bruised and sore, whatever birth experience you’ve had. We’re preoccupied with “snapping back into shape” straight after having a baby, and if we buy into this bounce back mentality, the days and weeks after baby can come as a huge shock when celebrities make it look so easy.
The first three months is a time of huge transition and change. It will take this whole time, at least, for your emotions and body to begin to settle into a sense of familiar vaguely confident “normality”. It is totally to be expected that you might feel discombobulated and chaotic. Think of it as starting a new job: you’d imagine that the first few months would be a steep learning curve and to feel way out of your comfort zone. It’s no different for your new job as a mother/mum of two/three.
Some women feel like a superhero, with such a sense of triumph and euphoria that anything seems possible – it can be hard to imagine that you have to take it easy on yourself and rest while you’re riding this high. But equally you may fall into the camp of women who feel like they are depleted and exhausted by the birth and the early days. That was certainly me first time round, and if this is you, please don’t push yourself to hold up a façade of “normal”. Rest. Cuddle your tiny newborn to get the oxytocin flowing and soothe both of your nervous systems, your breathing helps to regulate your baby’s breathing. Snuggle with lots of calming skin to skin in those early days. It takes time to complete your metamorphosis into motherhood, and “normal” takes on a different appearance from now on.
Your uterus contracts back to its original size in the days after giving birth, and these contractions feel quite similar to early labour contractions. They can be stimulated particularly by breastfeeding, and it’s more intense if it’s not your first baby. Establishing breastfeeding is hard, mentally and physically, and is painful initially even if your baby takes to it easily, despite what your health visitor might suggest. You are also very hormonal. So you will be feeling tender and emotional.
Breathing techniques are so valuable for getting you through these intense early days. If it’s your second or subsequent baby, you might be less hit by the enormity of the physical challenge as it’s familiar territory, but you have the added emotional challenge of introducing your new baby into your household of other children and changing the status quo, possibly dealing with demands from your firstborn of “taking the baby back where we got him now” (true story). All of this brings with it lots of joy but also upheaval and mixed emotions. So, revisit deep breathing exercises to soothe your nervous system, every day.
Breathing and pelvic floor awareness exercises are suitable from 24 hours after your birth, whenever you feel ready.
Tearing, and episiotomy care and recovery
It can take up to a month for tears or cuts to heal and for episiotomy stitches to dissolve (small tears with no stitches usually heal faster than this). In that time you’ll probably be in some pain. Having an episiotomy or suffering a tear carries the risk of scarring. Make sure you take painkillers if you need to, and at a time that feels right for you when the area is no longer tender, internal massage is a great way of stimulating the healing process and breaking down the scar tissue, making sure there is minimal effect on your pelvic floor sensation on the long term.
Bathing in warm water and/or using a cushion (a special inflatable cushion can make sitting down more comfortable) can help.
If you’re still uncomfortable after a few weeks, make sure you speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP.
Here are some tips for this early healing period:
Keep the cut/tear and surrounding area clean.
After going to the toilet pour a jug of warm water over your perineum to rinse it. It’s ok to add some drops of tea-tree/witch hazel and lavender to this as well.
Going for a wee can be painful: it might help if you pee in the bath (just before getting out), or in a warm shower.
You might be scared to poo because you’re worried about pressure on the stitches. This fear causes a lot of extra discomfort and emotional distress. You can ask your midwife, GP or health visitor about medication to help you poo more easily. But again, deep breathing should be employed first and foremost.
After having a poo, make sure you wipe front to back, away from your vagina, to keep the stitches clean.
Place an ice-pack or ice-cubes, soaked in tea tree/lavender/witch hazel wrapped in a towel or cloth, onto the affected area, to relieve the pain. Or you can now buy ready made sprays which contain soothing and healing ingredients, such as Spritz for Bitz – which can also be used for caesarean wound healing (and for your baby’s nappy rash).
Restart pelvic floor awareness exercises as soon as you can after birth. They enhance blood circulation, and aid the healing process.
For more postnatal tips, see the Fourth Trimester chapter in my Pilates for Pregnancy book, which so far has 10 5-star reviews! Thank you so much if you’ve enjoyed and reviewed it, I really appreciate the feedback.
Do you have any questions about postnatal recovery? I’m currently writing Postnatal Pilates, which will publish with Bloomsbury next year. Please send me your questions I’d love to try and help xxx
I help women who are experiencing challenges in their postnatal recovery to strengthen their pelvic floor, restore their core and rebuild their vitality, in body AND mind.
It breaks my heart that too many women put up with postnatal physical discomfort and dysfunction, critical inner dialogue and overwhelming anxiety… and think that it’s “just part of being a mum”, or “just the way they are”.
Body image is so intrinsic to our sense of identity and self-esteem – and inner power! If you feel your body has let you down, or you’re feeling weak and uncomfortable every day, this is going to have a dripping tap effect on your energy and happiness levels.
Tapping into your source, unlocking your power can transform your day to day, from your mood to your relationships and productivity.
NOW is the perfect time to focus on your wellbeing and strength. Don’t delay it any more.
Get in touch if you’d like to work one to one or come to a group class, or keep following this blog for more information and advice. Get in touch! I’m always here to answer your questions.
Tell me – what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
The thing about looking after your mojo and wellbeing is that ultimately it benefits everyone around you. I know, quite simply, that I am a better person if I am calmer, if I’ve had some headspace, if I’ve done yoga or had a walk, gone for a swim. I feel triumphant when I prioritise my own wellbeing even if just for a morning stroll and don’t agonise over the things I “should” be doing instead. One of the things that Lauren quizzed me on when I talked about my meditation practice is “how do you manage to take 15 minutes to do that and not feel guilty?”…well, the honest answer is that the gain of that 15 minutes of breathing is way more powerful than the 15 minutes which might have been spent going through emails or checking something off on my to do list only to frantically remember that I have to put another 7 things onto it. And a refreshed spring in my step is nicer for my family to be around. I’m more patient… I have more empathy for my children’s huge emotions rather than feeling explosive and fractious in response. I’m more productive. I’m more energised. I’m … nicer.
This morning I taught my lovely group of Welcome to Motherhood mums, with their fourth trimester babies. We talked about Dr Oscar Serrallach’s brilliant The Postnatal Depletion Cure, and about just how much challenge physically being a new mum is. Yes, the rewards are high – you only have to hear that tinkle of a new baby’s laughter to struggle to feel like there is anything wrong in that moment – but the demands are huge.
I will be launching my new Motherhood Mojo Toolkit soon – drawing from my Pilates postnatal healing programme which I will be revealing in book form next year, I am creating a holistic mind–body programme which combines life coaching activities from The Supermum Myth plus elements from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), to help you feel like the calmer, more balanced less frazzled mum that you would really like to be. She’s in there. I’m going to help you find her.