By Marcy Prendergast, LMT
As a new parent, even if this isn’t your first kiddo, most of your attention is probably on caring for and loving on that brand new human. However, this is a really important time for mamas (and their partners, too!) to spend some time focusing on self care. I’m sure we’ve all heard from a well-meaning relative or friend, “you can‘t pour from an empty cup”, or that there’s a reason flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. It can be easy to dismiss that advice when you’re so tired from caring from your newborn that you’re not sure when you last ate or showered, but a little care can go a long way. Mama, your body just went through SO MUCH to bring that little one into the world, and it can take several weeks or months to recover from those changes. They don’t call it the “4th trimester” for nothing! Even those parents who didn’t carry baby around with them for the past nine months are now adapting to holding/carrying, changing, and feeding baby - and if they don’t focus on good body mechanics, this can lead to some aches and pains for them as well. Chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture can help get parents feeling back to normal faster!
As I mentioned in my previous blog about prenatal care, the scope of each speciality is different, but they all share the principle of healing by correcting dysfunction. Generally speaking, chiropractic treatment adjusts the alignment of your bones and joints, massage relieves tension in your muscles and other tissue, and acupuncture clears blockages to improve communication in your nervous system. To put it simply, by resolving dysfunction, these treatments allow our body to function more optimally, feel better, and heal itself.
There are countless conditions that can be treated by chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists, with considerable overlap. And, due to the complexly interconnected nature of our bodies, these therapies are often more beneficial when used in combination. For example, a spinal adjustment may bring immediate relief to back pain, but tight back muscles could pull the vertebrae back out of alignment quickly. Thus, combining chiropractic with massage would bring longer lasting relief.
So now, out of all the possible conditions our providers could treat, I’ll focus on the most common ailments you might experience during your postpartum journey, and how our providers can relieve them. What does postpartum care help with?
Our providers can set you up for success in the ”4th trimester”. After baby is born, the hormone relaxin can remain in your system for up to five months. During this time, your body is slowly reverting back from pregnancy posture to your pre-pregnancy position as your ligaments regain their strength. Making sure your body is in proper alignment during this time is crucial. If the pelvis and spine are not aligned, this can create an uneven pull on muscles and ligaments that can lead to discomfort, which, if not corrected, can become chronic. Many mamas (and their partners) also suffer from upper/mid back and neck pain related to rounding forward while breast or bottle feeding, lifting/holding and carrying their baby. In addition to adjustments and soft tissue work that can be done here in the treatment room, you can also ask our providers to help you find more optimal positions during these repetitive daily movements, which will help lessen the stress on the neck and upper back. (Yes, there is a right way to carry the car seat). Chiropractic adjustments to the neck and upper back also ensure the nerve communication from the brain to the arms and hands is not interfered with, which can help prevent common postpartum discomforts like carpal tunnel, thumb pain, and even tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers. Acupuncture and deep tissue or trigger point massage techniques can also help with this referral pain in the limbs. Massage and acupuncture both engage the parasympathetic nervous system, or rest and digest. This is a huge factor in the body’s ability to heal itself. New parents have likely spent a disproportionate amount of time with their sympathetic nervous system, or fight or flight, activated. It’s no wonder why, when you spend your days (and nights) listening for baby’s cues and cries.
Other benefits of massage for postpartum mamas includes increased circulation, decreased swelling, reduction of stress hormones and general balancing of hormones. Acupuncture can help with insufficient lactation (not producing enough milk), fatigue / exhaustion, pelvic pain, general pain/recovery after a C-section, constipation and hemorrhoids, anxiety, night sweats and hormonal imbalance.
So, when should you start?
We recommend coming in at two weeks postpartum - giving you time to settle in with your newborn (see Dr. G's self-care postpartum handout for some tips about what you can do at home before you come see us.) - but you are welcome to come in immediately after birth as well. Just be sure you feel comfortable enough to lie face up, face down, and side lying on the table. Every body is different, and depending on whether you gave birth vaginally or by c-section, this may adjust the treatment timeline for you. For c-section mamas, we can always skip lying face down for that first adjustment or two.
How often should you come in?
Think of it as the prenatal treatment schedule in reverse - we recommend chiropractic treatment once a week for about four weeks, then every other week for a few months, moving back toward monthly maintenance. This is what has been effective for most moms, but your individual treatment plan may vary based on any pre-existing issues and how complicated - or not - your pregnancy was. Frequency of treatment for massage and acupuncture would depend on your symptoms and treatment goals, but typically once per month of either helps maintain physical and mental well being.
*In addition to chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture, be sure to ask one of our providers about laser treatment - great for speeding healing of your C-Section scar!
Marcy Prendergast, LMT, specializes in Deep Tissue, Sports Massage, Trigger Point Therapy, Cupping, and Active and Passive Release Techniques. She enjoys working with patients to find the root of their pain and dysfunction and get them feeling and moving better.