When I was pregnant, I read everything I could find about pregnancy and babies. Whenever I was free, I would be surfing online in different forums and platforms reading about the experiences of other mothers and numerous expert advice and opinions. Anyone who was pregnant for the first time would know exactly what I meant. I bought a thick book on pregnancy and child caring for me and my husband to read. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I took a full series of classes on topics like child birth, baby duties and breastfeeding given by the hospital I was going to give birth in. The first pregnancy is incredibly exciting and scary. We would never felt like we have prepared enough. I was constantly told by my gynaes that my pregnancy was great. I did not have any risk factor based on all the standard pregnancy checks and tests, and I had no nausea or pain throughout. I could never have imagined the amount of suffering I had to go through later on.
When the baby arrived, I felt so relieved thinking that my body had finally finished its task. I did not understand anything about the major changes that just happened in my body and I had no idea my body needed care as much as the baby did. I was constantly told by my gynaes that childbirth was a natural process and hence I would recover naturally and had nothing to worry about. At this point, I had no knowledge at all about how pregnancy, childbirth or baby duties could affect the spine. I did not know that the pregnancy hormones relaxin would loosen my ligaments and hence my joints would be much more vulnerable to injuries. I did not know that carrying the baby weight for nine months and childbirth could cause imbalances in my pelvis and spine. I did not know breastfeeding around the clock in a chair could cause a tremendous amount of strain in the spine and the neck. I did not know bending down to carry the baby repeatedly was how you could easily injury your spine. I did not know anything about how to strengthen the spine in a safe way that would prevent all the misery I would endure later on.
Two months into my postpartum, I developed mild back pain and went to see a general practitioner. She dismissed it as normal muscle strain. After that I went to see a physiotherapist, he assured me that back pain was very common for women in postpartum and hence I did not need to be concerned. He gave me a few stretch exercises to do at home without much explanation. With enough resting the symptoms did go away fast, but the symptoms came back and became worse once I started to carry my baby again. Then I was misdiagnosed again by the second doctor. Only by seeing another doctor, I found out that I actually had a small tearing in my spine, most likely from carrying the baby in a wrong twisting position. He told me that I would recover in about six weeks’ time. I was upset as six weeks seemed like a long time for not carrying my daughter at that time. It turned out to be nothing compared to what I had to suffer for years to come. Spine injuries are indeed very tricky to diagnose as they can manifest in a wide range of symptoms from localized muscle pain to widespread spasm, oftentimes not right at the injury sites. Also after the symptoms disappear, the spine joints would still be much weaker than before and can easily get reinjured and become even worse. Spine joints would take much longer to recover depending on the extent of the injuries, there is no rule of thumb. I wish the doctors had told me this.
When I became pain free, I decided to take a private Pilates class based on a recommendation that Pilates can help prevent back pain. This class pushed me off the cliff and disabled me. I would never have imagined an expert Pilates instructor would know nothing about protecting the spine and postpartum conditions. I was asked to do crunches repetitively for the first class and the instructor pushed my limit in doing it after I explained my back conditions and the fact I just gave birth not too long ago. I only found out later crunches are prohibitive for anyone with a spine condition or anyone in postpartum and are not recommended even for normal people. I could not sit down at all for eight months after the Pilates class and suffered from torturous spine pain every single day even since. I could not carry my daughter ever since. I am appalled by the widespread ignorance about pregnancy and postpartum body conditions in the fitness world. A lot of fitness classes focus on challenging your body and boosting your stamina, in the case of a weak postpartum body, it can wreck your life. It’s still tough for me to believe what happened to me.
When it comes to pregnancy fitness in the media, the focus is always on weight loss and how to get your shape back. When it comes to pelvic floor health, most people only talk about kegels superficially. I never heard of diastasis recti or pregnancy-related incontinence or slipped disc throughout my pregnancy. I cannot come to terms with the fact that many health problems mothers are quietly suffering from for the rest of their lives can be easily prevented if the whole society is more educated about pregnancy spine health. My life would have been so different if I knew more about how pregnancy would impact my spine. I would have done the right exercises to prepare me for the stress. I would have maintained the correct posture during pregnancy. I would have spent time choosing a more comfortable chair for breastfeeding. I would have avoided bending, lifting and twisting with the baby weight. I would have avoided sitting or sleeping on over-soft beddings. I would have said no when someone asked me to do crunches and pushed my limit when I was already in pain. I cannot tolerate that many people think back pain is normal for new mothers, it’s common but not normal. It’s a sad reality that could have been prevented if we, the gynaes, the husbands, the brothers, the fitness instructors and everyone else can help spread the knowledge about how to protect the spine during and after pregnancy.