How physical therapy helps women prepare for childbirth
By DAVID REESE
As women prepare to go through childbirth more are turning to physical therapy to give them the physical preparation they need.
Prenatal and postnatal physical therapy has grown substantially in the last 10 years, and Whitefish Sports Center provides prenatal and postnatal physical therapy for expecting mothers. Physical therapist Emily Smith says a solid regimen of prenatal exercise provides mothers a more comfortable childbirth, and helps them recover faster after delivery.
Prenatal physical therapy is making strides in improving women’s health, and people in smaller communities like Whitefish are starting to see the movement’s benefits. “Women are more aware of their options,” Smith said. “Women used to think pain was normal or they had to live with it. I love when women come to me, and I can figure out a solution for them that they may never have thought of.”
Physical therapist Emily Smith, left, works with a client at Whitefish Physical Therapy. (David Reese photo/Montana Health Journal)
Many physical problems arise well before delivery, when a woman’s body is changing rapidly. One of the physical changes that takes place is ligament laxity, where a woman’s body is loosening up to prepare for the birthing process. Ligament laxity, though, creates problems throughout the body in the prenatal phase.
Smith helps clients strengthen their pelvic floor, girdle muscles and hip muscles, which can help alleviate back pain and pelvic pain and mitigate problems for women later in life.
“We work on strengthening the body where you need to, and decrease shifting that leads to joint pain in the pregnancy,” she said. “Your body is essentially going through a trauma, so the better your body is prepared for it, the more prepared your body is to heal and recover from it.”
Prenatal physical therapy can also help women learn about positions they can use in the delivery process to improve their bodies’ reaction to physical stress. Smith also helps women learn about better positions to use in their daily lives, such as sleeping, working or sitting.
Postnatal physical therapy helps women “get their bodies back,” Smith said, and helping their bodies recover more quickly. “If you’re strong, the recovery is easier,” she said. “A lot of women have problems gaining their strength back, but we’ve seen how better physical preparation leads to better recovery.”
Smith works closely with local women’s health physicians to evaluate their clients’ issues in the prenatal and postnatal phases. “Together it’s a pretty powerful team, educating women about what their options are,” Smith said. “You’re still giving birth, but we can try to make it as smooth of a transition as possible.”