Childbirth Is an Extreme Sport That Requires Lots of Recovery Time

newborn baby with mom

Every woman's birth story is different and once baby is born, the focus tends to be on that sweet newborn. But what about mom? We're often given the all clear at six weeks postpartum, but is that basic examination really enough? It's not. Childbirth is sometimes like an extreme sport and we need time to heal.


New moms all heal differently after giving birth -- and it's not just emotional and mental healing -- physical healing needs to happen as well. And all of us heal at our own pace. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology published a study revealing older moms and moms who were in labor and pushing for long periods of time were more at risk for more serious injuries to their pelvic muscles. But the risk is for all since there are always exceptions. WBUR's CommonHealth also related some childbirth experiences to an extreme sport. And the University of Michigan's recent study on childbirth revealed that the injuries some of us get when we have a baby are very similar to sports injuries, which can often take longer to heal than that six week time frame we are given. 

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We shouldn't be given a one-size-fits-all recovery plan. Moms shouldn't feel pressure to feel "back to normal" at a specific time. We don't need nor deserve extra pressures; we are already adjusting to new motherhood. Everything has changed. It's a lot to take in, but yet we are magically supposed to be just fine at the six week mark. I think we need to make some changes here. And we shouldn't feel like we should be feeling fine after six weeks because our friend or sister or mother did. Motherhood is never a time for competition. It's a time for understanding.

Just like every birth is different and every baby born is different and every mother is different, every mother's recovery is as well. Some of our "extreme sport" like births need more extreme sport time to heal. We need to pay more attention to our body's recovery after baby is born. It can be a challenge since we are excited to be a new mom and have a baby to care for -- plus our hormones, especially oxytocin, may disguise some pain we may be feeling. But we need care as well.

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The U of M's study's lead author Janis Miller compares women's birth experiences to distances runners run. A person who runs a mile will recover faster than one who ran a marathon. This goes for a woman in labor as well. I will also add that one woman's easy mile run is another's difficult mile run. Our bodies will recover, but as Miller said, "There is no rationale for that six-week time frame in terms of the body's responses and healing." No rationale.

It also comes down to really paying attention to how we feel. We need to check in with ourselves at that six-week mark -- sometimes even if we get the all-clear from our OBGYN at that milestone doctor's visit, we may have other injuries that go undetected by a clinical exam. Just like we need to trust our gut instincts in childbirth and in motherhood, we need to trust what our bodies are telling us regarding our health and well-being, and we need to honor the concerns. If something doesn't feel right, tell your doctor, and ask for an appointment with a specialist.

All of this, of course, brings us the maternity leave issue so many of us face. If we don't feel "back to normal" in six weeks, which coincides with when we are supposed to return to work, how much harm are we doing our bodies? An athlete cannot and should not return to the big game before she is fully healed -- that could cause long term damage. In the case with mothers, the injuries are internal, out of sight. These injuries can include issues with the pelvic floor muscles beyond what Kegels can fix, as well as incontinence, and issues with sexual function. How can we heal when we aren't given the time to heal?

Maybe in addition to completely reevaluating our maternity leave situation (which is long overdue), women should get prescriptions from doctors to say how long our maternity leave should be. If some of our births are indeed found to give us extreme sports-like injuries, we need more time to heal. Each mother's recovery time should be as unique as her birth, her baby, and herself.

Of course that's a flawed plan, one that opens up competition and jealousy and quests to find out what OBGYN writes the longest script, but if we put that all aside, one thing is very clear: Each mother deserves a maternity leave that works for her, not only to give her time to care for her baby, but her body as well.


Image via ©IvanJekic/iStock

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