Why you can still be considered postpartum 6, 7, 10 years after your last baby

As a mother-of-three, Ali Handley is very familiar with the post-pregnancy journey. Here, the pre & postnatal Pilates specialist tells Body+Soul why it’s important to care for mums long after they’ve delivered their little ones, and why it’s never too early to start the recovery process.

Everybody loves a pregnant woman.

I had my first two babies in New York and walking down the street even the homeless and the crazies bless you, predict the sex and give you a toothless smile as you pass on by.

What about giving some of that adoration to the postnatal woman. Over the course of nine-plus months of pregnancy and childbirth, the extensive and incredible changes that occur in a woman’s body are immense, mind-boggling and a true miracle.

We actually grow a new organ (aka the placenta) each time we have a baby that, by design, prioritises the needs of our growing babies over us.

And let’s not forget the tsunami of hormonal changes we go through that not only grows and helps birth our babies, but also shrinks our brains so we can get an ’emotional upgrade’ that connects us to our children’s needs for the rest of our lives. This happens each time a woman has a baby.

It absolutely makes sense then that postnatal women are experiencing the effects of their pregnancies and birth for much, much longer than the six weeks that is commonly now referred to as the postnatal recovery period.

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The pioneering maternal health expert, who hails from South Australia but is now known all over the world, Dr Oscar Serrallach, believes the recovery period can be up to 10 years and he has coined the phrase “postnatal depletion” as a catch-all for the many ways women can continue to experience symptoms and conditions that are a direct result of pregnancy and birth.

In western culture today, the postnatal woman rarely receives the support she needs and deserves both physically and emotionally. In years past her plight is not spoken about and when people do it is usually associated with something negative – depression, anxiety, exhaustion.

As a Pilates instructor, it is the physical changes that women experience that I am dedicated to shining a light on. Understanding and addressing these changes should then inform the foundational focus of your recovery work, primarily the reactivation of the muscles of the deep core, namely the Transverse Abdominus (TVA) and the Pelvic Floor Muscles that have undergone varying degrees of trauma.

But just like pregnancy, the postpartum period is a process. It requires patience, consistency and above all appreciation for your amazing body that brought a baby into the world, and all it continues to do as you care for your newborn.

Taking time to honour your body and heal is an important mindset as you start your postnatal period. I believe it is never too early to begin your recovery. I start mine the day after I give birth. I’m not talking about doing a HIIT class, the simple act of breathing is the best way to kick off your rehab post baby.

The most recent research supports this and recommends a less is more approach in the first weeks post birth as the best way to start your recovery. While you are busy caring for your newborn, your body will naturally begin healing and all that is required is focused, gentle breath work that begins the reconnection process to the muscles of the deep core mentioned above, walking and light stretching.

I also believe it is never too late to consider yourself postnatal. All too often women feel shamed, or guilty for not recovering quick enough and then often ignore symptoms or accept conditions that alter the way you want to live your life.

I hate the phrase ‘bounce back’. We bounce forward, but only if we are given the tools, time and care we need and deserve! When I first started working with postnatal women in New York, under the mentorship of Master trainer Erika Bloom, very few women knew about Diastasis Recti, more commonly known as abdominal separation, how to address it during pregnancy or recover from it in the postnatal period. I was treating women in their 40s, 50s and even 60s who had been experiencing conditions such as incontinence, severe back pain and migraines for many years post birth because they had never properly recovered.

I have had three babies and have been working with postnatal women for over 10 years now, and I do see a big shift, a change in the collective consciousness of women and believe that we are entering a new period of remembering. Remembering our personal importance, power and by speaking about the postnatal period in the media, on social media and with professionals, I believe we can continue to receive better care during pregnancy, experience better births and care for ourselves as mothers.

Fast forward to present day, and I have built a digital Pilates studio, created especially for mothers at all stages and includes an entire program dedicated to after birth recovery, Bodylove Mamas. The prenatal community at my studios are also representative of this shift with so many of them all regularly visiting women’s health physios during their pregnancy, in birth preparation and then importantly post birth. I will always be passionate about postnatal care; women shouldn’t accept suffering and I remain dedicated to supporting women to be advocates for themselves and importantly for each other.

Ali Handley is a pre & postnatal Pilates specialist, mum of three and founder of Bodylove Mamas an on-demand digital Pilates studio built for each phase of Pregnancy, Postnatal Recovery and life as a strong Mama.

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