Postpartum mental and physical health (Guest post by Jill Heath, PT, DPT, COMT)

Mental health and physical challenges for new moms

Becoming a mother brings many changes to a woman’s physical body and mental health.  Her body adapts to pregnancy through muscular stretching and compensation, posture changes, more ligament laxity, and hormonal shifts.  Birthing a baby may cause further stretching or trauma to the muscles in the pelvic floor and abdominals and shifting of pelvic organs.  These changes are common, but when ignored can lead to conditions that make the postpartum period challenging for the mother.  

Some conditions that are commonly experienced by new moms include stress incontinence (or leaking of urine or feces), pelvic organ prolapse (lack of support of the pelvic organs), diastasis abdominus recti (separation of the abdominals), and pelvic pain.  These issues are prevalent but not normal.  They are symptoms that the body has not properly recovered from the events of pregnancy and childbirth.  For example, stress urinary incontinence affects 1 in 3 new moms.  That may lead one to believe that it’s normal, however, it is caused by a lack of coordination in the pelvic floor and muscle imbalance.  It is a symptom, just as pain is often a symptom of a muscle imbalance.  The good news is that this is treatable, and in fact, research shows that behavioral therapies and physical therapy are effective treatments for urinary incontinence (1).  

The mental well-being of a woman is also affected by becoming a mom - major life change, hormonal shifts, change in identity, emotions around the physical body, and other factors.  This often leads to postpartum mood disorders.  In fact, 1 in 5 new moms develop postpartum depression, and a higher number experience anxiety.  Postpartum mood disorders and pelvic floor issues are often not exclusive from one another.  For example, we know that women who deal with urine leakage postpartum are twice as likely to develop depression (2).  Conversely, women who experience birth trauma often have more difficulty reconnecting with pelvic muscles, which can lead to weakness-related issues.  

Recognizing that these issues are common but not normal can lead us to have more conversations about the wellbeing of new mothers.  Increasing that conversation can help to reduce the stigma, fear, or shame that often coexist with postpartum issues.  It can give moms resources of what to do and when to ask for help.  Physical and psychotherapies are available to help women navigate the challenges of new motherhood.

Join us for a Postpartum Wellness workshop at Emerge MBT on January 12, 12:30-2 pm, featuring Jaime Larson Jones, RD, MS, RYT, LPCC, a psychotherapist on postpartum mood disorders, and Jill Heath, PT, DPT, COMT, a women’s health physical therapist.  We’ll discuss some of the common postpartum issues and what you can do as a new mom to take care of your mental health and pelvic floor.  Practical take-home strategies and exercises will be provided to empower you in your postpartum experience.

- Jill Heath, PT, DPT, COMT


  1. shamliyan TA kane RL Wyman J Wilt TJ. (2008). systematic review: randomized, controlled trials of nonsurgical treatments for urinary incontinence in women. Annals of Internal Medicine, 148, 459-473.

  2. Sword, W. Is mode of delivery associated with postpartum depression at 6 weeks: a prospective cohort study. BJOG. 2011

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