Prior to childbirth, there is a tendency to imagine that recovery afterwards involves only the matters of getting the uterus and vagina back to their usual working conditions. But this idea is far from the truth, as many have later discovered. As well as the usual side effects of the actual birth, the post-natal period also includes recovery from the last 9 months of pregnancy too. For some women, the after effects of pregnancy and childbirth can take nearly as long to restore as they took to come about.
As well as the physical elements, recovery from pregnancy and childbirth also involves numerous mental factors. Coupled with the life of new motherhood, the sum total of your recovery will depend greatly upon your mental and physical fitness before and during pregnancy as well as the events of the actual birth and the methods you use to help restore yourself afterwards. Included in the Prescriptive Yoga Programs in Chapter 9 are some general yoga programs to assist in post-natal recovery as well as some for specific difficulties which may be encountered during this period.
Here I will be dealing only with the recovery elements of vaginal births - however some of the advice would apply equally well to those who have undergone caesarean section.
Lower Body Recovery
After 9 months of pregnancy, and the strain of labour and birth - and particularly if your baby was born vaginally - the muscles of the pelvic area are enormously stretched. As well as holding the uterus in place during pregnancy, and making their contractions all through labour, changes in the abdominal and pelvic muscles will have greatly affected the excretory functions (bowels and bladder). Overtime, they must relocate to where they were before pregnancy. These areas will be understandably sore, just like having over-exercised, and their relocation can sometimes cause malfunction. It is therefore common to experience a little discomfort for a day or two when going to the toilet.
In assisting restoration of the pelvic region, the earlier you are able to begin doing something the better. Obviously, during the first couple of days great care has to be taken not to strain the pelvic
floor area, such as anything too vigorous which might precipitate uterine bleeding or tears.
In the first few weeks, gentle walking for 5 - 10 minutes every few hours is good, along with any of the exercises from the Pawanmuktasana Legs Series - Half and Full Butterflies excluded. Most of this series can be done in bed if preferred. A combination of moderate walking and the Pawanmuktasanas helps to gently tone the uterus and vagina, and helps the return of normal excretory functions. For several months squatting should not be done.
Easily done at any time of the day are the Three Pelvic Locks. At first you may have little sensation or control in this area, but regular practise is enormously effective in regaining normality of the pelvic floor and perineum. Each of these locks should be done several times a day for the first month. They can be done when you are breastfeeding or just cuddling your baby or within a more formal yoga practice session. For a program to assist post-natal recovery, see the programs in Chapter 9 - "Post-Natal Health".
Tiredness and Sleep
Women have varying levels and durations of physical tiredness after giving birth. Even the easiest of births can take its toll, but the recovery time can be greatly assisted by a balance between adequate rest and restorative yoga practices. Other than the obvious demands of your baby such as milk production and loss of sleep, other common causes of tiredness are excessive socialising; bad eating habits; trying to return to normal life too quickly (e.g. housework and shopping). Besides the obvious solution of asking for help with your home tasks, there are many yoga practices which can help reduce tiredness.
Regular Yoga Nidra is the most beneficial thing you can do to help restore depleted energy and to offset the lack of sleep caused by attending to your baby. Whilst you may be keen to lie on your back again after months of heavy pregnancy, for some time after childbirth, the muscles of the lower back do not return to their normal strength enough to support the spine for extended periods of lying flat on the floor. If using Shavasana for Yoga Nidra, place a pillow or two under the thighs. Or else, continue using Matsya Kridasana until you can feel your