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Oh, baby - Physiotherapy for mums and bubs

Photo: Oh, baby! Physiotherapy for mums and bubs
When mums and bubs come together for physical therapy, they also gain significant emotional and social benefits, according to musculoskeletal physiotherapist Marika Hart who enjoys cuddling babies while teaching postnatal classes. 

The physical benefits of physiotherapy post-pregnancy include strengthening the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, reducing lower back and pelvic pain, and improving the quality of movement in women postnatally.

The psychological and social benefits of postnatal physiotherapy classes are just as important, if not more crucial, for new mothers, said Ms Hart.

"We know that postpartum anxiety and depression affects around one in seven women, and exercise can be a wonderful adjunct to other forms of treatment for these conditions. It is also an excellent opportunity for women to meet other new mums in their area to share their experience and support one another."
Lauren Fink, a specialist women's health and exercise physiotherapist, agreed, saying many women feel isolated after having a baby.

"There is research to support that attending an expert-run postnatal exercise class, that allows women to bring their babies, largely reduces the chances of developing postnatal depression.

"This is due to the fact that women are in a welcoming, supportive environment where they are doing something for themselves that makes them feel good and safe," said Ms Fink.

Ms Hart says her clinic always encourages women to bring babies along to postnatal physiotherapy classes, and there's no shortage of volunteers on hand to offer cuddles and pram-pushing when required.

"(The classes) support women in their postnatal journey from the early postnatal recovery period, right through until they return to sport.

"Every single class is slightly different as I always take into account any injuries, level of skill of the participants and general mood that day. Each block offers progressively increasing load or complexity of movement to bring about improvements in strength and function," said Ms Hart.

Many clients in the postnatal classes are returning to the clinic after attending pregnancy exercise classes, said Ms Hart, or had been recommended by a friend, which means there is little promotion required to fill classes.

"I occasionally do free talks with mothers' groups and midwifery groups when I have the chance, and some clients have met me this way. Sometimes I run Facebook ads, but not very often.

"The classes are fun, and the best bit about them is getting to know the women and their babies. Many of my clients are now attending with their second or third child, and it is just like welcoming back an old friend," said Ms Hart.

On occasion, when several babies are unsettled at the same time, the classes can be challenging, said Ms Hart, but it isn't a big deal.

"We just roll with it, and it isn't uncommon for me to be teaching and cuddling at the same time!"

The most difficult aspect of running a postnatal program for Ms Fink is catering to the varying levels of fitness and abilities within a postpartum group.

"Women share private information about their birth or postnatal recovery, and they may not want to share in the group, and that will affect how they exercise. So, it does become difficult to plan and execute a program around the various requirements of each woman."

The positives far outweigh the negatives of a group setting for new mothers though, as it facilitates necessary social interaction and also makes sessions more affordable, said Ms Fink.

Taryn Watson, specialist women's health and continence physiotherapist, runs Baby & Me Pilates and Aqua classes through FitRight Physio to reduce the high rates of prolapse and incontinence in childbearing women.

"I'm extremely passionate about keeping mothers fit and active, but not doing it in a way that is likely to cause or worsen pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.


"I love being part of women's lives, being part of what I believe is the gold standard in postnatal return to exercise and making it more accessible to a wider population of mothers.

"I honestly believe the FitRight model is decreasing the rate of prolapse and incontinence in a generation of women, and that feels wonderful," said Ms Watson.

The addition of baby massage to postnatal classes also offers the opportunity for mothers to bond with their baby, Ms Watson said.

"If mothers choose to participate in the baby massage and developmental play components of the course it's a wonderful opportunity to learn about how touch, movement, positions and play ideas can benefit baby and caregivers."

Physiotherapists who aspire to add postnatal exercise classes to their clinic would benefit from specialised training, but unfortunately, there's no standardisation on quality or content according to Ms Watson.

"Technically, I didn't require any extra training to offer this service.

"I do believe instructors who run these classes require a high level of understanding of pregnancy, birth, pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, abdominal muscle dysfunction, the musculoskeletal system and bladder and bowel dysfunction.

"To run FitRight classes, you need to have a physiotherapy degree, as well as instructor training with ongoing access to education sessions. There is a quality control process in place so that physiotherapists with a Master of Women’s Health and Continence give instructors regular feedback on the way they run their classes," said Ms Watson.

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