Childbirth Is More Like a Sport Than You Think

ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
Dec 2015
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Photo: Shutterstock

Having a baby is grueling. It takes effort, focus, and of course, perseverance. And the University of Michigan is giving it a well-deserved label: a sport.

Kind of.

Based on the fact that childbirth can be so traumatic — and the fact that 15 percent of women experience pelvic injuries that don’t heal — researchers used MRI machines to diagnose childbirth injuries, a technique usually associated with sports medicine.

“If an athlete sustained a similar injury in the field, she’d be in an MRI machine in an instant,” Janis Miller, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, says. “We have this thing where we tell women, ‘Well, you’re six weeks postpartum and now we don’t need to see you—you’ll be fine.’ But not all women feel fine after six weeks nor are ready to go back to work, and they aren’t crazy.”

Specifically, researchers noticed that for some women, Kegel exercise weren’t facilitating healing like they should.

“Women with pelvic injuries often feel like something isn’t right, but they don’t understand why and can’t get answers from physicians,” Miller said. “A woman may have bladder problems, and in some cases prolapse of organs if the pelvic muscles are not functioning well enough to hold them in place.”

So it was into the MRI machine for postpartum women at high risk for pelvic muscle tears. And the results were surprising: Images showed 25 percent of the women had fluid in their pubic bone marrows or fractures similar to sports-related stress fractures. About 66 percent had excess fluid in their pelvic muscles, indicative of a muscle strain. And 41 percent experienced actual muscles tears, meaning the muscle detached (partially of fully) from the pubic bone.

That’s some serious stuff. But with the right care, even these symptoms should be relieved by eight months postpartum.

“We’re not saying that every woman who gives birth needs an MRI nor that women should not do Kegel exercises,” says Miller, re-emphasizing that women at high risk for a tear were the subjects in this study. “A key point is that if a woman is sensing that she has delayed recovery or unusual symptoms of discomfort or feels she just can’t Kegel anymore, she should see a specialist.”

For more on post-birth recovery and your postdelivery body, click here.

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