Just One Thing - Loving your Belly
I very much doubt I need to introduce my next contributor, Anya Hayes. Anya wrote her book The Supermum Myth last year, together with Dr Rachel Andrew. Her book beautifully sums up the pressures of motherhood as well as giving helpful tools and exercises to alleviate some of that pressure.
Anya, a pilates teacher as well as author of four books, gently advocates for mothers' need to take care of themselves throughout pregnancy and their parenting journey. She is now a writer and speaker focusing on perinatal physical and mental health, drawing from her own experiences of postnatal depletion and mental health turbulence. Anya is on a mission to empower women with the tools to emerge through the motherhood labyrinth relatively unscathed, with pelvic floor and sanity intact.
I asked Anya to tell me just one thing she would say to new mums - "fall in love with your belly"
"If I could have known the power of JUST ONE THING first time round, it would have been the immensely healing and restorative power of abdominal massage. Particularly post-caesarean, but arguably essential as a general post-pregnancy recovery tool. All new mums should be given the gift of understanding how much power you have in your own hands to stimulate your healing, to foster your sense of self-compassion, to begin to reconnect to your belly again now that your baby has evacuated the premises.
In many cultures, there is a confinement period for new mothers: in China women "do the month" and are tended to by their relatives and community for a month in order to look after their physical recovery. In Malaysian villages, women are massaged and wrapped with sashes infused with healing essential oils, to ensure that their body and heart are protected and repair after being so opened, physically and emotionally, by the experience of giving birth. These practices offer a time when the new mother is looked after, nourished and helped to heal, her breastmilk production is stimulated, the blood circulation to her organs is enhanced. There are practices such as in the Closing the Bones ceremony, which hails from Ecuador, where the mother is offered a sacred space to connect to her body again after the epic adventure of pregnancy, her bones are literally closed, her hips rocked and massaged to rebuild her pelvic strength and integrity, the massage helping to heal and close the abdominal stretch of the rectus muscle.
And what do we do here in the west? We go straight home from our birthing experience, shaken to our core albeit hopefully elated, and hope to get into our "pre-pregnancy jeans" as son as we can, and eat biscuts on the sofa receiving a thousand visitors, without any real time to soften and rest, to lie naked with your baby and allow your body and hormones to play into the very vulnerable and fragile domino effect of their natural recovery process. And then two years down the line we accept our pelvic pain, incontinence or back ache as an "inevitable" part of motherhood.
Part of your recovery is being able to let go and release tension, physical tension, AND mental, emotional, visceral. Connecting to your tummy through massage is an extremely powerful way to do so. As women, we often have little love for our tummy, there is a world of complex emotional responses when we think about our bellies and particularly post-pregnancy with societal expectations of "getting your body back" (IT NEVER WENT ANYWHERE!). We regularly sucking the muscles in tight and create extra tension after birth. Simply not breathing widely, fully and deeply can impact your healing as breathing is so inextricably linked to pelvic floor optimum function and release.
Self-massage allows you to reconnect to these muscles, to help them to let go, allowing you to move your whole body easier. Massage will enable you to release tightness in your breathing process which will enable the diaphragm to release fully into your belly, triggering a full open pelvic floor release and lift. Stimulating your blood flow which will help to reduce swelling, which will bring back sensation, which will make you FEL BETTER. Massage can help to ensure that adhesions don't form: this is scar tissue forming in the fascia between your muscles which can stick your organs together like glue.There are so many layers of healing that go on post birth but particularly post-caesarean that it is, in my view, absolutely outrageous that we are not told about the benefits of abdominal massage post-section, as it can help to prevent myriad aches, pains and worries in the future. Not only that, there is strong research that massage can help improve bowel movements, which in turn helps alleviate pressure on your pelvic floor, scar and abdominal separation.
And the best part of all, massage is soothing and healing. It is sensual. It fosters a sense of self love and forgiveness. And it's free. "
Anya Hayes, author and pilates instructor