Back when my son, Luca, was a baby, I'd tote him around on my hip while I tackled cooking, cleaning, and load after load of dirty laundry. Then one day, as I stooped to grab a toy, my back seized up. I spent the next three days recovering in bed.
For all its luminous rewards, motherhood can be hard on the body. What may start out as minor aches and pains can escalate into full-blown repetitive strain injuries. The moves moms make every day, such as hoisting baby from a crib and hunching over to breastfeed, can cause chronic irritation to the muscles, tendons or joints, according to Jill Boissonnault, Ph.D., a professor of physical therapy at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Physical changes due to pregnancy and delivery are part of the equation. Changes in maternal hormones loosen the tissue around joints, allowing the pelvis to widen to accommodate the baby before and during birth. The slackness remains for months after delivery, leaving joints vulnerable to strain. Pregnancy and delivery also take their toll on the abdominal and pelvic muscles, and the baby's weight pulls your center of gravity forward, often leading to a swayed back.
Repetitive strain injuries affect more than just your body: Studies have shown that untreated pain can actually make women more susceptible to postpartum depression. "These injuries can harm a woman's quality of life," says Dr. Boissonnault. "For their mental and physical health, moms need to seek treatment."
No need to stockpile pain meds and ice packs. Get the 411 on common new-mom aches, ways to avoid them, and how to feel better if you're already hurting.