Here's What Childbirth & Endurance Sports Have In Common

Photo: KidStock/ Getty Images.
We're already pretty much in awe of moms, whether they adopt, give birth vaginally, or have a C-section. Parenting seems tough, to say the least. But it turns out that childbirth specifically is so tough that it has effects on the body comparative to injuries sustained by athletes.

A recent study from the University of Michigan used MRIs of 68 new moms to suss out some of the more startling effects of childbirth on a mother's body. Among their findings, researchers noted that 25% of the mothers who participated had suffered from injuries equal to the kind of stress fractures athletes sustain. And 15% of them suffered pelvic injuries that would never heal. Without an MRI, these issues likely would have gone unknown, with the mothers in pain, and in the dark.

Study author Janis Miller, PhD, explains that "if an athlete sustained a similar injury in the field, she'd be in an MRI machine in an instant." Underlining the severity of these injuries, Miller and her fellow researchers were surprised to find just how similar the physical strain of childbirth was to that of endurance sports. Almost half of the women, 41%, were found to have pelvic muscle tears, where the muscle had at least somewhat detached from the pelvic bone. Thus disproving the widely held belief that most childbirth-related injuries have more to do with nerves than bones.

Unfortunately, when muscle tears away from the bone, Kegels (a frequently recommended pelvic floor exercise for post-delivery recovery) do not help. In fact, surgery may be the only answer in many cases. Less severe damage, including fractures, will heal within eight months after delivery, thankfully.

It should be noted that the women who participated were at a higher than average risk for muscle tears (they were older or had pre-existing injuries, for example). In other words, not every woman who gives birth needs to have an MRI afterwards, but understanding any pre-existing conditions will better inform you and your doctors as to what your recovery will look like. The researchers' aim with this study was, at its core, to encourage women and their doctors to move away from a "one-size-fits-all approach to treating postpartum injuries."

So while this study is obviously further evidence that females are strong as hell, it also makes a compelling explanation for women who took longer to recover from childbirth and didn't understand why. "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," Miller says. All too often, she explains, women feel inclined to blame themselves if they don't bounce back as quickly as desired.

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