GROWING TOGETHER: How Occupational Therapists Can Support You + Baby

by Teresa Davis on July 06, 2020

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If there ever is a time in your life to learn the most about yourself, it has to be when you become a parent for the first time.  There is nothing like it. It presents challenges to yourself like no other!  From the first time you meet your sweet baby in the delivery room to taking him or her home, and from there on forward.... it's easy to focus all of your attention on baby, and forget or put off taking care of your own well-being.

So here we are, in our new Glossydots Baby blog to provide you with valuable information from other moms in our community, who are professionals in their field, and have a passion for serving you and your baby during the first few years of baby's life. 

Our first conversation starts with the lovely Lisa Westhorpe from Nurture Occupational Therapy.  I've asked Lisa a few questions about how an Occupational Therapist can help new parents when they are taking care of baby.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, and how you got to where you are today with your interest in the topics of infant development and self-care for moms in pre and post labor?

I’m a Masters-level qualified occupational therapist and mama of two amazing daughters under five years old. I’m originally from the UK (you’ll notice I use ‘mom’ and ‘mum’ equally in my work!) and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in California six years ago with my husband.

Most people have heard of occupational therapists, but it’s not always obvious what we do! In terms of occupational therapy, the ‘occupation’ part refers to what occupies you, rather than just your job. And what occupies us is really broad – it might be anything that you want or need to do, from going to school or work, to leisure activities, personal care or caring for others.

Occupational therapists are dual trained in physical and mental health, and take a holistic approach to client care. I’ve been lucky to gain experience in many areas of practice as an occupational therapist, including pediatrics (I also work part time as a school based therapist), geriatrics, acute care, forensics and developmental disability services.

However, it was when I became a mom myself that I realized that maternal health was an area where occupational therapists could really support new moms in so many ways.

Where did your passion for helping new moms navigate motherhood begin, and how has your expertise developed/grown through the years?

I became passionate about advocating for women's health after my own physical and emotional experiences of pregnancy and early motherhood.

Although I had always wanted to be a mum, the reality of the postpartum period was a complete shock to me. I had no idea how much everything changes: your body, your roles and routines, your free time, your relationships. I felt like no-one had told me about this, and because our culture tends to be more focused on pregnancy and birth than what comes after it, I hadn’t known to research this.

Meeting other mums at baby groups made me realize that there were many new parents who were feeling the same way, and I knew that I could put my skills as an occupational therapist to use to support them. As well as drawing on my own experiences of maternal mental health issues, and core and pelvic floor concerns, I threw myself into learning everything I could about how to support mums during pregnancy and in the postpartum period.

I can now proudly say that I am a certified Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist! I support moms in their physical and emotional transition to motherhood; I help moms get back to the activities they love and to care for their body, avoiding injuries while they care for baby.

 On the topic of self-care for mom, while taking care of baby, can you briefly shed light on the ergonomics of parenting? What is it exactly, and what does it mean?

Ergonomics is a huge topic, it is usually defined as the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. As most parenting happens in the home (especially during COVID-19), I focus on assessing the home environment and setting it up so that parents are not moving their bodies in ways which injure themselves. Usually this is done as a home visit, but I’m now offering online consultations for convenience and to maintain safety during shelter in place.

I like to define parenting ergonomics as ‘taking care of yourself while you take care of baby’. This can include your overall posture (which changes greatly during pregnancy and the postpartum period), and how you use your body to perform common movements during your day as a parent, including carrying your baby, changing their diaper, getting baby in and out of their crib or bassinet, using a stroller, and picking up toys. All the things which we do constantly as parents without really thinking about it!

 Most parents don’t think about the physical strain their bodies undergo, while caring for baby postpartum and beyond. Most of their thoughts are immediately on what baby needs.  So, what is the most important idea, point or thought they should be thinking about with their physical body, while caring for their baby?

This is so true, and it’s completely normal to be thinking of baby’s needs above our own. This is how we are biologically wired!

However, we can’t pour from an empty cup, and so looking after ourselves as parents is just as important. My top tip would be to ‘exhale on exertion’, or breathe out as you do anything strenuous. That might be picking up your baby, lifting the stroller into the car, or moving furniture around to fit in the latest baby gadget (because how else are you going to find room for that huge swing?!).

It sounds simple, but the exhalation helps to protect your body from producing too much internal force, which can increase the likelihood of diastasis recti, hernias and pelvic floor injuries such as prolapse.

Self care doesn’t have to be an extra thing that you fit into your day, like having a bubble bath or a massage. Self care can be a way of doing things or thinking about things, in a way that cares for your body rather than injuring it. LISA WESTHORPE

 What is something about ergonomics, and self-care that has surprised you to learn, while you were going through training or your own personal experience? 

For me, it was that self care doesn’t have to be an extra thing that you fit into your day, like having a bubble bath or a massage. Not that those things aren’t nice, but as new parents it’s incredibly hard to find time to do the basics, let alone anything that requires more time and effort. Self care can be a way of doing things or thinking about things, so doing the activities you usually would, but in a way that cares for your body rather than injuring it. Or not being too hard on yourself if you’re not sure what your baby needs when they’re crying.

Parenting is hard enough, without that little voice inside us telling us that we’re not good enough. I often say parenting is the ultimate lesson in letting go of perfection and allowing things to be ‘good enough’ – a change in mindset and knowing that others are experiencing the same thing can do wonders for new parents.

And what about your husband's self care?

I asked my husband the same question, and he said that when we had our first daughter, he realized that caring for a tiny person exacerbated any injuries or poor posture that were present before she arrived. Making sure these issues are assessed and corrected makes a huge difference to how you feel as a parent.

What is the #1 question or most common complaint parents come to you about when it comes to physically taking care of their baby, and what is your response?

I would say that many of my clients’ complaints relate directly back to their posture and the way they move while caring for their baby. I spend time going through a thorough assessment of their posture, and ask them to show me how they perform certain activities that they identify as being difficult or painful. From this, I’m able to give strategies to support them to do that activity without pain, and strengthening exercises to correct the imbalance that may be causing the issue.

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Lisa offers a free phone consultation to support new parents. Visit www.nurtureot.com to learn more.

She is also hosting a 6-week online mom and baby group series, focusing on infant development and play for baby, such as baby sleep, bottle and breastfeeding, as well as new moms self-care in health and well-being.

Click here to learn more

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