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New Study Seeks to Change Postpartum Care for Mothers


Women’s bodies go through many physical changes during and after a pregnancy, but researchers say a mother’s attention to her own health care seems to stop right after the 6-week postpartum checkup.

"They’re so focused on the baby and just lack of sleep, there’s no time or energy to even find time for themselves," says Meredith Cruz of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Data shows that right after giving birth, around a quarter of women report loss of abdominal muscle control. Twenty percent of new mothers report disabling abdominal pain 2-3 years postpartum.

Some of the most common physical issues women have after giving birth include low back pain, pelvic girdle pain, incontinence and weakened muscles. Unfortunately, the ailments women face during and after a pregnancy are often placed under the umbrella of changes due to carrying a child.

Most women do not seek out additional care after the 6-week checkup. This starts a cycle of ignoring issues that have the potential to get worse over time, especially the loss of abdominal strength and function.

A new partnership between the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University seeks to improve a mother's health before and after childbirth. Doctor Sandra Hunter, Meredith Cruz and physical therapist Rita Deering are studying neuromuscular function in women postpartum to improve patient care and create a new standard in how women prepare their muscles before birth and rebuild their strength afterwards.

"Women actually think 'this is normal, I'm supposed to feel this way,' and it's been a really ignored area. One of our aims is to at least to put this on the books and say there's an issue out here that's not being addressed, that's not being studied," says Dr. Sandra Hunter of the Marquette University Exercise Science Program.

Core strength is important for everyone, but especially for women during their pregnancy and after giving birth. The separation of the abdominal muscles is common during pregnancy. However, it is too severe and is left untreated, there is the potential of developing more serious problems - such as hernias.

Women's bodies are heavily fatigued during and after birth. Add constantly carrying a child, bending over and resting in short increments, there is very little recovery time for the mother.

"There are big issues with core strength in the abdominal muscles, and surprisingly very little research is out on this," explains Hunter.

The new partnership examines how much weaker women are after pregnancy, compared to women who have not been pregnant, through taking basic laboratory research and participant strength studies.

"It's a great collaboration, very translational taking it from the laboratory right to patient care," says Hunter.

Hunter, Deering and Cruz hope that the study's results can impact not only a mother's health, but extend maternity leave. With no standard time allotted for new mothers, women are at greater risk of getting injured on the job. The results of how long it takes to rebuild abdominal strength could one day implement physical therapy exercises for mothers during and after pregnancy. With new research can come new protocols that can help women become stronger and healthier after giving birth.

*If you are interested in participating in the study, the program is still enrolling postpartum women (age 18-45, special need for women who have had a Cesarean delivery) and women who have never had children (age 30-45). Please contact Dr. Rita Deering, DPT at or (414) 288-4426 for further details.

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.