Allison Oswald is a Mom, pilates instructor and a Doctor of Physical Therapy specializing in women’s health. She is passionate about working with women before, during and after their pregnancies. Allison is amazed by the miracle of pregnancy and how women’s bodies adapt to those changes and directly effect how they experience the process. As women we are often stretched in all directions, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This Beyond Mom wants to help women take control of their bodies, heal, feel inspired and embrace their pregnancy process. We turned to Allison to answer our burning questions on finding alignment and wellness throughout pregnancy.
What inspired you to become a women’s health therapist?
Growing up, I’ve always had a passion for health and wellness and after an internship with a physical therapist in college, I decided to get my doctorate in physical therapy. It wasn’t until I took a class in Women’s Health during my doctorate program that I decided to pursue a path specific to women’s health. As I took this course, I noticed that many women, including myself, were not aware of this specialty and the many ways pelvic health could be improved and addressed by a physical therapist. At that moment I knew I wanted to learn more, and be able to help educate and bring awareness to women about their pelvic health.
How did becoming a mother affect your approach to health and wellness?
Before having kids, I was always into health and wellness and finding better ways to take care of myself, so I thank my younger self for that! But it wasn’t until I had kids that I started to better understand the importance of being able to take of myself and its effect on those around me.
I notice that when I take care of myself first, I am a better person, mother and wife. Sometimes that means doing some Pilates, or making sure I eat nourishing meals, or even just getting an hour massage – I feel more grounded, centered and connected. The biggest limiting factor as a mother is time! I understand that health and wellness can be achieved with small shifts throughout the day, making it less about getting to the gym for an hour a day, and more about finding alignment during the day, drinking plenty of water, walking instead of driving, etc…to achieve an overall healthy lifestyle.
Can you share some daily rituals you practice to stay grounded?
Absolutely! I must always start my mornings a little earlier than everyone else in the house and do a little meditation and breath work. I have a bowl of intentions and I just pick one and let that sit with me throughout the day. A little dry brushing in the morning along with an almond milk cappuccino also helps to keep me grounded!
What health and wellness tips can you offer women trying to conceive and who are currently pregnant?
For women who are trying to conceive:
I would say that beginning to prepare the body for birth is very important. You can start just by setting good habits with nutrition and exercise. At this time, I also recommend women start to understand and connect to their pelvic floor as well as incorporate some restorative exercises through their normal daily routine.
For women who are currently pregnant:
I find that most women who are currently pregnant focus a lot on what they should not be doing. For example, a common misconception nowadays especially in the third trimester is that women feel or are told not to do much. Instead, I suggest to my patients that they continue to be active or at least modify their exercise regime. Just as long as you are not depleting yourself. Find something that makes you feel good and gives you energy – even if it is just for a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood! Do whatever feels good to you, not what everyone else is doing. It is important to be able to switch your mentality and focus on the wonderful things that you can do for you and your baby.
What are your tips for rebuilding strength postpartum?
The most important tip I give for mothers who are wanting to rebuild their strength postpartum is this: be gentle and give yourself time. I know the feeling of wanting to be able to get to your body pre-pregnancy as soon as possible, but just know that there is such a thing as doing too much too soon. You can start by checking your alignment. Being postpartum, you now have a new center of mass. You have to remember that you were carrying a child for months so your body is still adjusting. By checking your alignment and becoming aware of it, not only are you able to build this foundation in which you can work from when you do begin to workout, but it will also help you to prevent any future injuries.
What are common injuries and strains that occur throughout the pregnancy process? How can women really listen to their bodies better and identify them?
Common injuries and strains that can occur during pregnancy for some women are sacroiliac joint dysfunction, incontinence, pubic symphysis dysfunction and diastasis recti also known as DRA, to name a few.
The first step in really listening to your body and trusting your gut. Don’t assume these symptoms are “normal” or “just because I’m pregnant”. No matter when these symptoms pop up, know that there is so much help and support before, during and after pregnancy to ensure that your body feels and functions as optimally as possible.
How is a woman effected by having weak pelvic floor?
Having a weak pelvic floor means that you have been tested by a pelvic health specialist and been told you have a truly weak pelvic floor. I emphasize this only because symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction does not necessarily mean that you have a weak pelvic floor, some women actually have a pelvic floor that is non-relaxing and held too tight.
However if this is true, then these women may have incontinence of urine or bowels, prolapse, hip pain, back pain and an overall sense of instability. They may also feel like they cannot connect to their deep abdominal muscles and still have a lower belly pooch that will not go away no matter how much ab work they do.
What are your favorite exercises for strengthening pelvic floor?
First and foremost I teach alignment and breath, since those are key to successfully using the pelvic floor. This is achieved once the ribcage is positioned over the pelvis, while maintaining a slight curve in the low back (ie. not tucking your butt under you or overly arching). Then in various positions I teach proper diaphragmatic breathing, allowing the ribcage to expand 360 degrees. Visualizing the pelvic floor lengthening with the inhale and recoiling back up and in on the exhale, moving the pelvic floor together with the diaphragm. Once this is achieved, then we incorporate it into functional movement patterns, since our pelvic floor should contract automatically for core support and sphincter control.
If a woman has been tested and has true pelvic floor weakness, I usually teach isolated pelvic floor exercises coordinated with breath initially, typically in a side lying position. Inhale to lengthen the pelvic floor, exhale to squeeze around the vaginal and rectal opening and pulling it up and in. Both the contraction and the lengthening are crucial, which is a common mistake women make by only focusing on the squeezing.
As an active Beyond Mom what are your tips for incorporating wellness into your life?
Get it in whenever you can! Wellness is a lifestyle and should make you feel more more balanced and connected in your daily life. Whether it’s getting more movement, finding time to rest, eating a nourishing meal or taking some time for self care, make it something to look forward to, not to stress about.