“Trusting Your Gut” With Dr. Samantha DuFlo

Trusting Your Gut: You know your body better than anyone else, so, if something feels off or wrong, continue to advocate for yourself and your health. Your input and goals are a valuable asset when collaborating with your healthcare team. As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure […]

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Trusting Your Gut: You know your body better than anyone else, so, if something feels off or wrong, continue to advocate for yourself and your health. Your input and goals are a valuable asset when collaborating with your healthcare team.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Samantha DuFlo.

Dr. Samantha DuFlo, PT, DPT, PRPC is a physiotherapist, certified running coach and leader in the field of women’s pelvic health and wellness. The founder and director of Indigo Physiotherapy in Baltimore, MD, Dr. DuFlo maintains a thriving clinical practice, with a focus on pelvic pain and dysfunction, sexual health, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery. With a doctorate degree and extensive training in pelvic health and rehabilitation, Dr. DuFlo helps female athletes — from novice runners to Olympic-qualifiers — optimize their bodies for peak performance and injury prevention while pregnant and returning to sport postpartum.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs and self-starters, I witnessed the long hours and somewhat unforgiving lifestyle that being a small business owner can lead to. Yet here I am today, with my very own practice in Baltimore, Maryland. Indigo Physiotherapy was born out of my passion for pelvic and women’s health, and the desire to be a part of the positive change of lives of women in the Greater Baltimore region and beyond. As I discovered who I was as a practitioner and who I wanted to be, I kept thinking that this form of health care could be done differently to better serve patients and empower change in women’s and mother’s health from the ground up. When I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I created it. Now, I can’t imagine it being any other way! Beyond being a small business owner and entrepreneur, I am an avid distance runner, yogi, and mom to a brave little two year old. Having these different layers of who I am as a person outside of work, the “groups” that I am part of, is what gives me that “special sauce” to relate to my patients so closely as they heal, return to full function, and educate themselves about their bodies.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

To be frank, almost everyone that I see becomes an interesting story and an integral part of why I do what I do. Early in my career, I saw a client that was referred from her doctor for strengthening due to a pelvic organ prolapse diagnosis. During my time with her, she became pregnant again, and with her new symptoms, early on I realized something was remiss. It wasn’t all adding up. I suspected she may have a hypermobility disorder, sent her to a specialist, and a diagnosis, modified bed rest, and a handful of months later she had a healthy baby and delivery. Her mind was blown. That’s why I am good at what I do. I look beyond the surface, beyond the “this is weak so strengthen it,” and hunt for the “whys.”

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In full transparency, entrepreneurship relies on learning and rebounding from mistakes, of which I am sure I have had many. Initially, I think my greatest mistake was thinking too small and setting the bar too low, for both myself and my business. At first, I was just trying to make it as a solo practitioner and simply pay my rent. The thought of having a full clinical practice with support staff, let alone multiple practices and consulting large organizations with my expertise, wasn’t even a thought. Since then, I’ve learned that having confidence, practicality, and vision are critical to growing a business. Now, I’m always making vision boards or “dream sheets” then breaking those items down into yearly, monthly, and weekly goals to work towards those visions.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It may sound cliche, but without a doubt, I am grateful for my Dad. He was also an entrepreneur and taught me an incredible amount about having integrity in your life and your work, what it means to work hard, have determination to complete your goals, and the overall power of authentic networking. He was always out on a skeet range or in a duck boat somewhere, meeting and being with real people in their real lives and creating real moments. The relationships he built over his lifetime led to a very successful insurance and financial advisory business. Consequently, during my first year in business, I bought a lot of cups of coffee and sat down to have real conversations with the people in my community. Some of the women I connected with in an authentic way when I was just starting out are now some of my dearest friends and strongest collaborators.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

At my practice, Indigo Physiotherapy, we believe in challenging the traditional models of care to cultivate true whole-body healing. We offer one-on-one, private and personalized treatment sessions with our clients, focusing on their individual goals for healing and returning to function. Using an ever-evolving paradigm of whole-body health, we blend traditional medicine with holistic approaches to create and propagate individualized healing, wellness, movement and function across the lifespan. We also strive to create and maintain an atmosphere of safety and practice affirming care with all bodies, genders, and sexual orientations that walk through our door. Beyond the work that my team and I do on a daily basis to change the lives of those who come to see us, I am constantly on the hunt for the “cutting edge” techniques, and you could say, a hunter and gatherer when it comes to knowledge. Through my work and advocacy I highlight health topics that historically have been surrounded by shame or are less openly discussed, from period pain and postpartum incontinence, to pain during sex or post birth recovery. This gives people an anchor and voice to their experience, someone to not only guide them toward healing but a broader destigmatization of what are normal parts of health, as well as treatable concerns that many women have. I believe my doctoral experience, anatomical expertise, and background in fitness and running, women’s health, pregnancy/postpartum, pelvic health, and collaborative wellness allow me to communicate, educate and treat these niche audiences in a way that no one else is.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

My Top 5 Lifestyle Tweaks To A Better Wellbeing, include:

Trusting Your Gut: You know your body better than anyone else, so, if something feels off or wrong, continue to advocate for yourself and your health. Your input and goals are a valuable asset when collaborating with your healthcare team.

Learning Your Body: I encourage all pregnant persons to learn their pelvis, their anatomy, what their body looks and feels like. This process of exploration ensures that postpartum, if something doesn’t feel right or like it did before, they can reach out for care. This goes for anyone in any life stage. If something feels wrong or abnormal, you are your own best advocate to seek treatment for your body.

Set Attainable Goals That Bring Joy To Your Life: Small steps, whether it be exercise, fitness, nutrition or hydration, are much more likely to become habits that you can build upon if the process and the results reward you with joy.

Get Outside: Every. Single. Day. Try your best to get outside and feel the sunshine, move your body in some way, even if for a walk down the driveway, and connect to the Earth.

Write It Down: Whether it’s using an exercise tracking app or a journal, writing down just a couple of notes each day about your exercise routine and how it made you feel can help to send positive reward signals to your brain. It’s also immensely rewarding to look back after a year and say, “Wow, look what I overcame, or look how far I’ve come.” Or in the opposite case, when recovering from an injury or illness, “Look at what my body could do and what it can be capable of again in the future.”

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I believe that our healthcare system should make it standard of care that every pregnant person be evaluated by a pelvic physical therapist postpartum. Looking at the effects of pregnancy on the human body in a long term way — pelvic floor and core weakness can lead to urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, prolapse, low back pain, all of which can lead to decreased movement and exercise, which lead to a whole host of other healthcare issues. One of the leading causes of a hip fracture and fall in older adults is tripping at home while rushing to the bathroom, something we call functional incontinence. Imagine a world where everyone learned how to strengthen and use these muscles. The lifetime burden on the healthcare system could perceivably greatly diminish.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

First, find a therapist that specializes in mental health care and working with women entrepreneurs. The obstacles facing female small business owners are different: from looking for commercial real estate and bank lending, to juggling the maternal mental load if you are a working mom. It’s imperative to have someone to talk to that can see the bigger picture.

Second, develop a good, working relationship with a local bank. The pandemic has been a big learning lesson for many small businesses who became anonymous numbers. Having a relationship with a local bank is key for small businesses, particularly when you decide to grow your business or need help.

Third, prepare to scrape your knees. I don’t know a single entrepreneur that I admire that didn’t have their ego bruised or have a mis-step at some point in their career. Success is dusting yourself back off and getting back out there. Be tenacious.

Be Your Brand. I took a Professional Issues course in PT school that told us to cover up tattoos by wearing long sleeves or band aids and I knew right then I would never fit into the khakis and sneakers version of a physical therapist that the lecturer was trying to mold us into. If I walked into a room hiding part of who I am, I would be relaying the message to the client that they should hide parts of who they are. Not a chance. Everyone is welcome through our doors and we expect and honor their most authentic selves. So, that’s what you get with me; Dr. Sam with tattoos and red lipstick and fiercely fighting for women’s rights in healthcare and beyond. As much as it was admonished by some, sticking to my values has made Indigo a sought after brand and resource, forward thinking and open to all bodies.

Additionally, scheduling time to rest and exercise is just as important as scheduling time for work. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle of the work week, especially being your own boss sometimes means 80-hour work weeks and putting yourself last. That model just isn’t sustainable and establishing your work and life balance is imperative.

Finally, draft your “dream team” early on: a lawyer, accountant, HR consultant, and so forth. Setting the foundation of your business with other talented professionals will save you time, mental energy, and money in the long run.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

These are all big topics that are worth advocating for and investing in, but given my field of expertise, maternal mental health is most near and dear to my heart. The current protocols involve a postpartum check-in at six weeks postpartum with a person’s OBGYN or midwife, with a subsequent follow up at one year for a person without birth complications. This leaves parents with a wide gap of time potentially suffering from the isolation of the fourth trimester, sleep deprivation, the anxiety of learning how to care for and keep an infant thriving, and now add birthing during a pandemic when normal support systems are unavailable. Often when I see Moms or birthing persons during this timeframe, and spend an hour or more with them, I am the first medical professional to spend that length of time with them since birth, and therefore, have the opportunity to screen and refer them appropriately. Mom’s need to be seen, heard, and validated. Additionally, postpartum mental health continues to be surrounded by stigma or misunderstanding. The “baby blues” has become a junk term, and often people confuse postpartum depression with postpartum psychosis, which is sensationalized by the media, and miss many markers of postpartum anxiety or depression including fatigue or pervasive brain fog. Therapy and mental health is out of my scope of practice as a physical therapist, however, it is very important for all medical and wellness professionals seeing people within the first year postpartum to recognize signs of PPD, to perform appropriate screenings within their own scopes of practice, and to make referrals to mental health professionals. I can tell you that as a working mom myself, societal expectations of working moms to “do it all” is extremely intense, and maternal mental health across the board is suffering.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

The best way to connect with me and Indigo Physiotherapy is through our Instagram at @indigophysio!

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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