What Pregnancy and Birth Does To Your Pelvic Floor
Pregnancy and childbirth can wreak havoc on the pelvic floor, but did you know how?
There is an expectation that leaking urine or having other symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction is normal when you become a mother which is not true at all. Yes, it's very common and nothing to be ashamed of but it's not normal and you do not have to accept it.
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that runs from the front of the pelvis to the tailbone and coccyx at the back. The pelvic floor looks like and acts like a hammock, holding up the pelvic organs (the bladder, bowel and uterus).
There are openings in the hammock for different parts of your anatomy to pass through. In women the 3 openings are the urethra, the vagina and the anus and the pelvic floor wraps firmly around them.
Symptoms of a weak pelvic floor
A weak pelvic floor can cause a host of issues, both physical and physiological. Issues with the pelvic floor are common with studies reporting that 1 in 3 women in the UK are affected by pelvic floor disorders. This is a shocking statistic and just highlights the scale of the problem. Let's look at some of the main conditions caused by pelvic floor weakness;
Bladder weakness or urinary incontinence - Urinary incontinence, is any uncontrolled leakage of urine. It is embarrassing and causes huge negative physical, psychological and social well-being impacts for women and their families. It ranges from those who wee a little when they laugh, sneeze, run or jump to those who have such a lack of control they fail to make it to the toilet in time. Incontinence is sadly rising. It is estimated that there are up to 3 million women living in silence too embarrassed to see their doctor and condemning themselves to a lifetime of low self esteem, confidence and a lifetime of pads. Not to mention giving up sports and social activities for fear of wetting themselves.
Pelvic organ prolapse - A prolapse occurs when the pelvic floor muscles are weakened and the pelvic organs can bulge (prolapse) from their natural position into the vagina. Sometimes the prolapse can be so severe that it can protrude from the vagina. There are 4 types of pelvic organ prolapse...
- The bladder bulging into the front wall of the vagina (anterior prolapse)
- The womb bulging or hanging down into the vagina (uterine prolapse)
- The top of the vagina (vault) sagging down (vault prolapse) – this happens to some women after they have had surgery to remove their womb
- The bowel bulging forward into the back wall of the vagina (posterior wall prolapse)
NOTE: It’s possible to have more than one of these at the same time.
How does pregnancy and childbirth affect the pelvic floor?
During pregnancy, the muscles that make up your pelvic floor will loosen both due to hormonal changes and because of the physical presence of a growing baby meaning there is an increase of pressure on the pelvic floor and surrounding organs. A weak pelvic floor as well as a baby pressing on your bladder and bowel can mean the start of incontinence issues.
If you deliver vaginally, more problems can occur. When the head is crowning, it’s your pelvic floor muscles, fascia and nerves are stretched. This can lead to tearing which goes on to further add to pelvic floor dysfunction. This tearing can also be caused by birth interventions like the use of forceps. It’s important to note that multiple studies have shown that there is no significant difference between the number of mothers who develop pelvic floor dysfunction who gave birth vaginally compared to those who gave birth via C-section. Most of the damage to the pelvic floor is done during pregnancy.
Your pelvic floor after birth
Doing Kegels is safe in the first few days after birth if you feel able to do so. Kegel exercises promote blood flow to the pelvis which can reduce swelling and promote healing after birth.
How to find and exercise your pelvic floor
- Sit on a firm chair or lie down with your knees slightly apart.
- Tighten the ring of muscle around your back passage (anus) as though preventing a bowel movement or wind escape.
- Lift the muscles up inside Hold, then…relax slowly.
- Imagine you have to stop yourself passing urine.
- Tighten the muscles around your front passages.
- Lift the muscles up inside Hold, then….relax slowly.
- Now squeeze and pull up both areas (front and back passages) towards your belly button.
- Hold for 10 seconds
- Now rest for 10 seconds.
- Repeat this 'squeeze and lift' sequence 10 times.
And that's it! It can be difficult at first but once you get the hang of it you can incorporate it into your daily routine like when you have your morning shower or whilst you’re brushing your teeth.
If you like, you can incorporate using The Secret Whispers Kegel Weights to add some extra oomph to your Kegel exercises. If your pelvic floor is very weak or still healing postpartum, you might benefit from a few weeks of manual Kegel exercises to heal and rebuild some strength before progressing onto using the Kegel Kit. If you’d like to learn more about using Kegel weights then read our blog here.
The 3 types of Kegel Exercises
Slow Kegels: Tighten the ring of muscle around your back passage as though preventing a bowel motion or wind from escaping and now at the same time imagine you have to stop yourself from passing urine. Now SQUEEZE & LIFT up both the front and back passages. Hold for up to 10 seconds. Now rest for 5 seconds. Repeat this sequence 10 times.
Fast Kegels: Tighten the ring of muscle around your back passage as though preventing a bowel motion or wind from escaping and now at the same time imagine you have to stop yourself from passing urine. Now SQUEEZE & LIFT up both the front and back passages. Hold for up to 1 second. Now rest for 1 seconds. Repeat this sequence 10 times.
The ‘Knack:’ This method is known as ‘bracing’ yourself (by squeezing up and holding your pelvic floor muscles) before you cough, laugh, sneeze or lift anything else which causes you to leak urine. Incorporate this when you can. It can be 98% effective!
We hope you enjoyed this blog, why not check out Breastfeeding Basics and Why All Pregnant Women Should Be Doing Perineal Massage
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