One of the most common situations we see with pregnant women and women after childbirth is a weakening of the pelvic floor. It can also be an issue you face with age. You might know this as bladder leakage, incontinence or prolapsed (when things such as your uterus, bladder or part of the bowel may drop and sit heavily on the pelvic floor).
If you find that you worry about sneezing for example because you might have a small dribble or you urinate more frequently and with unexplained urgency or feel pain and pressure in the vagina, it could be an issue with your pelvic floor.
There are also issues such as spasms, nerve pain and bulging in the rectum or vagina that can impact upon normal pelvic floor function (such as holding in your pee and poo, and all of your abdominal organs). Not to mention the discomfort and pain you can experience if you have pelvic floor dysfunction.
A lot of women we speak to in our Body Beyond Birth community have come to expect that with age and after childbirth, incontinence, pressure and even pain in the nether regions are the norm. But they don’t have to be.
That’s why today, we’re taking you through the pelvic floor so you can better arm yourself with knowledge and make an informed choice about your pelvic floor health.
The back story on women and pelvic floor issues
Like any other muscle, the pelvic floor muscles need strength to perform at their best. This sling shaped area has many muscles, nerves, connective tissues and ligaments that come together. A lack of fitness in one area can directly influence your pelvis’ ability to function as it should.
If you have had a few children, have had multiple births such as twins or triplets, a difficult labour, require inducement, have difficulty dilating during labour or have a weak pelvis to begin with, the pelvic floor will take a battering and need time to heal post pregnancy and birth.
Weight gain, perineal tearing, having a large baby and/or constipation issues that cause straining can all contribute to pelvic floor weakness and issues. Genes can influence how well your pelvic floor performs. Even lifting too heavy an object or high impact exercise when the body is ill-prepared can prove problematic.
As you can tell from the myriad of causes of issues, pelvic floor dysfunction is not uncommon. In fact, it’s estimated that 25% of all American women have pelvic floor issues according to the National Institute of Health. According to the Australian Continence Foundation of Australia, 4.8million Australians have incontinence issues. 1 in 3 pregnant women make up a large proportion of this figure.
But as we mentioned before, it’s not something you have to settle for.
And like most health conditions, the focus should be on prevention followed by treatment.
Preventing issues with your pelvic floor
Like Becky often says, “use it or lose it!” The muscles in your body want to be worked, stretched and kept at a fitness level so they can best service your body.
Part of the reason we developed our pregnancy program was to balance the needs of the pelvic floor and the changes within your body during pregnancy. We developed Body Beyond Birth so you could receive exercise and fitness support that wasn’t going to put baby at risk. All while dealing with common pregnancy related issues namely your pelvic floor.
Using Pilates online gives you the ability to bring that pelvic region into focus. A lot of exercise doesn’t focus on this vital area. The pelvic floor supports the bowel, the bladder the uterus and the vagina. These areas are hammered by the increased pressure of having a small human growing inside a body. It becomes a sling that holds everything in place as baby grows. And it has to cope with the pressure of gravity, a lot of movement from a happy bub and a lot of extra weight in a critical area of the body.
A few ways you can work on helping your pelvic floor at any age or fitness level, whether you have had children or not are:
- Using gentle exercise such as our online Pilates course and the additional yoga units to develop strength in the muscles and tendons
- Changing toileting habits. E.g. resisting the urge to push through constipation and/or straining to urinate and allowing for natural process to occur
- Embrace the warm Epsom salt bath. The pelvic area loves the support of warm water and the Epsom salts contain Magnesium which helps with muscle repair.
- Consulting a physiotherapist, midwife or obstetrician to receive exercises that help support your specific issues
- Speak to a GP, OBGYN or gynaecologist to receive a treatment plan if you are in a high risk category such as pregnancy, multiple birth, pre-existing condition and family history
Other factors that may create pelvic floor issues
As the pelvic floor involves the bladder, bowel and uterus, a few disorders can also create additional problems for you when it comes to maintaining pelvic floor health.
Women with menstruation difficulties and uterine related issues such as endometrioses, fibroids and chronic pelvic inflammatory disease can face a tougher time with the pelvic area than most. So too do women with bowel disorders and digestive ailments such as diverticulitis, diverticulosis and colitis. Another group that has issues are women with bladder dysfunction such as interstitial cystitis (aka bladder infection), an infection that causes bladder inflammation and an urgency to pee or even painful urination.
If you are finding that your period is painful and involves symptoms in the bowel and the bladder, especially if you have pain, a change in toileting habits and exhibit other symptoms such as raised temperatures, always get yourself checked out. It may be a passing thing, but it could be an infection or a disease. Both the latter require proper treatment to ward off serious issues.
So the take home message is: always to check the any abnormal function of your pelvic organs thoroughly and find out why your pelvic floor may be experiencing issues.
Working on the pelvic floor after birth
The original Body Beyond Birth programs were in response to Becky’s work with Jackie and their combined knowledge and experience. Becky was Jackie’s physio after Jackie carried and gave birth to twins. There were pelvic floor issues that impacted Jackie’s quality of life. Through using a combination of physio and Pilates to restore Jackie’s health, the two women were hit with a brain wave. Women commonly have issues recovering not only post baby body and weight after birth but also fitness in key body areas. One of those areas of focus was the pelvic floor.
Using exercises based on physiotherapy, yoga and Pilates online seemed like the best way to help women. So Body Beyond Birth was developed.
Our level one program deals specifically with women that may be recovering from a difficult birth and/or pelvic floor issues. It involves gentle but challenging exercise based on Pilates, yoga and resistance exercise ideas.
Part of the reason we chose 20 minute intervals is so that a busy momma could take full advantage of the program. Another reason is because it’s the perfect time to help rebuild health without aggravating an injury or issue.
You can also take an approach that helps your body heal as you exercise with us such as:
- Working on your bowel health by increasing your fruit, vegetable and fibre intake to avoid constipation
- Practise a focus on holding urine as opposed to encouraging micro urination
- Waiting for all the urine to be expelled when you toilet rather than rushing to finish
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Using sound information to help you train your pelvic floor back to fitness – always feel free to contact the Body Beyond Birth team
Make use of the free resources at the Continence Foundation of Australia as part of your learning and return to health. For example, they have a great hand out on the impacts of pregnancy that is free to download that has a lot of great tips and advice. While the title focuses on urination issues, the information contained within is helpful no matter your circumstance.