Wondering if you’ll ever be able to jump on the trampoline again or if you’ll always experience light leakage when you sneeze? Your pelvic floor muscles need to work hard during pregnancy but there are ways you can strengthen and decrease the muscle strain that will help with your recovery after childbirth and reduce those embarrassing moments.
Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles and ligaments that support your pelvic organs. Pregnancy and childbirth put a lot of pressure on these muscles and can cause strain. If you’re experiencing weak pelvic floor muscles, you may find that you leak when you sneeze or strain to lift something heavy. While very common, this can be a great source of embarrassment and concern particularly leading up to giving birth.
Whole Body Health and Wellness osteopath Tanja Mckzenie shares some information about the pelvic floor and advice about strengthening these muscles to support your pregnancy and help you recover after childbirth.
What is the pelvic floor?
Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support your pelvic organs including your bladder, uterus and bowel. These muscles act as a sling to support your bowel, bladder and uterus, almost like a hammock. During birth and pregnancy, these muscles can become weakened and stretched from supporting the weight of your growing baby.
Regardless of whether you’re growing a small or large baby, or delivering vaginally or via c-section, your pelvic floor is vulnerable to stress and damage.
Common signs of a weak pelvic floor
There are several common signs of a weak pelvic floor in women including:
- Urination leakage with exertion, coughing, sneezing or laughing.
- Failing to reach the toilet on time.
- Prolapse or increased risk of a prolapse. This is where your pelvic organs begin to protrude through your anus or vagina.
- The sensation of heaviness in the vagina or anus.
- Passing of wind from the vagina or anus.
Some of the less obvious signs that your pelvic floor may be strained include lower back pain, pelvic girdle pain, constipation or discomfort during intercourse.
What causes a pelvic floor muscle weakness?
While pregnancy is one of the most common causes of a weak pelvic floor, other things can cause strain and damage to these muscles. This can include:
- Prolonged pushing during delivery or delivery of a large baby
- Being overweight
- Constipation or excessive straining during a bowel movement
- Excessive coughing causing straining
- Changes in hormone levels during menopause
- Persistent heavy lifting
Although urine leakage is very common postnatal it isn’t normal and can be treated. Just like any other muscle in your body, your pelvic floor can be strengthened so you don’t have to endure those embarrassing moments.
What can I do to help strengthen my pelvic floor?
It’s never too late to start doing your pelvic floor exercises. Strengthening these before or during pregnancy can decrease strain in the muscles during birth and help with your recovery after birth or a cesarean.
Here are our 5 top tips to help strengthen your pelvic floor
- Do your pelvic floor exercises regularly and consistently. We recommended practising them daily. If you link them to a task that you every day such as sitting at traffic lights in the car or waiting for the kettle to boil it may help you remember to do them.
- Avoid constipation as this over time stretches and weakens the pelvic floor. Staying hydrated and incorporating fibre into your diet, in particular insoluble fibre, can help to soften your stool and improve regularity. Also, consider the effect your medication and supplements, such as iron, have on your bowel movement regularity.
- When on the toilet, rather than sitting upright, lean forwards with a straight back and try to have your knees higher than your hips. You can use a low stool to get into this position. Put your elbows on your knees and let your belly relax to aid a more natural passage for your bowel movement.
- Participate in regular exercises, such as walking or light resistance training, and remember to engage your pelvic floor muscles every time you change positions or lift something.
- Make a birth recovery plan – the pelvic floor exercises you during your pregnancy are going to be different from those you do after you’ve given birth. Making a plan with a trusted health practitioner can improve your postnatal recovery outcomes.
If you’re concerned about your pelvic floor muscles, talk to your osteopath or an experienced health practitioner in the area of women’s health who can teach you how to do these exercises correctly and can help you progress as you get stronger. I definitely recommend seeking advice on your pelvic floor exercises after birth for your recovery.
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