So, congratulations are in order! Well that’s the hard part out of the way, right? Physically maybe, but you have an exciting, yet extremely challenging journey ahead of you. You’re unlikely to have more than a moment to yourself for around the next twenty years, so when it comes to your pelvic floor, it’s doubtful that you will have given it a second thought. However, exercising the pelvic floor takes a matter of minutes a day, and when we consider how debilitating pelvic floor dysfunction after childbirth can be; it is certainly worth dedicating a tiny portion of your day to it.
The pelvic floor is made up of muscles, ligaments and fibres, which stretch like a tight sling from the pubic bone to the coccyx (tailbone). These muscles naturally expand during pregnancy to accommodate your growing baby. Similarly, they are stretched during labour itself as your baby makes its way through the birthing canal. The pelvic floor can be overstretched and weakened further in the event of prolonged pushing, perineal tearing/episiotomy, or assisted delivery (with forceps). Weaker muscles are much less effective, which in many cases can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction.
There are various conditions associated with pelvic floor dysfunction, including stress incontinence, pelvic or abdominal pain, sexual dysfunction (plus lack of sensitivity) and in extreme cases pelvic organ prolapse (when one or more of the pelvic organs move downwards into the vagina). All of which can be treated by performing some very simple pelvic floor exercises as part of your after delivery exercise regime.
Many women believe that stress incontinence is part and parcel of becoming a new mother. However, this is absolutely not the case. Not only is it an unnecessary sacrifice, it can also have adverse effects on both physical and mental wellbeing. When we refer to stress incontinence, we mean a small leak of urine which occurs due to additional pressure being placed on the abdomen. This can be caused by anything from a cough, to jumping up and down. As such, many new mums stop exercising altogether and make changes to their daily routine to avoid embarrassment. This not only affects fitness, it can be very demoralising and result in anxiety or even depression. It is believed that one in three new mums will suffer with stress incontinence as a result of childbirth. By toning the muscles it is possible to rebuild the strength of the pelvic floor, thereby regaining control over the body.
Strengthening the muscles in the pelvic floor can not only treat pelvic floor dysfunction, it also aids recovery and speeds up the entire healing process. A common souvenir from labour is the bruising and swelling of the perineum. Working the muscles in the pelvic floor improves blood circulation to the perineum, which effectively reduces this tissue damage. Additionally, pelvic floor exercise helps to stave off problems in the future. Regardless of whether or not you are struggling with a condition currently, your muscles will undoubtedly be weaker than they were prior to pregnancy. Without performing postnatal exercises, it is likely that you will suffer some form of pelvic floor dysfunction during your lifetime.
After six weeks you will have your postnatal check. It may be worth making an appointment with your doctor or physiotherapist prior to this if you had an assisted birth, experienced a severe tear, or were leaking urine in your first six weeks of pregnancy. If, six weeks after giving birth, you are still struggling with manual pelvic floor exercises, are in any pain, or still leaking urine, it is essential that you tell your doctor. Please don’t put it off; it may result in further complications.
Remember; don’t rush into anything too strenuous! We know how much pressure new mums put on themselves to get back into shape, but be careful not to do too much too soon. If your pelvic floor feels heavy it is important to slow down. We know that your main priority now is your child. However, in order to take care of them, it is essential that you keep taking good care of yourself!
How can I strengthen my pelvic floor postpartum?
You will almost certainly have engaged in pelvic floor exercises throughout pregnancy, and perhaps even beforehand. However, if this is not the case don’t despair; it’s never too late to start!
If you’ve never exercised your pelvic floor before, it is essential to locate exactly where it is in the body. The easiest way to do this is to stop yourself mid-stream next time you go to the toilet. The muscles that contract to stop the flow of urine make up part of the pelvic floor.
Now you know exactly where they are, these simple exercises can be performed to gradually rebuild your muscle strength;
- Squeeze your anal passage as if restricting wind
- Squeeze the urethra as if stopping the flow of urine
- Whilst lying down squeeze the pelvic floor muscles, lifting inwards and upwards
Manual pelvic floor exercises can be carried out as soon as one or two days after giving birth. You may experience a lack of sensitivity to begin with, but be patient and persevere; it won’t be long before you notice a change.
We recommend performing these exercises once or twice a day initially; however this can be gradually increased over time. If you experience any discomfort or pain, relax and try again later. It can take between three and six months to have you feeling like you’ve got your pre-pregnancy body back.