How To Care For Your Pelvic Floor
Hemorrhoids, incontinence and painful intercourse: just a few of the potential joys of pregnancy. Luckily, taking care of your pelvic floor before, during and after pregnancy can help reduce their severity or prevent them all together
If you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, you’ve probably heard people talk about their Pelvic Floor. (Probably someone who’s sneezed and then needed to leave a party or a mom who opted not to do the jumping jacks in your group fitness class…)
To clarify, a woman’s pelvic floor is made up of muscles that support her uterus, bladder, and bowel. It also supports the passage of urine and fecal matter and keeps sex feeling pleasurable. Basically, it holds down the fort.
When your pelvic floor is weakened due to pregnancy, incorrect exercise techniques or surgery, women may experience a loss of bladder control or even bowel incontinence. It can also sometimes result in painful intercourse of a reduced vaginal sensation. (Like you need any of those issues when you’re chasing after a toddler…) Don’t worry, we can work on this!
As your baby grows inside your belly, there is an increase of pressure on the pelvic floor. When you give birth, the pregnancy hormone that has been helping to weaken the ligaments and muscles so your baby can fit through the birth canal, can result in actual damage to your pelvic floor muscles. This is why it’s crucial to do pelvic floor exercises before, during and after pregnancy.
The first thing you need to do before embarking on a pelvic floor fitness routine is make sure you can identify your pelvic floor muscles. The Pelvic Floor First Organization recommends two methods for identifying where your pelvic floor muscles are located.
When sitting on the toilet, try to stop or slow the flow of urine midway through emptying the bladder. Stopping the flow of urine repeatedly on the toilet is not an exercise, but a way of identifying your pelvic floor muscles. This should only be done to identify which muscles are needed for bladder control. Remember, do not repeatedly stop the flow of urine as this can lead to infections.
Imagine stopping the flow of urine and holding in flatus (wind) at the same time. This can be done lying down, sitting or standing with legs about shoulder width apart.
Step 1: Relax the muscles of your thighs, bottom and tummy
Step 2: Squeeze in the muscles around the front passage as if trying to stop the flow of urine.
Step 3: Squeeze in the muscles around the vagina and suck upwards inside the pelvic.
Step 4: Squeeze in the muscles around the back passage as if trying to stop passing wind.
Step 5: The muscles around the front and back passages should squeeze up and inside the pelvis.
Step 6: Identify the muscles that contract when you do all these things together. Then relax and loosen them.
Once you’re confident you can control your pelvic floor muscles, we suggest doing Kegel exercises. To do Kegels, you simply squeeze the muscles around the vagina as if you are stopping the flow of urine; hold for 10 seconds, breathing normally, then slowly release. Do this 10 times. It’s important to make sure that your stomach is relaxed while doing this.
Another version of Kegels involves tightening the ring of muscles around both your vagina and anus drawing the pelvic floor muscles up inside. Try to complete up to 10 slow squeezes and 10 fast squeezing exercises. If you have mastered the art of contracting your pelvic floor muscles correctly, you can try holding the inward squeeze for longer (up to 10 seconds) before relaxing. Make sure you can breathe easily while you squeeze. If you can do this exercise, repeat it up to 10 times, but only as long as you can do it with perfect technique while breathing quietly and keeping everything above the belly button relaxed. This can be done more often during the day to improve control.
When To Seek Professional Help
The Pelvic Floor First Organization advises to seek professional help when you have bladder or bowel control problems with symptoms such as:
- Needing to urgently or frequently go to the toilet to pass urine or bowel motions
- Accidental leakage of urine, bowel motions or wind
- Difficulty emptying your bladder or bowel
- Vaginal heaviness or a bulge, or
- Pain in the bladder, bowel or in your back near the pelvic floor area when exercising the pelvic floor or during intercourse.
These problems may not necessarily be linked to weak pelvic floor muscles and should be properly assessed.