Your body(and dare I say it, your partner, assuming they are a man) will be eternally grateful for the time and effort you put into pelvic floor muscles before and after birth.
The quiet achiever of the female anatomy – pelvic floor muscles – perform a host of important functions that we’d be lost without. They stop you from wetting yourself when laughing, enhance the physical sensation of sex and help you delay passing urine, opening bowels or passing wind until it’s convenient. During pregnancy and after birth they are particularly important and require special attention.
Where are they?
Your pelvic floor consists of a sling of muscles stretching like a hammock from your pubic bone to the front of your coccyx (tailbone) at the back. These muscles help to hold all the internal abdominal organs in place and control the bladder and back passage. The bladder, vagina, uterus and rectum are also supported by internal connective tissue, which keeps everything “up” and in place and the pelvic floor muscles are crucial for providing extra support.
What happens during pregnancy?
When you’re pregnant the weight of your growing baby places an additional strain on the pelvic floor muscles. At the same time, a pregnancy hormone called relaxin makes all the structures of the body more elastic. The combination of these hormonal changes and your baby’s weight bearing down on the pelvic floor means you may leak some urine. It may just be a single drop – usually when you cough, laugh or sneeze.
Constipation is also a common problem in pregnancy and straining to open your bowels puts further stress on the muscles. Try to avoid this by drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fruit and vegetables.
During labour as your baby descends, the head puts huge pressure on your pelvic floor, stretching the muscles and the connective tissue. A long or rapid labour, or a tear or episiotomy (a surgical incision in the perineum) can weaken the pelvic floor further.
A tight Squeeze
To strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, do the following exercises at least six times a day in different positions -sitting, lying down and standing. It may sound scary, but for maximum benefit, you will actually have to do these exercises every day for the rest of your life. (Duoh!)
Slow Exercise: lift and hold
Squeezing your pelvic floor muscles, hold for as long as you can until they tremble. Release. Aim to hold for five seconds.
Fast Excerise: Twitch
Squeeze and lift these muscles in a swift powerful movement for one second. Release. Repeat five times.
Simply breathe normally while doing these exercises and try to remember to do them at meal times, at red lights and in the shower – whenever you can!
It’s important to do these exercises regularly during pregnancy as the ligaments relax and aren’t strong enough to stop leaking.Begin your pelvic floor exercises as soon as you find out you’re pregnant – Leaking can occur as early as 10 weeks, especially in a second pregnancy. Didn’t start early? Then start late as late is better than not starting at all.
The Big Test
To test how your post-pelvic muscles are faring a few months down the track, fill your bladder and stand with your feet apart, then jump up and down and cough a couple of times. If you leak a little bit, don’t panic – it just means you have to be more diligent in doing your pelvic exercises. If you’re still leaking, three months down the track, you may need to speak to your GP.
Don’t be put off asking for medical help because you’re embarrassed. One in three women suffer from leaks, so you’re not alone. And until you’re back on track, discreet sanitary products will help give you the confidence to resume your daily activities without having to worry about any little “accidents”.
Our Top Seven Tips for your Pelvic Floor
- Resume your pelvic floor exercises 24 hours after giving birth for maximum benefit.
- For the first few days after birth, give your pelvic floor muscles a break by supporting them with a wad of toilet paper whenever you do a poo.
- It is good to hold on – don’t go to the loo “just in case”.
- Brace your pelvic muscles just before you cough. sneeze or jump.
- Drink plenty of filtered water – breasfeeding women may need up to three litres a day.
- Keep a sanitary product in your handbag – you may not need it, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you do.
- Make your man do it to. Its a great exercise for men to, will help his erectile strength and prevent later incontinence.