Running, high intensity workouts, sports, weight training....
New mums are hesitant to get back to the activities they love because they’re worried about the impact of pregnancy on their pelvic floor.
Many postnatal women experience pelvic floor dysfunction during or after pregnancy. A recent survey suggested that over 60% of women have at least one symptom of poor pelvic floor health.
Unfortunately when it comes to postnatal pelvic health, women are given very little support to help them recover and there’s a huge misconception that it’s just normal after having children.
This can have a huge impact on quality of life.
Whilst it’s common, this doesn’t mean that it’s inevitable or untreatable and it doesn’t need to be a part of your life forever!
So what is pelvic floor dysfunction?
Pelvic floor dysfunction is where the pelvic floor muscles supporting the bladder, bowel and uterus become weakened and less supportive.
In relation to pregnancy and birth this can happen due to:
the increased weight of the baby (fluids, placenta etc) on the pelvic floor,
the birth (vaginal births in particular, can result in lead to stretching or tears in the perineum and pelvic floor muscles); and
postnatal hormonal changes.
The primary symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction include:
Incontinence (both urinary and faesal)
Feeling of heaviness in the perineum and pelvic organ prolapse
Lower back or pelvic pain
If you are experiencing these in the postnatal period this is not something you should have to live with.
How do I get checked?
The best place to start is with your postnatal health practitioners (although notoriously the NHS do very little to assist women in this regard).
So, on the basis that you might not get the help you need, I would recommend a pelvic health check with a pelvic health physiotherapist post-birth (often referred to as a Mummy MOT). This will tell you exactly where you’re at in terms of your recovery and what you need to do to rebuild your muscle tone.
Then, you just have to make sure you actually follow the advice given! Easier said than done.
Can I exercise?
During exercise the pelvic floor muscles play a key part in regulating intra-abdominal pressure. In a healthy pelvic floor your muscles will be continuously contracting and releasing as you go about your activities without you having to think about it.
This ability is lessened when you are experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction.
The more strenuous the exercise, the greater the increase in intra-abdominal pressure and the more pressure on the pelvic floor which exacerbates symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction.
Exercises that may be more likely to cause these symptoms include high impact exercise, heavily loaded exercises that encourage bearing down, intense abs focused exercises and weighted exercises in a wider stance.
This doesn’t mean you need to stop the exercise altogether however, it might just mean that a particular version of the exercise is placing too much pressure on your pelvic floor and we need to play around with it to find something more suitable for your level of recovery.
Changing your position, decreasing your range of motion, lowering the weight, slowing down the movement or changing your breathing pattern can all help reduce pressure on the pelvic floor and alleviate symptoms so that you are exercising within a safe range for your body.
You want to be able to find a way to move that works for you and where you’re at in your postnatal recovery.
Then, as your pelvic floor strengthens you’ll gradually be able to increase the intensity of your activity. As with any recovery process it will take time and consistency but you will get there.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms the best thing you can do is seek treatment early either via your postnatal health team, a pelvic health check or Mummy MOT.
When exercising, don’t push through any pelvic floor discomfort or symptoms. Flag this with your postnatal coach and they will be able to give you a more suitable version of the exercise for your body.
This is not something you should have to live with just because you’ve had a baby! Help is out there - make sure you get some.
Have a lovely day.