Most of us Mums have heard about our pelvic floor muscles, either during our pre-natal care, post-labour, at an OB-GYN check-up or at a post-natal fitness class. But… do we really understand what the pelvic floor is, what it does and why it is so important?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that wrap around our anus and urethra to help support the pelvic organs. These muscles form an essential part of our core stability, assist with continence, prevent prolapse and provide a stable trunk for our limbs. A healthy pelvic floor is crucial for women, and should be maintained, especially for women who have recently had a baby and ESPECIALLY those that want to join a post-natal exercise group.
It might reassure you to hear that one in three women struggle with some form of incontinence post childbirth. From little trickles of urine and a rush to get to the bathroom, to gushes of involuntary fluid after a sneeze or exercise; lots of women find suffering with incontinence embarrassing and inconvenient, but fail to do too much about it.
Perhaps we are nervous about having an awkward conversation with our GP, or maybe we assume that a weak pelvic floor is the price we must pay for giving life to our precious bundles? The truth is, it needn’t be.
Forget giving up your favourite gym class and feel free to bypass the incontinence pad aisle on your next trip to the supermarket – research has proven, time and time again, that pelvic muscle training can undoubtedly improve or even cure post-birth incontinence. Yes, we are busy once baby comes home. Indeed, we are tired. But learning how to actively care for our pelvic floor can improve the quality of many Mother’s lives, and reduce the chances of suffering with vaginal prolapse in the months after birth.
So how do you identify your pelvic floor muscles and how do you train them?
To identify our two layers of pelvic floor muscles, (superficial layer and the deep layer) Jenni Davies from Beaches Pelvic Physio in Dee Why recommends imagining a pebble dropping into water and visualising the ripples spreading outwards. When contracting your pelvic floor muscles, imagine you are reversing the flow of the ripples on the water, bringing them back into the core, where the pebble was dropped. Draw the ripples in (exercise your superficial layer of muscles located in the triangular area around your urethra and vagina, extending into the perineum and anal sphincter) and then lift them upwards toward your heart (exercising your deep layer of muscles which span the entire area of your pelvic floor). Each layer has a very distinct contraction – ‘squeezing’ in works your superficial layer of muscles, and ‘lifting up’ works your deep layer of muscles.
“Once you can feel the pelvic floor lifting inwards and upwards, the aim is to hold the contraction whilst continuing to breathe normally. You can then build up to holding the contraction for 10 seconds for 10 repetitions, being sure to fully relax in between exercises” says Jenni. “In addition to this, you can also try to do 20 quick contractions – full hold, full relax, as quickly as you can”.
“Do this well, once a day. Your muscles should feel tired at the end of your session, just as your muscles would after a good workout. If they aren’t, try doing a second set, being sure to correctly identify the muscles we are training”.
It can take up to 10 weeks to see a significant difference in your pelvic floor muscle strength. To track your progress, you can try to stop your urine flow next time you go to the toilet. You should be able to stop passing urine mid-flow, quickly and easily – your ability to do this shows that your muscles are working well. If you can slow your urine flow without stopping, your muscles are working but will need some work. If you can’t slow or stop your flow, or if you have been consistently training your muscles but have seen no change in your muscles control, you should consult your Pelvic Health Physio regarding a full assessment. You should only test your muscles with this technique once a week.
Incontinence after pregnancy is nothing to feel embarrassed about, and it certainly should not have a negative impact on your daily activities. If your weak pelvic floor muscles are impeding your participation in post-natal exercise, having a good belly-laugh or make you dread coming down with a bout of sneezy hay fever, please don’t ignore your signs and symptoms. A good Pelvic Health Physio will be able to determine if there is any underlying issue that needs addressing more specifically, and tailor a regime to help you achieve your goals. It is also important to note that sometimes symptoms and pain are caused by an over-active pelvic floor and we should ensure that we are fully relaxing our pelvic floor between contractions too.
Jenni recommends several products to assist you on your journey to pelvic floor health. To suit a range of problems and a variety of budgets, Jenni has a comprehensive list of products – from weighted AquaFlex Vaginal Cones, a simple system of vaginal weights allowing you to discreetly strengthen your pelvic floor whilst going about your daily routine to the highly regarded PeriCoach, an easy-to-use home audio/visual feedback unit to motivate and guide you with your pelvic floor exercises. To view the full range visit Pelvic Floor – products
Jenni visits Buggy Bootcamp on the first Friday of every month at 9.30AM, so come on down (whether you are a member or not!) to North Steyne for a chat then. And go squeeeeeze!