It’s true that pregnancy and childbirth can bring about some major physical changes. The focus is often on external ones, yes, we are talking about that growing bump. But one of the biggest pregnancy and childbirth changes impacts an area that’s impossible to see from the outside: the pelvic floor.
In general, people don’t often talk about their pelvic floor or categorise it as part of the postnatal recovery process. But it is a big element of your recovery so needs a little attention.
What is your pelvic floor?
In a nutshell the pelvic floor is essentially a group of muscles that acts as a support structure for the inta-abdominal organs. Basically, that means your internal muscles of your pelvic floor are like a hammock to support the organs such as the uterus, bladder and rectum. If something goes wrong with your pelvic floor, it can mess with your ability to pee or poop normally, with your sex life, and with your general function in that region. A little pee when you laugh? This is most likely a result of a weak pelvic floor.
What effect does pregnancy have on your pelvic floor?
Being pregnant and labour can have an effect on your pelvic floor. The muscles can be loosened and the connective tissues such a ligaments can weaken. Hormones such as progesterone, estrogen, and one literally called relaxin are all released during pregnancy. These hormones help the body prepare for labour by loosening these muscles to eventually allow the baby to pass through the birth canal more easily.
It sort of goes without saying that giving birth will also effect these muscles. In the process of child birth, the baby’s head will pass through the vagina meaning pelvic floor muscles get moved out of the way and sometimes tear. While doctors can usually repair such lacerations with surgery when necessary, it will take some time for your pelvic floor to recover. For some it might forever be a little different.
How common are pelvic floor issues?
The short answer is, they are very common! It is reported pelvic floor issues effect 1 in 3 women and up to 70% of expectant and new mums. Part of this is because a weak pelvic floor can be the result of a full range of factors outside of childbirth, such as weight gain, high-impact sport and ageing.
What can you do?
Well, enough of the doom and gloom, the good news is there are many things you can do to help repair and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. These exercises are targeted exercises that train and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Your best bet is to do pelvic floor exercises (also known as Kegel exercises or training).
Pelvic floor training programs can help to improve core strength and stability, as well as posture. They also help to support bladder control, will help your perineum heal faster, speed up postnatal recovery and reduce the risk of prolapse.
When it comes to sex, Kegels build muscle strength, increase sensation and boost blood flow to the vagina, which in turn helps you to experience stronger orgasms.
In the first few weeks it might feel like nothing is happening but inside you're working miracles. So whether you're looking to sort your symptoms, avoid issues down the line or for more control and stronger orgasms during sex, you’ll be glad you did your Kegels.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pelvic Floor exercises are super easy to get the hang of, the best part of it all is you can even exercise your pelvic floor whilst you are watching the TV. When it comes to your pelvic floor, as with most things, prevention is better than cure. Many women don’t realise the importance of Kegel exercises until after childbirth. However, performing your Kegels before and during pregnancy can help to prevent pelvic issues that may arise from pregnancy and childbirth. The NHS recommend the following exercises to boost recovery.
- Squeeze and draw in your back passage as if you’re holding wind.
- Squeeze around your vagina and bladder tube as if you’re stopping the flow of urine or squeezing during intercourse.
- Hold this contraction for five seconds and then relax for five seconds. Repeat this sequence five times.
- For optimum results, make sure you only contract your pelvic floor muscles. Keep the muscles in your abdomen, thighs and buttocks relaxed. Don’t hold your breath! Exhale while you’re contracting the muscles and inhale while you’re relaxing the muscles.
- In the past, women have been told to practice these squeezes whilst having a wee to test if they can stem the flow or wee. This isn’t the best way to do practice at is could result in your not emptying your bladder completely.
For best results it’s advised that you repeat your exercises three times a day. Try to aim for three sets of five repetitions daily, gradually working up to 10 second contractions.
Meet the Elvie Trainer!
It can be hard to maintain a regular routine with everything else going on, or you could simply get bored and give up. This is where the Elvie Trainer comes in! Elvie designed the Elvie trainer to make pelvic floor training fun, challenging and motivating so that you get the most out of the exercises and stay motivated.
The small, sleek device is inserted like a tampon and connects to an app on your smartphone, which visualises your pelvic floor movements in real time and guides you through exercises designed by pelvic floor specialists to strengthen and tone your pelvic floor.