Find Your Pelvic Floor Muscles - This complex and important set of muscles offer support for the pelvic organs, keep you continent and are an integral part of your core system giving your lumbar back and pelvis stability.
The muscles of the Pelvic Floor (PF) run from the pubic bone at the front to the lower spine (coccyx) at the back. They are also attached at the sides of your pelvis, to the bones that you sit on. They support the bladder, vagina & bowel.
They support the contents of the pelvis and are put under great strain during pregnancy and labour which isn't helped by hormones released during pregnancy to relax the soft tissues in preparation for labour. Think of a trampoline that can stretch under weight and recoil back again, only during prolonged stretching as in pregnancy they can become weakened/stretched increasing the risk of incontinence (being unable to make it to the toilet in time) or stress incontinence (leaking urine when laughing, coughing, sneezing or jogging - very common) or worse still a prolapse!
Working the pelvic floor muscles (PFM's) during pregnancy and balancing this with focused "letting go" or "relaxation" of the PFM's especially later in pregnancy is ideal).
In the early weeks following birth isolated pelvic floor exercises not only strengthens them but can help aid healing following tears during labour by increasing blood flow to that area and is the first step towards improving your core function.
The Pelvic Floor exercise is just one element of the overall picture for pelvic floor health. Posture, daily movement, good nutrition/hydration and a balance of muscle strength & flexibility are also necessary.
PAIN RED FLAG! Any pain in the pelvis or pelvic floor area is a red flag. Don't ignore it! Some women struggle with an over active pelvic floor that is in a permanent contracted state and unable to relax. Some of the symptoms can include pain (or pain during intercourse) and incontinence. A tight pelvic floor is also a weak/dysfunctional pelvic floor after all.
If suffering from incontinence speak to your midwife/G.P
To improve the symptoms of stress incontinence try to perform some pelvic floor exercises but if there's no improvement seek a referral from your G.P.
For a weak/lengthened pelvic floor commit to daily pelvic floor exercises and avoid anything that causes you to leak or increases pressure:
- high impact exercise e.g. jogging (jogging too soon post birth can lead to further damage!)
- lifting heavy objects, sitting straight up from a lying position or being constipated (creating abdominal pressure which puts strain on the weak abdominals and pelvic floor)
- Slouching or sitting with the pelvis tilted backwards (this can shorten the pelvic floor which can add to pelvic floor dysfunction!)
How to do Isolated pelvic floor exercise (can be performed within 24hrs of birth):
Slow contractions – On a slow exhalation through pursed lips (think blowing out a candle), "zip up" the back passage (as if to stop passing wind) to the front passage (as if to stop the flow of urine – do not practice this on the toilet! Or imagine moving the coccyx towards the public bone). Pull the pelvic floor muscles upwards as far as you can (to your imaginary 10th floor) over the count of 5 seconds. Hold for up to 5 seconds (whilst breathing) and release slowly. Rest for several seconds and repeat up to 10 times in total, 3 times per day.
Fast contractions – Draw up as above but fast on exhale (in one second) and release quickly on inhale (in one second). Perform 10 in total, 3 times per day.
When & how to do them:
- Whenever you can e.g watching TV/adverts, feeding baby, washing the dishes-form habits!!
- Easier – lying down then progress to sitting or standing (this adds gravity to pull up against)
- Easier still - try performing in a child's pose position (kneeling and sitting back on heels.)
Not feeling anything happen down there? Don't panic....they will get stronger the more you practise. If you don't feel them working after several weeks there could be some nerve damage and it's probably worth visiting the GP.
YES THEY ARE BORING & TEDIOUS BUT A GOOD STARTING POINT FOR PELVIC RECOVERY AND BETTER THAN A LIFETIME OF SPARE KNICKERS IN YOUR HANDBAG!!! JUST KIDDING!!
URINARY STRESS INCONTINENCE IS NOT SOMETHING YOU SHOULD BE LIVING WITH - IF IT DOESN'T IMPROVE SEEK HELP! YOUR GP CAN REFER YOU TO A WOMEN'S HEALTH PHYSIOTHERAPIST (check out the Mummy M.O.T service on this page!)
Pelvic floor muscles however don't work in isolation so integrating pelvic floor exercises into an exercise routine is also beneficial to which is something we do in class.
LEARN HOW TO SUPPORT YOUR PELVIC FLOOR FUNCTION FOR LIFE & HOW TO INTEGRATE THE PELVIC FLOOR INTO DYNAMIC MOVEMENT BASED EXERCISES IN MY MUMMY & BABY PILATES CLASS or PREGNANCY PILATES.
Prenatal & Postnatal Exercise Specialist
Tel. 07974 720341