Caring for Your Pelvic Floor : From Pregnancy to Postpartum
Get to know your pelvic floor better with MUTU’s guide to this important muscle group. Includes pelvic floor exercises, tips, methods of care, and everything else a mom or expecting mom needs to know.
The basics of the pelvic floor: Understanding its role in the body
When we talk about the pelvic floor, we’re talking about the muscles and tissues around your pelvis. Your pelvic floor muscles support organs like your large intestines (bowels), bladder, and internal reproductive organs. They attach at the front and at the back — from pubic bone to tailbone — sort of like a hammock.
How do the pelvic floor muscles work?
Your pelvic floor muscles need to be simultaneously strong, flexible, and functional. This means they need to be able to be fully relaxed as well as contracted as required. Too tight or too loose can make for a pelvic floor that doesn’t work optimally.
For the most part, we learn how to control our pelvic floor muscles early on in life when we learn how to control when we pee and poop. These movements become routine pretty quick. This means that we’re often engaging our pelvic floor muscles without thinking about it.
Our pelvic floor muscles are also partially responsible for reaching orgasm. This is often done without specifically thinking about using these muscles.
The pelvic floor after birth : What happens during pregnancy & postpartum?
Your body is normally doing quite a bit of heavy lifting to maintain proper organ placement and function in our pelvic brim even without adding the massive changes of pregnancy into the mix. As your uterus does its incredible expansion and you grow a whole bitty human in there (or a few of them at once), it is obviously going to put some added strain on your pelvic muscles and ligaments.
Secondly, there is a whole soup of hormones in there to help bend, stretch, and soften the muscles and ligaments in your pelvic brim. It’s a very efficient and wonderful thing to happen to help make space for and move your baby out of your body. It’s a system that allows us to walk up right and have giant brains while still being able to attempt vaginal birth.
The downside of this is that it’s not always the smoothest dance or one that ‘bounces back’ in weeks after being so changed for many months. There are loads of reasons (and usually some assortment of several) that can make for a weaker pelvic floor in pregnancy and postpartum. Some of these reasons come from the normal changes occurring in pregnancy which happen to affect some mums more than others. Some reasons are due to circumstances that arise in the process of giving birth or from certain birthing procedures.
Read more about the effects of pregnancy and birth on your pelvic floor health here. Read this if you’re wondering about pelvic floor therapy after c-section and the potential effects of a caesarean birth or vaginal birth.
Why your pelvic floor needs care and attention (especially after childbirth)
It can be easy to take pelvic floor health for granted till there’s an issue. Your pelvic floor muscles are important for holding things together and letting things go. It’s a stabilising force for your organs and spine, protecting both from external stressors.
Issues with this muscle group are often more significant than we give credit:
- Almost 1 in 4 women between the ages of 18 and 44 experience incontinence.
- 30% said pelvic health affected their performance or focus at work
- 36% felt anxious and embarrassed in the workplace due to pelvic health issues
- 87% of women said that dealing with pelvic health issues had affected their mental health at some stage
These muscles are both supportive and flexible, allowing for waste to be removed from your body in a smooth and controlled way. Holding in your pee or poo often or for long stretches of time can both make it more likely to cause pelvic floor issues. Feeling like you can’t void properly can also be a symptom of underlying pelvic floor dysfunction. You could be at increased risk of infection, inflammation, and digestive issues because of this.
It can also matter when it comes to enjoying sex and having an orgasm, too. This is true for people with penises or vaginas and for penetrative and non-penetrative sex.
Weak pelvic floor or pelvic floor dysfunction : Understanding the causes
Like most things in our bodies, biomechanics and alignment, excess strain, trauma, genetics, major changes in your health, surgery, substantial weight gain, age, and injury can all contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction.
Believe it or not, your mental health and habits can factor into the strength of your pelvic floor, too. Learn more about the links between pelvic floor health and mental health here.
Spotting the Signs: Recognizing the Symptoms of a Weak Pelvic Floor
- Leaking urine when you workout, bounce, laugh, cough, run, or sneeze
- Needing to pee frequently
- Less vaginal sensation or painful vaginal sensations
- Painful sex or reduced sensation during sex
- Pelvic organ prolapse (POP)
- Bowel dysfunction, including difficulty pooping and anal incontinence (AI)
- Hypertonic Pelvic Floor Disorder
Unfortunately, these issues are fairly common among adult women. About 1 in 3 women will experience pelvic floor dysfunction in her lifetime.
Locate and connect with the 3 zones of your pelvic floor muscles. Practice engaging the muscles around each opening separately. Pelvic floor acrobats. No glute (butt) clenching or tailbone tucking – this prevents your pelvic floor doing its job.
2. Decompress and Lift
Breathe deep into the back of your rib cage, then exhale as you lift your pelvic floor as if picking up a peanut with your vagina or drawing a tampon up inside you. Note: don’t actually pick a peanut up with your vagina. That would be weird.
3. Use Resistance
Exercises that involve moving your legs apart or squeezing them together against resistance get your pelvic floor muscles firing as an automatic ‘co-contraction’. Clever.
4. Align Your Body
Get out of your high heeled shoes, sit less and un-tuck your tailbone to enable your pelvic floor to work optimally and at full length.
All movement relies on the core and pelvic floor providing stability, so walk, squat, jump, pull, push, lunge and rotate to give them a toning workout.
6. Be Regular
Lots of water and fresh fruit and vegetables will help you avoid constipation. Good bowel habits are crucial to pelvic floor health.
Download this handout on caring for your pelvic floor here.
What to Do if I am Experiencing Pelvic Pain?
It’s important to first rule out a possible infection or chronic inflammatory condition. This is usually done with some simple tests through your GP or clinic.
If your pelvic pain is persistent and you’re sure it’s not an infection, talk to your GP, midwife, or OBGYN about your pain. They may recommend having you go for additional testing or refer you to a specialist. Depending on your level of pain, they may suggest starting with some of the exercises and mental health practices first and have you follow up.
If it is available in your area, with your insurance or finances, and seems interesting to you to do, you might want to make an appointment with a pelvic floor therapist.
If you think it might be hypertonic pelvic floor disorder, check out this article to read up on specific tips and exercises to help address your pain.