Having a baby is miraculous and magical and all kinds of wonderful… but at the end of the day, pushing a watermelon through the size of a lemon is no small thing! It’s challenging and it can be tough on our bodies. That’s why it’s crucial to give ourselves time to recover, reconnect and rehabilitate the important muscles of our pelvic floor after carrying and delivering a baby.
Working with women for as long as I have, I see on a daily basis the benefits of working pelvic floor muscles pre and post-baby. That’s why I’ve come up with five top tips for showing your pelvic floor a little TLC after birth for the best recovery possible.
1. Do your pelvic floor exercises (and do them correctly)
Yes, this one seems kind of obvious – but the only way to strengthen your pelvic floor is to work it like any other muscle. It goes through a lot of pressure and hard work (not to mention stretching) while you’re birthing a baby so it needs some time to warm up with regular exercises.
The real kicker here is that you need to make sure you are doing these exercises the right way. Did you know that up to 50% of women perform pelvic floor exercises incorrectly? I recommend seeking guidance from a women’s health physiotherapist, so you know exactly how well your pelvic floor muscles are working.
In the meantime, try performing three sets of 10 repetitions squeezing your front and back passage and lifting internally, followed by full relaxation and dropping of the pelvic floor back to its starting position. To finish try 10 quick lifts to challenge coordination and speed of the pelvic floor muscles as this can come in very handle as practice for times of an unexpected cough or sneeze.
2. Use your pelvic floor functionally
Practising pelvic floor exercises are definitely a great start, but what’s the point of all that hard work if you don’t use it when you need it?! A great habit to get into (for life) is contracting your pelvic floor prior to – and holding throughout – times of increased pressure. These times could be while coughing, sneezing or lifting things. And you know what? It might just be the thing that stops you from having an ‘uh oh’ moment and leaking during these activities (bonus)!
3. Don’t ignore the signs
Having a baby is a BIG DEAL. And you will notice some changes in your body post-birth that are a bit uncomfortable. Things like leaking urine, faecal incontinence (especially if you’ve had a third or fourth degree tear), incomplete bladder emptying, feelings of heaviness internally, dragging sensations or pelvic pressure, perineal discomfort, pain during sex or lower back aches. These symptoms are common in the early stages of your post-baby life, but they should not continue long-term.
If you’re feeling these symptoms of pain, experiencing incontinence or prolapse, speak with your women’s health physiotherapist. It’s amazing what early intervention can do to help and even cure pelvic floor dysfunction.
4. Practice good bathroom habits
This means making regular trips to the bathroom and really listening to your body’s urge to answer nature’s call. You should aim to go when you get a moderate to strong urge, avoiding the ‘just in case’ trips to the toilet.
When it comes to the bowels, everyone is different. That’s why it’s good to make a note of what is ‘normal’ for you in terms of frequency (most people have bowel movements once or twice a day).
Constipation and the need to strain to pass a bowel motion can put excessive pressure down through the pelvic floor muscles and pelvic organs. As well as being uncomfortable, this is counterproductive to the healing of the pelvic ligaments post-birth and can also cause other pelvic floor issues long term such as prolapse. Eek!
To help combat this issue, make sure you’re ingesting enough fluids and eating enough fibre. Another handy tip is to use a small stool (pardon the pun) or phone book that you can put under your feet while sitting on the toilet. This will lift the knees above the hips, helping you straighten the back passage and make it easier to pass a bowel motion.
5. Safely get back into exercise
Exercise is an amazing way to charge up those endorphins and reap the physical and mental benefits post-baby. They key is to get back into a routine at the right time for you and doing things that both are safe and feel good.
Most new mothers will be advised that they can safely return to exercise six weeks post-birth. However, unfortunately the information that’s given to them about what types of exercise and how intense it should be is often very vague. Healthcare and fitness professionals won’t always ask you what type of exercise you want to get back into, which can lead to women doing certain types of exercises far too soon.
Just like you wouldn’t start running on a new ACL repair 6 weeks after surgery, women post-birth need to take particular care of their pelvic floor during this time and safely build up its strength before jumping into a new exercise regime. Start slowly and carefully, increasing the activity slightly each time.
Because no woman is the same as the next (and every birth is different) this shouldn’t be treated as ‘one-size-fits-all’. It goes without saying that seeking advice from a women’s health physiotherapist is your best way to learn how to use your pelvic floor, optimise its function and return to exercise in the best way possible.
Danni Gillham is a physiotherapist and women’s health expert as well as founder and director of The Wellness Boutique on the Gold Coast