As creators of the Empowered Motherhood Program, we believe education is power. There are 5 key things we’d love you to know about your pelvic floor.
1. Your pelvic floor has just had to stretch up to three times its normal length!
During a vaginal birth your pelvic floor will experience the biggest load EVER placed on it. So it’s no wonder that studies show an average of 25 – 35% reduction in pelvic floor strength following birth. If your birth was slightly more complicated and required an episiotomy, forceps or ventouse, then you may be more likely to feel the changes to your pelvic floor in the months following birth.
As you may know, one role of the pelvic floor is to support the pelvic organs. A second role is to create a tight seal or ‘sphincter’ around the urethra and rectum to prevent incontinence. In its weakened and stretched state, the pelvic floor may not perform either of these roles well. Which is why more than 50% of women will experience urinary or bowel leaking in the first few weeks and months following birth.
If this is you, don’t be alarmed. There are steps you can take to begin to heal and strengthen your pelvic floor.
2. Don’t wait for your six-week check-up to start
When is the right time to start your pelvic floor exercises? It’s actually Day One ( or if you have a catheter wait till it is removed!)
In the days and weeks following birth, your vagina may be swollen and bruised. By practising gentle pelvic floor contractions from birth you can help to improve blood flow to the area to promote swelling reduction and healing.
Another benefit of pelvic floor contractions in the early days is to re-connect the neural pathways. In around 80 per cent of women the nerve that connects the pelvic floor to the brain (the pudendal nerve) can be bruised or damaged. This means that the messages it sends to achieve activation of the pelvic floor occur much much slower.
Early pelvic floor exercises encourage regeneration of this nerve and healthy pelvic floor activation.
3. 50 per cent of women will do their pelvic floor exercises incorrectly
We don’t want that to be you. Which is why we are sharing this Level 1 Pelvic Floor Workout from the Empowered Motherhood Program to help you to connect to your pelvic floor and engage it in the right way.
Doing your pelvic floor exercises at the same time as you feed your baby is a great way to remember to do them.
4. One of the most important things you can do for your pelvic floor has nothing to do with Kegels
If you make an appointment with a Women’s Health Physio at around 6-8 weeks post-birth, as well as checking your pelvic floor and core, they will probably tell you one thing. Avoid becoming constipated!
Constipation places excess strain on the pelvic floor. You know the drill: increase your water intake and ensure you are getting large amounts of soluble fibre such as from porridge, dried fruits, and chia seeds.
When you are on the toilet lean forward and place your elbows on your knees and rise up on your tippy-toes. This position helps to open up your bowel with the least amount of pressure on the pelvic floor.
Be sure not to hold your breath, push, or rush. An extra minute on the toilet can make a difference to your pelvic floor in the long run.
5. Sex after birth should not be painful
This is a big one. Please don’t think you have to put up with pain during intercourse. One study showed that 64.3 per cent of women reported pain during intercourse in the first year following childbirth. This should NOT be your new normal!
Contributing factors can be hormonal, sensitised scar tissue from an episiotomy or tears, muscle tightness or psychosocial contributors such as anxiety or fear. If you are experiencing pain during intercourse, then it is a good idea to stop your pelvic floor exercises and see a women's health Physiotherapist who can help you to work out why.
If you are looking at what steps to take next to put the healing of your postnatal body as a priority, the Empowered Motherhood Program is your postnatal go to. It is a Physiotherapy expert-led program that will guide you back with graduated challenging exercise along with interesting education on all things postnatal recovery. It even covers topics such as returning to sex for the first time post-baby!
Your other postnatal essential is to get to a Women Health Physiotherapist for a postnatal check. This is just as important as your six-week check-up with your doctor or midwife and will check everything from your pelvic floor activation, abdominal separation and so much more. It is an ABSOLUTE essential before returning to any impact exercise.