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PRE & pOST NATAL

A collection of blogs about health, fitness, lifestyle and being a mum.

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So what is your pelvic floor?

Your pelvic floor muscles sit at the base of your body. As well as supporting your bladder, uterus and rectum and the functioning of those organs, they are also vital for giving birth, sexual function and your core strength and stability.

No matter what type of delivery you have, the weight of a growing baby alone will likely weaken your pelvic floor muscles. If you have a vaginal delivery, your pelvic floor muscles can be put under further stress at this point. So it’s no great surprise that these muscles will need a bit of attention after child birth in order for them to do their job effectively.

If your pelvic floor stops working properly it can lead to a number of problems including incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and painful sex. Please don’t wait to suffer from one of these problems before you start paying attention to your pelvic floor.

I’ve heard too many women dismiss unfortunate leaks when they sneeze, laugh or cough as normal because they have had children. It’s like they have been told ‘Well what do you expect? Yo‍‍‍‍‍‍u’ve had children!”. No No No. Just because lots of w‍‍‍omen experience it doesn’t make it normal.

‍‍‍‍‍‍May 30, 2017 - The Pelvic Floor

I remember after having my second daughter someone handed me a flyer about pelvic floor exercises in the hospital. Given this was only a few hours after giving birth to a 10lb baby with little more than a paracetamol as pain relief, my first reaction was ‘Are you kidding me? I don’t even want to think about what’s going on down there, let alone try exercising it!’. I clearly didn’t say this and politely accepted the flyer thinking that I would get to all that in a couple of days when I was less in shock and more able to stand unaided.

The difference for me compared to a lot of other women is that I did think about it later on and did do the exercises – but only because I was more aware of what I needed to do and why it was so important for me as a woman.

Looking back - the person who handed me the leaflet could have been handing me anything – she made no attempt to explain the importance of the content of the leaflet or why these exercises were so important for me to do. These days, there is an assumption that women know everything they need to know about their own bodies – which is far from the truth. Yes, we know we have a pelvic floor, and yes, we know we should exercise it – but not many of us know why, how, when or for how long. To many of us it’s still a bit of an unknown area and we only really start paying attention to it when it’s not working as it should. Strong and fully functioning pelvic floor muscles are essential for all women, whether you’ve had a child or not.

The Core

Your pelvic floor doesn’t work alone, it is an integral part of your core unit. Your core is not just made up of your tummy muscles. Instead, think of your core as a box – the top is your diaphragm, at the front are your tummy muscles, at the back are your back muscles and at the base are your pelvic floor muscles. To focus on the pelvic floor in isolation of all these other muscles, would make it a lot harder to repair it.

Now think about your everyday new mum. Her tummy muscles are likely to have been stretched during pregnancy, she may even have a slight gap in them (aka diastasis recti), her breathing may be a bit more shallow due to months of having little feet stuck up under her ribs, she is quite likely to be lifting a heavy car seat at times and her posture when sitting/standing may be drawn forward and her shoulders hunched over. So even if she does do the pelvic floor exercises she was advised to do, she might not see the benefit as much as if she strengthened and repaired her core as a whole.

How to improve your pelvic floor

Clearly, doing your pelvic floor exercises is at the top of the list but these also need to be combined with having good posture, both when sitting and standing. If you are hunched over a lot of the time when feeding or holding your baby, or your bottom is sticking out when you stand, it can impede your core and pelvic floor recovery.

You also need to be mindful of your nutrition and hydration, i.e. make sure you are drinking plenty of water and getting some good healthy protein in your diet to help repair those muscles and connective tissues.

In terms of exercise, I would always advise speaking to someone who is qualified in post natal exercise before you embark on any exercise programme following child birth. Focus here should be on improving your core strength, including your pelvic floor. Even a simple squat can be harnessed to help reconnect and strengthen your core and pelvic floor if done correctly.

Remember, your pelvic floor is the foundation of your body. It is designed to support and protect you. But it does need a helping hand if it’s going to be able to do its job throughout every life stage. So don’t wait until you have a problem with your pelvic floor, dedicate some time now to repairing and strengthening it after child birth, you won’t regret it.

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