Last week I decided to post an admission on Instagram that I’ve been struggling with my pelvic floor during pregnancy. I had been putting off this post for a while as I was slightly embarrassed. And I knew that admitting I leak when I sneeze isn’t something you can really take back,. Plus, lots of my male friends follow me on Instagram so I wasn’t sure how mature they would be. However, I’m not on social media to get laid. I’m here to help other women look after their bodies, so honesty was the best policy here.
I am so glad I did speak out as I was amazed by how many women came forward and got involved in this conversation. It seems it only takes one person admitting it for others to feel able to come forward also. I work with women every day, many who are post-natal, so knew how common pelvic floor issues were. But, if you don’t work in that arena it must be quite daunting a topic to discuss openly. I have also found from talking to women over the years that many of you aren’t 100% sure what the pelvic floor looks like, or how it functions.
So, I want to give you the facts, the stuff you NEED to know about the pelvic floor. We can add to this over the next few weeks and discuss the types of exercises you can do, but for now let’s keep it simple and discuss the in’s and out’s (excuse the pun) of the amazing, wonderful pelvic floor.
1. What is the Pelvic Floor?
The PF is made up of layers of muscle that stretch between the tailbone (coccyx), pubic bone and both sit bones. I like to imagine four corners of a tissue or a hammock resting between those four points. These muscles span the base of the pelvis and support your internal organs, namely your bladder, bowel and uterus. There are three holes within the pelvic floor, the urethra, vagina and anus. The pelvic floor muscles wrap quite tightly around these holes to help keep the passages closed. These muscles, just like many other muscles of the body, can be voluntarily contracted and hence strengthened. The difficulty for many women is that without being able to ‘see’ these muscles it can be hard to know if they are activating the correct ones.
2. How to find your pelvic floor
Traditionally you may have been told that a good way to strengthen your PF is to try to stop your pee mid-flow. Whilst this is a handy way to ‘find’ your pelvic floor muscles it should not be practiced often. As it can cause issues with emptying the bladder and urine infections. Instead the best way to find them is to find somewhere comfortable to sit, lie or stand. Close your eyes and imagine you are trying to hold in wind. Then, carry that attention forward to imagine holding in a wee, and try to draw these muscles up and in. Another great visualisation I heard was imagine trying to draw a tampon up inside you. When practicing your pelvic floor exercises try to do so in different positions to best adapt to the changing pressures you’ll face during a typical day.
3. What happens if the pelvic floor is weak?
You might well find out you have weak pelvic floor muscles by suffering with stress incontinence. This is where someone struggles to hold in urine when under pressure such as when they sneeze, cough, exercise or laugh. It is usually associated with a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles as they play such an important role in closing off the urethra. There are times where this is more common, such as during pregnancy or as we get older. But, it doesn’t have to be an inevitable issue. Training the PF as soon as possible can prevent most symptoms arising or continuing. During pregnancy, as I have found, the pelvic floor is put under greater strain due to the weight of your baby bearing down on it. However, continuing with your exercises can really help speed up your postnatal recovery.
4. Who can help when things go wrong?
There are specialists that can help! Womens health physiotherapists specialise in issues arising in the pelvis and PF. In France women are lucky enough to receive free treatment from womens health physios as part of their postnatal care. However, in the UK we need to ask for help from our doctors to be referred to one. Or, we pay to go privately (which doesn’t have to be costly). These physiotherapists can help to determine the current condition of the PF, the strength of your pelvic floor contractions and assist in finding the right treatment for you. This treatment may simply be learning how to do your pelvic floor exercises properly.
5. Pelvic floor issues are very common
1 in 3 women experience pelvic floor problems and 64% of women suffer with incontinence during pregnancy. It’s a topic that feels embarrassing to talk about. But, trust me, once you do talk about it you realise how common it is. I work with women every day, many of whom are post-natal. And I can tell you from experience that it is more common than you realise and can affect women at any age. Ignoring a weak pelvic floor can lead to further issues, such as prolapse where one or more organs in the pelvis slip down and bulge into the vagina. So, it’s worth making the leap to speak to someone if you are unsure.
I hope this has helped give you a basic understanding of the PF and what it ‘looks’ like. It’s an easy muscle to forget as we can’t see it, it’s tricky to ‘feel’ for many and is in an area that is often a taboo. However, a strong pelvic floor can really help. Especially during pregnancy and labour, as we age, and can also improve your sex life (what more reason could you need?). Below are some of the resources I have found helpful in my quest to improve my pelvic floor during pregnancy:
- I’ve used an Elvie Pelvic Trainer as much as possible over the last month (I wish I’d used it more at the start). It connects to your smart phone to give biofeedback on how efficient your pelvic floor contractions are (mine were poor). We recommend them to a lot of our studio clients. Elvie have been kind enough to give us the code HOLLIE20 to get 20% off which can really help. Click HERE to get yours.
- Download the Squeezy App. It’s an NHS app created by pelvic health physiotherapists that can help remind and teach you how to train your pelvic floor. It’s just £2.99 to download and is super handy.
- Follow amazing pelvic floor cheerleaders such as Pelvic Floor Patrol, Mothers Wellness Toolkit, Dr Amal Hassan, Pelvic Roar, The Vagina Coach, & Clare Bourne Physio. These women will teach you all about your pelvic floor but mainly help you to understand you aren’t alone. Give them a follow today.
I hope this post has helped open up the conversation and please do speak to people, whether your doctor, friend or partner. You’re not alone.
- Perineal Massage: What is it and is it Worth the Hassle?
- Pelvic Floor Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know
- Diastasis Recti Abdominis: What it is & How to Identify it
If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to discover more about prenatal fitness and your changing body I would love you to check out my pregnancy exercise program ‘The Bump Plan’ for FREE today – simply click here to get started