Happy Valentines Day! And what better topic for today than our Pelvic Floor. 🙌 Romantic.
When it comes to the pelvic floor, most people have the general idea of what goes on down there, but it is not every day that we shine a light on the area. Optimal pelvic floor health comes down to making a conscious effort to know what we are made of and what to do to strengthen these muscles.
To create a visual of what's inside, imagine your pelvis as a bowl with a hollow base. Pelvic floor muscles attach around the base of this bowl and provide flexibility for various roles like urinating, passing stool, and most impressively, moving baby from in to 👉 out during birth. With the natural pressures of baby growing, and thanks to gravity, these muscles become loose and weak. But there are many other reasons why pelvic floor muscles can weaken other than in pregnancy and childbirth including chronic coughing, constipation and straining on the toilet, excessive body weight, general ageing and heavy lifting. Yes blokes, that means you can and should work on pelvic floor strength too. Whether in or outside pregnancy, or even years and years after giving, there are many things to keep in mind to help prevent weakening and to properly strengthen these muscles.
Do I even need to worry?
For most of us, the benefits of pelvic floor strength are not something that we think of because we cannot see the area, unlike other muscles on the outside. However, whether you've had a vaginal or caesarean delivery, there are many benefits to strengthening these muscles before, during and after pregnancy, including reducing incontinence, reducing the risk of prolapse (dropping of pelvic organs), and building strength of the deep core muscles.
What can I do?
General ideas to reduce weakening of these muscles include:
Avoid overloading the pelvic floor (or bearing down) when lifting heavy items day-to-day or during exercise.
Manage other concerns like constipation. Long term management comes down to plenty of dietary fibre, fluid and physical activity. To avoid straining on the toilet, sit forward and place a small stool (or a good old stack of Yellow Pages!) to raise your knees above your hips. Focus on relaxing the pelvic and abdominal muscles rather than forcing.
The lift and squeeze
There are various cues you can use to engage the pelvic floor, but the key is creating the habit. There is clear evidence and indication that practicing pelvic floor exercises two to three times per day over three months can significantly improve concerns like incontinence – a big deal for mums and mums to be. Here are somethings to try:
Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor.
Take a deep breath in, allowing everything to be relaxed.
As you exhale, draw in your belly, engage the pelvic floor by squeezing, lifting and holding, like you're trying to hold in urine or wind.
Release everything as you inhale again.
You can repeat the same, sitting slightly forward to engage more strongly around the front of the pelvic floor area. Over time you can work towards both endurance and strength with:
2-3 sets of 10-15 strong, quick squeezes and lifts, followed by 30 seconds of relaxation.
Maintain a 50% contraction for 10 seconds, whilst breathing normally.
Notice if the rest of you're body tenses and try to relax everywhere else and focus only on this internal lift.
Pelvic floor gym class
Ok so you don't need to go to a class to perform these exercises, but making a habit takes a bit of intentionality. Mums I speak to use reminders like sticky notes on the mirror whilst brushing their teeth or the outside of the shower as a visual cue. Find what works for you. Ensuring you’re doing them correctly is pretty important. If you have any questions or are experiencing pain or little improvement, then speak to your doctor, or see a Women's Health Physiotherapist.
These exercises can start at any time, even in the hours after birth, unless not indicated by a medical professional. Appropriately activating these muscles can support with timely recovery of these tissues, increasing blood flow and gradually building strength. It can be a great start to “getting back into routine”, but remember there will be many other things that keep you busy, so focus on a realistic way to make a habit of strengthening from the inside out.
Photo credit: @physiolaura 📸 Check out her awesome stories for great tips and reminders on all things pelvic floor and women's health!
You can also find some more visual ideas and information about the pelvic floor here.