It is no big secret about the importance of the pelvic floor in pregnancy. If there is one thing you should take seriously during and after your pregnancy, it is to learn how to exercise the pelvic floor, both to strengthen and release it.
Pregnancy and the Pelvic Floor
What is the Pelvic Floor?
The pelvic floor is a sling of muscles, ligaments and sheet-like tissues that forms the base to your pelvis. It stretches from your front public bone to the back of your spine and creates the base support for your whole core cylinder.
The pelvic floor is fairly reactive; it can stretch in response to weight, it supports your bladder, bowel, and uterus (womb), and is designed to bear the weight of pregnancy. It gives you control when you empty your bladder and bowels, which is very handy in the later stages of pregnancy.
It also plays a role in hip and core stability by engaging with or helping other muscles of your core react.
Thought like any muscle, the muscles or tissues can become overstretched and weak if they are not exercised.
‘One set of muscles that all women – pregnancy or not – should know about and learn to do are pelvic floor exercises.’
The Importance of the Pelvic Floor
As already motioned, the pelvic floor supports your body and your baby during pregnancy and improves your ability to hold your bladder in the later stages of pregnancy.
It has been said it can be a benefit on the day of delivery too, though everyone has widely difference experiences, so it is hard to tell how accurate that is.
Exercising the pelvic floor after birth can help ease perianal pain and get other deeper core muscles engaging a little more quickly and more effectively.
Probably most importantly, a strong pelvic floor can help to prevent more serious problems such s stress incontinence and prolapse of the uterus after birth.
Having a weak pelvic floor makes it harder for you to squeeze the muscles at the bottom of your bladder to prevent wee from escaping. It is common to accidentally leak/wee a little when coughing, sneezing or exercising (stress incontinence). It also means that your bowel, bladder and womb aren’t well supported, causing you to feel heavy or slower.
Your pelvic floor also affects your vaginal muscles. You may find sex less satisfying, and feel less sensitivity in your vagina, if you have weak pelvic floor.
The affects of pregnancy & the menopause
Pregnancy can place a lot of stress on your pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to weakness before your baby is born. Your pelvic floor can become weak and stretched from as early as 12 weeks into your pregnancy.
If your vaginal muscles are weak, it’s possible for your uterus, bowel or bladder to sag down and push against the walls of your vagina, this is known as a prolapse.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy and especially after the menopause can make pelvic floor problems a lot more likely, vastly increasing the chances of a prolapse.
Making pelvic floor exercises a daily habit doesn’t have to be hard or take too long. 5-10mins a day is all it takes. The benefits that these simple exercises have on women’s health are well well worth it, so do invest the time to make them part of your daily routine.
Exercising the Pelvic Floor
Exercising pelvic floor muscles during and after pregnancy is the only way you’ll be able to tone and strengthen them. A stronger or more reactive pelvic floor will support your body, as well as help your pregnancy, childbirth, and recovery run a lot more smoothly.
During pregnancy it is also important to practice the release of the pelvic floor muscles. You will need to be able to relax them during the moment of miracle in delivery (second stage of labour).
Some midwifes believe that a relaxed pelvic floor at this stage can help prevent tearing or an episiotomy. Also, if your muscles can’t relax properly, they will tire more quickly.
‘Pelvic Floor exercises are for life!’
It is strongly advised to keep your pelvic floor strong for the rest of your life.
It isn’t just the recovery from pregnancy that is important; doing just a few pelvic floor exercises every day will help to treat bladder weakness or prolapse symptoms, and will help to prevent problems later on in life.