How to strengthen your pelvic floor after pregnancy and childbirth
Pregnancy and birth bring with them a whole heap of side effects, including an uproar of hormones, a growing belly and, ultimately, your beautiful baby (or babies). However, other symptoms can rear their ugly head during this time, such as a weakened pelvic floor, which can lead to urinary incontinence (bladder weakness). But, this is a prevalent issue amongst women, as pregnancy exacerbates the problem due to pregnancy hormones relaxing the muscles, and the increasing baby weight adding to the pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor, which results in those accidental urine leakages. One other well-known side effect of pregnancy is constipation, which can also overstretch the pelvic floor muscles, weakening them even further. So, it is paramount that you recognise whether you have an issue with your pelvic floor and then take the necessary steps to exercise and strengthen the muscles to prevent any further unnecessary leakages.
What is urinary incontinence/bladder weakness?
Urinary incontinence, as common as it is, can create quite an impact, as INNOVO®* found out in their study of 2,000 women who revealed the true impact of urinary incontinence in their lives. You can find a breakdown of the results in the infographic below.
But, what exactly is urinary incontinence? There are actually different types of incontinence, the most common forms being stress incontinence (pee leaks out when your bladder is under pressure) and urge incontinence (Pee leaks out when you feel the sudden urge to pass urine – or soon afterwards). A weakened pelvic floor following pregnancy and birth is the primary cause of bladder weakness, as the muscles are weakened from the pressure of the growing baby and belly. However, other causes of a weakened pelvic floor can include not exercising your muscles overtime, if you’re overweight, have a chronic cough, or strain to open your bowels.
Where are your pelvic floor muscles?
Your pelvic floor is made up of muscles and tissue which can stretch under a lot of weight and then spring back up again. Imagine that your pelvic floor muscles are like a hammock that runs from your pubic bone, between your legs and into the bottom of your spine. You can see that these groups of muscles (called the Pubococcygeus) are sitting directly under the weight of your growing baby. During pregnancy, the muscles and tissue can become overstretched and exhausted from bearing the burden for so long, which is why it is massively important to exercise and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles before you get pregnant, throughout your pregnancy and after birth too.
Many women believe that they have a weak bladder because they’ve leaked urine after they’ve coughed, sneezed, laughed, lifted heavy items or done anything which has resulted in having the sudden urge to go to the loo. But what 5.4 million women in the UK thought was bladder weakness, was actually a weakened pelvic floor, as INNOVO® found in their study. That means strengthening your pelvic floor will reduce the chances or urinary leakage or prevent them altogether.
How to recognise that you have a weakened pelvic floor
Dr Ruth Maher, physiotherapist, pelvic floor expert, and inventor of INNOVO® Innovotherapy (a non-invasive and clinically proven therapy that treats the cause of bladder weakness) explains some of the ways that you can recognise whether you have issues with your pelvic floor in the infographic by INNOVO® below:
Not reaching the toilet in time
If you have a sudden urge to go to the bathroom, but you don’t make it in time, then you may have urge incontinence, where the bladder contracts when it shouldn’t and some urine leaks through.
Incomplete emptying of the bladder
When you go to the loo, but you feel you haven’t emptied the bladder completely, then this could mean that your pelvic floor isn’t relaxing correctly. This “retention” of urine is known as overflow incontinence and to function correctly the muscles should fully contract and relax all the way.
If you sneeze, cough, laugh, jump or do any heavy lifting and you experience an unintentional leak during, then you may have stress incontinence. These actions put stress on the bladder, and if your pelvic floor muscles are not tightening enough, this will cause an involuntary leak, which is the most common form of female incontinence.
Tension or problems in the pelvic floor muscles can cause pelvic pain, and this may be a sign of infection. Visit your doctor as soon as you feel any pelvic pain in the area.
Loss of sensation during sex
A weakened or damaged pelvic floor may mean that you experience a loss of enjoyment during sex. However, those who can squeeze and relax their pelvic floor muscles correctly, tend to experience more intense orgasms – need there be any more reason to exercise your pelvic floor?
Leaking during sex
A large proportion of women with incontinence experience leakage during sex due to a weak pelvic floor because sexual activity puts pressure on the bladder or urethra.
Accidentally passing wind
The inability to hold wind in is another sign of a weakened pelvic floor because it supports the bowel as well as the bladder and so is responsible for all the openings.
Poor posture or a backache
Another sign of weak pelvic floor muscles is poor posture or suffering from backaches. An exercised pelvic floor should support the entire core, a stronger midsection and a flatter tummy, as well as better posture.
If you think you have any of the symptoms above, then you may have a weak pelvic floor. It’s not too late, however, to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and stop any unwanted leakages occurring. Take steps to follow the tips below on how you can exercise your pelvic floor muscles from now on.
Exercising helps to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles
Urinary incontinence is more common than hayfever in the UK. In fact, one in three women suffer from urinary incontinence, and 50% of women are unable to activate their pelvic floor muscles correctly, which means that any exercises they may do already are ineffective.
The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for your body to adapt to the weight gain and increased pressure. Exercising also helps to strengthen your core and encourages you to feel emotionally and physically strong – this includes your pelvic floor too.
How do you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles?
Regardless of whether you have a weakened pelvic floor or not, you should get into the habit of exercising your pelvic floor muscles, multiple times during the day, every day. How do you do this? Here are five ways to know you are doing your pelvic floor exercises correctly from Jane Wake, a female fitness professional, pelvic floor expert and INNOVO ® spokeswoman:
You should be able to locate your pelvic floor muscles
To use your pelvic floor muscles correctly, you need to know where to find them. As mentioned before, the pelvic floor muscles start from your pubic bone and run through to the tailbone at the back. We are often told to think about holding your wee in mid-stream to connect with your pelvic floor muscles, but a better way is to imagine stopping the wind from your back passage and then stopping a wee from the front. You then pull these two points in and up together. Doing it this way will help you to learn where they are and therefore connect to them better if and when you do get problems.
Recruit your entire pelvic floor when exercising
Muscles should have strength, length and balance. So, you not only should think about contracting the muscle but let it relax too. A great way to do this is to imagine that you are pulling your pelvic floor muscles up through 5 floors – like a lift going up. Then, you go back down through the levels before you lift up again. Innovotherapy is a device that can help you recruit all the muscles of your pelvic floor so that you can feel this lift, with 180 full contractions per second. You don’t have to do the lifting work as Innovotherapy does it for you, so there is no margin for error.
Work your pelvic floor the hardest
Focus predominantly on your pelvic floor muscles when exercising, so that they can strengthen over and above the other muscles that tend to take over, like the glutes (the bum) and the abs. It may be tricky to hone in on just the pelvic floor when you are practising your exercises, so Innovotherapy can target the pelvic floor primarily so that the contraction is most active in the pelvic floor muscles rather than other areas.
Do not hold your breath
Holding your breath creates tension in the body that can cause pressure, increasing stress to some muscles including the pelvic floor. While you are exercising your pelvic floor muscles, take deep breaths and, as you exhale, try to relax and feel your pelvic floor.
Studies have shown that 50% of women are not activating their entire pelvic floor when exercising at home. So a fail-safe solution to ensure you are exercising your whole pelvic floor is to use a device called Innovotherapy, which uses clinically proven multipath technology to send targeted impulses to the entire pelvic floor to produce 180 perfect contractions of the pelvic floor per session. The Innovotherapy ensures that the whole pelvic floor is being exercised and removes any margin for error.
The full Innovotherapy programme involves completing five x 30-minute sessions per week over a 12-week period. 93%** were significantly drier in just four weeks.
If you believe that you are suffering from a weak pelvic floor, then there is no reason why you should suffer in silence. Either follow the tips above on how to exercise your pelvic floor muscles or try out INNOVO® Innovotherapy, which isolates and works on the pelvic floor muscles for you. For more information on where you can buy the INNOVO® visit www.restorethefloor.com. You can also find INNOVO® in selected Lloyds Pharmacies nationawide, and John Bell & Croydon, London.
* INNOVO® develops professional and consumer medical devices, related software, aps and connected health technologies which focuses on the treatment of all types of incontinence, as well as sexual health dysfunctions, and other associated disorders by strengthening muscles and modulating nerves of the pelvic floor. Their pelvic floor device, Innovotherapy, was designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscle and stimulate the nerves around the pelvic floor, which have improved thousands of lives every year.
**Soeder S, Tunn R. (2012) – Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) of the Pelvic Floor Muscles using a Non-Invasive Surface Device in the Treatment of Stress of Urinary Incontinence (SUI); A Pilot Study. IUGA Poster Presentation Conference, Dublin, Ireland (2013)
*Collaborative feature post*
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