Pregnancy is often the first time a woman ever thinks about her pelvic floor. Strengthening these muscles in pregnancy can reduce or prevent bladder weakness.
We’re familiar with the changes that can come straight after birth: stretch marks, feeding issues and sleepless nights. However, an important and less talked about result of having a baby is bladder weakness (think: peeing in your pants just from laughing, coughing or doing exercise).
According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, “One in three women who ever had a baby wet themselves.” This is because pregnancy, labour and birth place strain on the pelvic floor muscles, weakening them. “Often pregnancy is the first time a woman ever thinks about her pelvic floor,” says Jo Murdoch, Director and Physiotherapist of The Physiotherapy Clinic. “Being unaware of your pelvic floor function and either doing too little, or too much, in pregnancy will likely have implications.”
“Often pregnancy is the first time a woman ever thinks about her pelvic floor"
But first, what are the pelvic floor muscles?
The pelvic floor consists of layers of muscles that stretch like a hammock from your public bone to the end of the backbone. These muscles function to support the bladder, bowel and uterus, as well as to keep your bladder closed. Being pregnant and giving birth stretches the muscles of your pelvic floor, placing a lot of stress on them. Constipation, which is common in pregnant women, can put even more strain on your pelvic floor. This leads to bladder weakness or stress incontinence. You may find that you leak when you cough, sneeze, lift or exercise. You can also find that you can’t hold onto your urine for a long time. By doing your pelvic floor exercises in pregnancy, you can strengthen these muscles and reduce or prevent stress incontinence after pregnancy.
Will they get stronger by themselves?
Unfortunately, for many women, no. “Keeping your pelvic floor in tip top shape during your pregnancy ensures easier rehabilitation after birth and will likely prevent issues like pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence,” says Murdoch. “However, there is a catch. Not everyone contracts their pelvic floor well, and in fact some people have a pelvic floor that’s too tight. This will have a negative impact on birth and possibly prevent the labour from progressing, and may contribute to pelvic floor trauma during the birth. The best advice I can give about pelvic floor in pregnancy is to get your pelvic floor assessed by a women’s health physiotherapist.”
For some lucky women, they already have a healthy pelvic floor. “Some women don’t need to do anything, their pelvic floor function is optimal and working automatically,” says Murdoch.
“Not everyone contracts their pelvic floor well, and in fact some people have a pelvic floor that is too tight."
Tips to maintain a healthy pelvic floor:
1. Visit a women’s health physiotherapist to give you an assessment of your pelvic floor health.
2. Exercise your pelvic floor.
3. Include plenty of fibre and water in your diet.
4. Stay active and do low impact exercises like yoga and walking.
5. Support your back and pelvic posture.
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