Pelvic floor dysfunction is common after pregnancy and childbirth. Over the course of 40 weeks, the weight of your baby, the uterus, the placenta and the volume of amniotic fluids are all gradually increasing. Unfortunately, the laws of physics apply to a female’s pelvis too. Think of your pelvic floor muscles like a hammock, spanning across the bottom of your pelvis. Ordinarily, the pelvic floor muscles are supporting your pelvic organs (bladder, bowel and uterus in women). As you approach the end of your pregnancy, the “hammock” becomes more and more stretched as your belly balloons and your baby and the placenta increases in both size and weight.
When these muscles are strong and taut, they are able to control the release of urine and faeces from your bladder and bowel. A compromise to the strength of these muscles, means that you can experience incontinence (a lack of voluntary control over your bladder or bowels). The pelvic floor muscles also play an important role during labour and the birthing process. For this reason it is very important to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles right throughout pregnancy and after you have had your baby.
Pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) has the highest level of evidence in the treatment of urinary incontinence. Even though the pelvic muscles cannot be seen, thankfully, much like your bicep or quads, pelvic floor muscle can be voluntarily contracted, and therefore can be exercised and trained to improve in strength. Despite this, there is high prevalence of women, who are unable to correctly contract their pelvic floor muscles. Research has shown that teaching women how to contract the pelvic floor is one of the most difficult tasks required of physiotherapists.
The Continence Foundation of Australia (CFA) offers a factsheet and instruction on PFMT for women. Here are their recommendations for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles.
- Squeeze and draw in the muscles around your anus (back passage) and vagina at the same time. Lift them up inside. This should almost mimic the feeling of having to hold on tight, when you really need to go to the bathroom. Feel a sense of lift each time you squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. Hold them as tight as you can for eight seconds, and then relax. If you can’t hold for eight seconds, just hold for as long as possible.
- Repeat this process as many times as you can. It is recommended that you have a break in between each “squeeze, lift and draw in”. Aim to do between eight to 12 squeezes each set.
- Try to do three sets of eight to 12 squeezes each day.
For more information visit the CFA.