When you are pregnant or have just had a baby, no doubt your focus will turn to your pelvic floor muscles. You know that you should be exercising them, but are you really confident that you are doing it right?
The pelvic floor muscles take a bit of a hiding during the child-bearing years. Pregnancy causes the muscles to gently stretch as your baby grows, and the muscles may be further weakened during the delivery of your baby. Pregnancy is a great time to pay attention to these little muscles, as they have an important job to do! Pelvic floor muscles help with bladder and bowel control, and support the weight of your uterus. They are also involved in supporting your pelvis joints, together with your other core muscles. Bladder issues, like stress urinary incontinence, affect 1 in 3 women who have had a baby.
The great news is that most bladder issues can be managed with a really good pelvic floor muscle exercise program. Although we can’t see them, they become stronger with a regular exercise program, just like most other muscles in your body, like your biceps. Sometimes your pelvic floor muscles will need help to regain strength or squeeze pressure and sometimes they need help learning to relax, or switch on and off at the right times.
What are the pelvic floor muscles?
The PF muscles attach to your pubic bone at the front, and attach to the coccyx at the back, like a hammock of muscle. These muscle also run along the inside of the bony walls of the pelvis, so they form a bowl of muscle inside your pelvis, supporting your organs, including your bladder, bowel and uterus.
How do I know if I am activating my muscles correctly?
When you are activating your pelvic floor muscles correctly, you should feel a gentle squeeze and tightening around your back passage, and perhaps some drawing in or closing around your vagina and urethra. Your bum should stay relaxed, along with your inner thighs. Ideally you should be able to continue breathing, although many people find this tricky when starting out with pelvic floor training.
Try to get into the routine of doing your pelvic floor exercises every day, so it becomes a simple habit. Sit comfortably, with your back straight, not leaning on the back of the couch or chair.
Gently squeeze around your back passage as if you were trying to hold in wind. We start with the back passage as the nerves give us more feedback about the muscles working. Try to hold the squeeze and lift feeling for 5 seconds, then release and relax completely. Wait 5 seconds to rest, and then do it again. Build up to 5 strong repetitions, each one holding for 5 seconds.
Seek help if you:
Cannot feel a definite squeeze
Cannot feel your muscles hold or relax
Feel that you aren’t making progress with your exercises – no change in holding time of number of squeezes you can do
Feel no improvement in your bladder or bowel control, despite practicing your pelvic floor exercises regularly
Have back pain, which might interfere with your pelvic floor muscle function
These exercises should be part of our daily routine, just like brushing your teeth. Now is the time to get started, you won’t regret it!