Are you cringing by just reading the title of this? Don’t worry, most people will and for very good reason.
On countless times I have seen women cringe when they talk about their pelvic floor; I even cringed when I spoke about this to my obstetrician and physiotherapist in hospital following the birth of my son.
Not many women will want to discuss their pelvic floor and if they do, they are often embarrassed by it. The truth is though we need to be normalising this important issue, considering 1 in 3 women will experience urinary incontinence following childbirth.
If you are unaware what your pelvic floor is, here is a little information. Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles and ligaments that essentially support your bladder, uterus and bowel. These muscles attach to your pubic bone, tail bone and the base of your pelvis, think of it like a hammock. When these muscles are strong, they help prevent urinary and bowel incontinence and prolapse of the internal organs.
Incontinence refers to the involuntary or accidental leaking or passing of urine, faeces and wind, this can occur when you cough, sneeze, laugh and even during physical exercise such as running, jumping or simply just walking.
During pregnancy your pelvic floor muscles and ligaments come under a great amount of strain, this results in them becoming quite weakened. It’s a no brainer when you think about the amount of pressure you feel carrying your baby. Fast forward to childbirth and those who have experienced a vaginal delivery will know what pressure I am talking about when you were pushing your little bundle of joy into the world. For women who have had a caesarean delivery this does not exclude you from developing pelvic floor weakness.
Now I must admit I never really gave any attention to my poor pelvic floor muscles before and during my pregnancy. I think I was always a little naïve into thinking thinking that I would be okay and it would not become an issue until I was in my 50's. How wrong was I though…
After I gave birth to my son I had a very big wake up call from my pelvic floor muscles when I was incontinent of urine twice!!
As I made my way to the toilet two hours after giving birth I remember feeling an almighty gush as I walked into the bathroom. Thinking I was possibly haemorrhaging and just as I was about to scream out to my midwife I was shocked to see I was indeed PEEING MYSELF. Welcome to motherhood I thought and laughed it off. Three hours passed and I was lying in bed when I had my second urge to empty my bladder. Again I got up and experienced ‘the gush’ only to be horrified when I made it to the toilet to learn I had been incontinent of urine AGAIN.
I remember feeling MORTIFIED and wondering what was going on, why was I unable to hold my urine in? I was so embarrassed I refused to tell anyone what was going on, until I built the courage up and whispered to my physio on a routine visit.
I was shocked to find out that on assessment my pelvic floor muscles were not working at all. The lovely physiotherapist assured me this was common and could be resolved, 'phew, what a relief' I thought. I was given exercises to do daily and recommended to see a women’s health physio 6 weeks post-partum. After two follow up appointments post birth and at three months post-partum my pelvic floor was great, I went from only doing 1 second holds to 10 second holds.
However like many of us I fell off the band wagon and became lazy once again with my pelvic floor exercises. It only occurred to me when I started HIIT classes 9 months after giving birth that I felt weakness once again.
I completely understand how easy it is to forget to do these SIMPLE exercises but they are so important, so this week being world continence awareness week has been a great reminder again to do them.
If you have just had a baby or about to, I highly recommend seeing a women’s health physiotherapist. Yes it will involve an internal examination on your pelvic floor and answering a lot of questions that may make you feel uncomfortable. However, I believe these appointments are invaluable and you will walk away with a comprehensive plan in place to strengthen and possibly resolve your incontinence. Even if you are not incontinent, I strongly recommend you make an appointment.
Remember incontinence does not have to take over your life, you can take action and a lot of women can have their incontinence issues completely resolved. If you are experiencing incontinence book an appointment with your GP to discuss your options.
If you would like further information about pelvic floor exercises, follow the links provided:
Pelvic Floor First
Continence Foundation of Australia