Pregnant, postpartum, or finally an empty nester? We have good news for you!
Your pelvic floor has seen some big changes over the years. You may not feel quite like your old self, and we can assure you — you are not alone.
It’s the age-old stereotype that after having children your bladder control is never the same, or your stomach muscles can’t seem to recover. Many of these post-childbirth symptoms are normalized in culture — but we’re here to challenge that sense of defeat.
We’re going to break down the changes your pelvic floor may experience after pregnancy and childbirth. Plus we’ll tell you all about how you can prepare and recover from pelvic floor issues related to motherhood.
Your Pelvic Floor’s Role in Pregnancy and Childbirth
Remember the pelvic floor supports your bladder, bowels, and uterus. During pregnancy, your pelvic floor is undergoing two big changes.
As your pregnancy progresses, the weight your pelvic floor supports steadily increases.
This weight is normal and comes from the baby, the placenta, the enlarged uterus, and extra blood flow1. However, the extra weight applies pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, and it may cause the pelvic floor to tighten and clench.
Spoiler alert! A super tight pelvic floor is NOT the goal for childbirth.
You produce additional hormones that cause softening and relaxation of the ligaments and connective tissue in preparation for birth.
Your pelvic muscles are under extra pressure when pregnant and your pelvic ligaments and bones are loosening in preparation for birth1.
What Does This Mean? Is My Body Working Against Me?
The short answer is, sometimes.
Your body is amazing as it preps for childbirth but, sometimes our preexisting medical histories and pelvic floor health can work against us.
There is a widespread emphasis on pelvic floor strength in our media. However, this idea may have an adverse effect on a woman’s ability to give birth without damaging the pelvic floor.
Birth does require pushing. That much is obvious.
But pushing in childbirth needs to be paired with a relaxed pelvic floor. This action favors pelvic floor coordination and flexibility over sheer strength.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction After Childbirth
The pelvic floor plays a vital role in your pregnancy and childbirth. Before we dive into some of the most common after-effects we need to address the elephant in the room…
An estimated 50 percent of pregnant women experience pelvic floor disorder (PFD) symptoms before giving birth1. Half of our population of women have preexisting PFDs that are impacting their pregnancy and birthing journeys.
PFDs after childbirth are becoming increasingly more prevalent. And pelvic-perineal dysfunction is one of the most common post-birth diagnoses2.
One report estimates that “35 percent of new mothers experience urinary incontinence following childbirth, and 20 percent of first-time moms experience severe pelvic floor muscle injury after a normal pregnancy and delivery”2.
Other postpartum pelvic floor issues can include:
Urinary and Fecal incontinence
Pelvic Organ Prolapse
While these are common issues for postpartum life, they certainly do not happen in all pregnancy and childbirth.
Remember, every mom is a unique person with their own medical history. This means your past plays a vital role in how your body will tolerate pregnancy and childbirth — but both take a toll on the body.
If the mother has preexisting pelvic floor disorder symptoms such as constipation, incontinence, and pain with sex — these issues can be exacerbated by pregnancy and childbirth.
The more we can prepare our new mothers, the more we can help them avoid longer-lasting injuries.
Pelvic Floor Pregnancy Preparation and Recovery
Much like an athlete training their body to endure specific actions for their best performance— we need to train our pelvic floors for birth.
To do this, we’ll focus on flexible pelvic floor muscles that can release tension and let the baby pass through the vaginal canal with less resistance.
One exercise we recommend is perineal stretching. This can help prevent the degree of perineal tears and injury.
How to Stretch Your Perineum for Vaginal Child Birth
Sit with your legs apart or butterlied, and lean against a support like a wall or pillows.
Use a lubricant! Trust us, this will make your life easier.
Place your thumb or finger 1-2 inches into the vagina and press down towards the lower part of the vaginal opening. (If you envision the opening like a clock, it is best to stretch at each hour, from 3-9 o’ clock)
Gently hold pressure in this direction for a few breaths, then sweep the finger from left to right applying consistent pressure towards the back of the vaginal wall.
We recommend doing this 3 or 4 times a week for 3-5 minutes.
Like any muscle getting stretched you might notice some discomfort the first few times you try. However, this exercise should not cause sharp pain. If it is painful, this is a great time to make an appointment with a pelvic health physical therapist!
What Pelvic Floor Therapy Can Do for Moms
While perineal stretching and birthing classes are helpful, Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy is much more personalized to your specific body and medical history. Understanding the current condition of your pelvic floor can help you navigate the effects of pregnancy and childbirth.
We encourage pelvic floor physical therapy before, during, and after pregnancy. This is a major asset for your pelvic floor’s preparation, injury prevention, and recovery. Even if you had your last child years ago it’s NEVER too late to find healing.
At Peak Pelvic Health, your PT can evaluate your breathing mechanics while assessing the pelvic floor internally. The primary goal is to guide you through the proper mechanics with verbal cues and manual pressure on specific muscles.
Peak Pelvic Health believes in supporting our Moms with helpful information and individualized one-on-one treatment. We listen to your concerns and factor in your medical history to develop a plan that’s perfect for you!