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5 things about Pelvic Health

By Clare Bourne @clarebournephysio

A note from Anna: Never had I met someone so passionate about pelvic health that they carry a model pelvis in their handbag at all times. When I first met Clare, I thought ‘wow, if she is so evangelical about the pelvic floor, perhaps I need to listen up!’ Looking after your pelvic floor doesn’t stop at squeezing whilst you brush your teeth, here she is to tell you all you need to know.

We have probably all heard about our pelvic floor at some point, but was it just a leaflet handed to us with the advice to do some squeezes? For many you may not have given it another thought, but others of you might feel plagued by symptoms or changes in your body that you have never felt confident to talk about. So much of pelvic health is still taboo: incontinence, prolapse, painful sex, periods….do any of us find these things easy to open up about? I am sure the answer from most would be no.

Let’s dive into 5 things about our pelvic health to help open up this conversation and ensure those that need it get support.

1) Pelvic floor dysfunction is common in postnatal women but does not have to be forever

    • Incontinence, prolapse, painful sex…..just a few of the symptoms mums can experience and right off as, ‘well I’ve just had a baby’….often not helped when they try to reach out and are told ‘this is just what happens’ or ‘well at least you have a healthy baby.’ I want you to hear that there is help and treatment for all of the symptoms above, that doesn’t require surgery, and you CAN struggle with how your body has changed, new symptoms AND be grateful for your baby..
    • You are not alone if this is you, these symptoms are more common that you think:
    • 1 in 3 will suffer with incontinence
    • 1 in 12 with prolapse
    • 83% of women have reported to experience painful sex after birth.

2) Pelvic floor dysfunction is associated with depression 

    • As you can imagine all of the above symptoms mentioned can impact our mental health, which has been proven in research, and often these symptoms limit the exercise we feel we can do, and we know that exercise is good for our mental health. So it can really knock us from both angles, along with the loneliness and isolation that can occur as none of these topics are easy to open up about. Opening up is definitely the first step, start with a friend, your GP or find a pelvic health physiotherapist. Pelvic floor symptoms don’t need to stop you exercising, we might need to modify for a while but exercise and movement is good for our pelvic health, and we want to get you back to what you love.

3) How to approach your postnatal recovery 

A lot of women feel that the care and support they receive during pregnancy and birth is amazing, and yet as they transition into the postnatal period they feel alone and unsupported. Often this is the time when you navigate a lot of changes in your body and you move from pregnancy, where most are amazed by what their body can do, feeling empowered by it’s ability to grow your baby, to then shocked at how your body feels, it’s struggle to function as it did before and unsure of exactly how to care for it. My top advice is to take the first 6 or so weeks slow, you don’t have anything to prove. Focus on caring for yourself, rest, good nutrition, water, fresh air and sharing how you feel. Please remember caring for yourself IS caring of your baby. It is natural for us to want to be active, but slow and steady really does win the race. In the early weeks focus on pelvic floor exercises and deep breathing and know that you are building the foundations for future activity and exercise.

4) How do you do pelvic floor exercises?

I know, I know…they are boring and dull…and yet so essential! We’ve probably all heard of them, but how do we actually do them? Just squeeze and hope for the best, imagine a lift going up and down to multiple floors…. actually for most of us it is as simple as thinking about holding in wind (and let’s be honest we’ve all done that before!!) It is often more gentle and subtle that you think, so try it now, think about holding wind and letting go. You shouldn’t be using your bottom muscles or leg muscles, but just feel a tightening around the back passage and vagina that no one else can see. They are a totally stealth exercise…which makes them brilliant and yet so easy to forget. Make sure you fully let go between each squeeze but try building a few into your day. Like so many things in life they are just an investment in our health, even if they are not that fun.   

5) How to access support and help if you are struggling

Some of you might have really tried to do pelvic floor exercises and just feel you are not getting anywhere. This could be for a number of reasons but we think around 50% of women are doing them wrong, and this is where a pelvic health physiotherapist comes in. It is our job to help you to learn how to do your pelvic floor exercises correctly and support you with your symptoms. You can get referred on the NHS via your GP for symptoms of incontinence, prolapse, painful sex, diastasis recti or pelvic pain, or you can find one privately via www.thepogp.co.uk or www.squeezyapp.com.

Clare Bourne is a pelvic health physiotherapist based in London and a Mum of 2. Her passion is to openly talk about taboo topics and help to make women feel less alone on their pelvic health journey. She is soon to launch her new ‘All About Mum’ Cards which provide all essential information for a new Mum and her postnatal recovery. You can find Clare @clarebournephysio or clare-bourne.com

Tips for the parenthood-rollercoaster ride

(Sponsored post by Waterwipes)

What a rollercoaster parenthood is! However, a quick scroll through social media would often have us believe that we’re the only ones sitting on this hair-raising ride. It seems like comparison is king and we often feel like we’re the only ones winging it. I’m going to share my top parenting tips, both as a Psychotherapist and as mum of three.

In May, I was honoured to be asked to host and talk at a parents breakfast organised by WaterWipes for its new #ThisIsParenthood global project. Not only have I used WaterWipes’ super pure wipes for all three of my children (bye cotton wool and water), but I was really touched by the #ThisIsParenthood documentary, produced by the talented BAFTA nominated Lucy Cohen. Have you watched it? Here’s the link if you haven’t – grab a cuppa and a spare 15 minutes. The documentary shows a rare and candid insight into the realities of family life with a newborn, detailing some of the challenges that punctuate this crazy, special and map-less time. When WaterWipes showed us parents the footage during the breakfast, there wasn’t a single dry eye…I think due to the fact that, ultimately, we are all just trying to do our best! Sometimes we feel like we are scrambling around in the dark, sometimes we’re winging it, sometimes we’re smashing it (momentarily for me at least), but #ThisisParenthood.

WaterWipes yearns to shift the conversation around parenthood by encouraging us parents to be more open about the highs and lows that come with it. As a Psychotherapist, I am hugely supportive of this initiative as openness and honesty are the turning points to every single one of my clients’ stories.

A global study by WaterWipes revealed:

  • 55% of parents feel like they are failing within the first year (British parents being the second highest country (62%)
  • Almost a quarter (24%) feel like film, TV and advertising contribute to this
  • Nearly half (42%) of UK parents feel the pressure to be a ‘perfect parent’ on social media
  • Nearly half (41%) of UK parents feel they can’t be honest about their struggles due to fear of judgment
  • A huge 50% of parents admit to putting a brave face on rather than being honest about their experience
  • UK mums are twice more likely than dads to feel pressure to be a perfect parent from social media (51% vs 27%)
  • 49% of UK parents feel as though they cannot relate to the parenting images they see on social media
  • Across the world. 68% of parents wish there were more honest representations of parenting on social media

If only these results could shock me…but sadly, they didn’t. I receive messages on social media from 200-400 parents a day who feel like they are failing, or like they are alone in their struggles. Like WaterWipes, I am desperate for us to call a truce on this whole pretence. Yes, of course we will continue to share the highs, the smiles and the cute snaps. However, in order to shift this culture of toxic comparison, we all need to be a little more mindful that what we see, isn’t all there is.

Working with WaterWipes for #ThisIsParenthood was such a pleasure, and for those of you who couldn’t join us on the Instagram live, I thought I’d share the words I spoke:

 

My story

After my textbook pregnancy, birth and then newborn experience with my first little boy, I enjoyed the coffees and the relatively calm play dates. We laughed about our incessant Googling (ps. Dr Google is NOT your friend) and shared our thoughts on routines, and our moans about lack of sleep.

However, my experience with my second was vastly different. He came hurtling into the world wailing, and didn’t stop for a solid nine months. Undiagnosed silent reflux, tongue-tie, and less sleep at night than a nocturnal mouse – I fell into a messy post-natal depression. As a therapist myself, it challenged me greatly that despite all of my training, I couldn’t seem to find the strength to pull myself out of the black hole. It was at this time, during our largely wakeful nights, that I downloaded Instagram. I scrolled mindlessly through images of happy mothers, seemingly thriving newborns with scrumptious chubby legs. I compared their lives to my grey eyed, constantly crying (him and me), chronically sleep deprived (him and me) existence, and the sense of failure felt even greater. With my first, I felt like I was winging it. With my second, I felt like I couldn’t put a single, faltering step right.

I made it through, and the key to that was the moment that I couldn’t hold up the pretence any longer. It was the moment I put my hands up and said #ThisIsParenthood for me. This is MY parenthood. And I found that my openness inspired the openness of others, and suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore. And that changed everything.

So, I’ll share the words I shared at the breakfast. Why do we often feel like we’re failing? And what do we do about it?

 

Why?

Why do we often feel like we’re not enough? Why do we get so drawn into the half-stories of other people’s portrayal of their parenting experiences and feel led to believe that in comparison, we’re not doing quite so well?

From the conversations we had around the breakfast table at the brunch, I was so reminded of the truth that we’re all just trying to do our best at this parenthood lark, yet we all feel like we’re failing. Why? Expressions like ‘I hated myself for working’, ‘mum guilt’, ‘mummy fail’, ‘helpless’ were thrown around under pictures of our plates of pancakes and greek yogurt, as if they were permanent fixtures of our vocabulary. Are we really failing? Or are we just trying our best but being insanely hard on ourselves?

We are hardwired to compare ourselves with what we see in others. If we don’t have an inbuilt belief that we are ‘enough’ as parents, then we will naturally look outside of ourselves to get a measure of how we are doing. The issue is, what we see around us is often isn’t the full truth. We compare our behind the scenes, with what other people curate and share of their lives. If I compare my wobbly morning with someone’s #blessed photo of a serene breakfast with spotless kids, of course I’m going to find myself lacking. We so easily see other people’s snapshots and assume that that’s how their life is.

I remember that during one of my hardest parenting times, I strolled down the street pushing a double buggy towards a playgroup, wearing super-sized sunglasses in the blazing July heat. Any onlooker might have thought ‘Wow, look at that mum of two small children. She’s smashing it!’ The reality was that my glasses hid my tear-stained eyes, and nobody witnessed the conversation I’d had with my husband moments before. As I sat on my kitchen floor with two screaming children, I told him that ‘I can’t do this’. I meant it.

If we’re all in the same boat, how can we make sure that we stop feeling like we’re sailing alone? I’m going to share three tips that could shift this for ourselves. Because, really #ThisIsParenthood. It’s brilliant, and hard, and messy and wonderful.

 

What now?

Openness

Openness inspires openness. I remember meeting with my antenatal friends. The first time someone said that they were finding it hard, or arguing with their husbands over night feeds, or finding the bonding a struggle…it opened up a conversation. Sometimes there was an actual visible air of relief as people started to talk about the not-so-fun, challenging parts of parenting. One person’s disclosure gave the rest of us permission to share our true experiences.

Take little risks of openness. Be the conversation starter if you can. I always encourage my therapy clients to engage with at least two friends, family members or professionals who understand the reality of their circumstances. Talk to those who have a history of being kind and understanding towards you. It can feel challenging to start the conversation at first, but it gets easier, and often it inspires others to open up too.

 

So often, we fear that if we portray anything other than the highlights, we’d become a burden to people. Think of how honoured and how much closer to someone you feel when they open up to you! It’s an acceptance of love and friendship, and you’re just as worthy of the support of others as they are of yours.

 

Accepting support

Ask for help where you need it. Whether it’s practical, emotional, professional, online, offline, paid, unpaid. Asking for and accepting support is a statement of worth. You have to believe that you’re worth the support of others, which is why I encourage people to take little steps with this. It gets easier. It’s vital to thriving. Sometimes it really does take a village.

 

Self-care

Self-care is important. It’s not always about the huge gestures – the manicures, the long workouts, the massages. It’s also about attending to and meeting your basic needs. Listen to your body, look after it when you’re hungry. Drink water, get an early night when you can. It’s the little gestures that build up your self-worth. You wouldn’t let your child go hungry or thirsty, because you value their needs. You also need to value yours.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s about fuelling the car and respecting that it can’t function if it’s empty. Neither can you. I used to feel that self-care was indulgent and I didn’t feel worth it. Now I can clearly see how my family fully benefits from me not being burnt out and resentful of anyone who gets to pee alone!

 

So.

#ThisIsParenthood: it’s a wild ride, but we’re in it together. We really are. Sometimes it might feel like we aren’t and it might look like we’re the only ones covered in baby goo, with bags under our eyes, but we are not alone. The more shoulders we find to lean on, people that we can share the highs and the lows with regardless of how different their experience may be, and the more we talk openly about the realities of OUR parenthood journey, the more we will start feeling part of something bigger.

I’ve shared my #ThisIsParenthood story on Instagram. Have a search of the hashtag on Facebook and Instagram, and join in the project!

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