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