Editor’s note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
Remember back to those exhausted first days as a new mom? When you barely had time to eat and never had a wink of sleep? In the middle of all this your doctor, midwife, or heath practitioner would ask, “Are you doing your pelvic floor exercises?” And you would nod yes, promising that you would remember to do them in between endless laundry and feedings.
Yet, somehow those pelvic floor exercises slipped your mind, never seeming that important in the grand scheme of things — especially with a new baby to feed, bathe, and keep alive!
Oh, the well of regret that now washes over me! Why didn’t I listen? In between being schooled on breastfeeding and questioned about contraception choices (when sex was the last thing on my mind), I don’t remember anyone telling me just how vital pelvic floor exercises were.
Maybe I felt smug. I had had two C-sections. Stupidly, I thought, Well, I didn’t have to push, so why do I have to care about my pelvic floor?
Within a year of having my first child, I was lifting my son out of the bath one morning and my back twinged a little. Over the next couple of years I experienced a couple more back issues. Then, one recent morning I was at a HIIT gym class. As I jumped and twisted at the same time — oof! My back just gave up.
I couldn’t walk a single step without excruciating pain. My husband drove me to the chiropractor, but they couldn’t help. I then spent an agonizing week in bed, received a MRI scan, and a spinal injection. Now, three long weeks later, I am relatively pain-free. And so begins my rehabilitation.
I discussed with my physiotherapist how I managed to damage my back so badly. Guess what? It all came down to my pelvic floor. Or, rather the fact that it isn’t working properly. Turns out, I wasn’t so clever in neglecting to do those Kegel exercises. As my doctor, Pelvic Health Physiotherapist Becky Aston explained to me in a recent visit, “Pregnancy changes body shape, stretching the abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor, so it is pregnancy in itself that changes how your body works not just through the way you give birth.” So, it is the carrying of a baby that puts all the pressure on your back, pelvis, and core muscles. Who knew!
I thought because I didn’t suffer from incontinence (unless jumping up and down on a trampoline), my pelvic floor was in good shape. So what exactly is the pelvic floor, anyway? Dr. Aston noted:
“The pelvic floor is part of our stability system, so it works with back muscles, abdominal muscles, and our diaphragm to help stabilize the back and the pelvis. Most importantly, it helps us manage the pressure that goes through our bodies, so every time we talk, move, cough, sneeze or pick something up — the pressure on our middle body changes and what our pelvic floor does along with stability muscles, is help manage that pressure.”
If only I had known that. I honestly thought a stable pelvic floor just kept you from peeing your pants. Yet, failure to look after your pelvic floor can result in abdominal hernias, prolapsed wombs, or back pain like I have, caused by using the wrong muscles to compensate for a pelvic floor that is not working properly.
But there’s good news, moms: it is never too late to start your pelvic floor.
According to Dr. Aston:
“It doesn’t matter if it is six weeks after having a baby or 20 years later you can take a look at how your body is aligned and how your body manages dynamic movement and begin to rehab your system. Simple exercises involve getting your pelvic floor contracting gently, and integrating it with your body.”
Working our pelvic floor is easy with these tips that can help you locate and exercise those critical muscles.
If you’re wondering why we don’t pay more attention to this important health issue, Dr. Aston theorizes:
“My big thing is a lot of postnatal women think after six weeks, ‘Right I’m ready to lift kettle bells or start training for a triathlon,’ but I equate a postnatal body to if you had damaged your ALC knee ligament, which takes nine months to rehab! But what women have done is put their body through a nine month transformation, so the healing takes time and woman shouldn’t feel pressured to go back to the gym.”
So ladies, get squeezing. You can work your pelvic floor while standing, cooking, shopping in the supermarket, before you go to sleep, and even while changing diapers. But whatever you do — start now; it’s never too late!