5 Surprising Truths About Your Pelvic Floor

Whether you are a new mom or a seasoned pro, understanding and caring for your pelvic floor is essential, impacting everything from core strength to postpartum recovery and daily comfort. But there is so much rampant misinformation and confusion about this area of your body.

For moms, the journey of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood can pose unique challenges to the pelvic floor. During pregnancy, the extra weight and pressure can strain these muscles. The act of giving birth, whether vaginally or via C-section, can also impact the pelvic floor's function. Postpartum recovery, coupled with the demands of lifting and carrying a baby, further stresses this region. Many moms experience symptoms like urinary incontinence or pelvic pain, making it essential to address pelvic floor health.

The good news is that you can proactively care for your pelvic floor health. Proper exercises, breathing techniques, and postural awareness can help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles throughout pregnancy and postpartum. Additionally, a pelvic floor assessment by a healthcare professional, particularly after childbirth, can help identify and address issues.

Let’s dive into 4 important facts about the pelvic floor that all women should know!

Dr. Dawn Andalon DPT, MTC, CPI is a leading women’s health specialist and co-owner of Level 4 PT & Pilates. She is a physical therapist, educator, author, and contributing expert to our FIT4MOM Prenatal and Postnatal Fitness Certificate. She shares, “It's important to know what your pelvic floor does, especially as we talk about pregnancy and postpartum healing.”

We were honored to interview Dr. Dawn as part of our new series, Mama Masterclass. Don't miss this opportunity to take control of your pelvic health and enhance your quality of life. In this informative interview, Dr. Andalon dives into the intricacies of pelvic floor health and its impact on your overall well-being.

What is the pelvic floor and what does it do?

The pelvic floor is a complex system of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues that form a hammock-like structure at the base of your pelvis. It supports your pelvic organs, including the bladder, uterus, and rectum. This powerful network is responsible for controlling your urination, bowel movements, and even sexual function. A well-functioning pelvic floor is crucial for maintaining core stability and preventing issues like incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse.

In the interview, Dr. Dawn states, “Let’s talk about your core: you have your diaphragm, which is your breathing muscle at the top. Opposing it is your pelvic floor, along the bottom. Your deep abdominals are in front, and then the muscles that attach to your spine are in the back. This is a system that has to work together as one unit.”

There are five functions of the pelvic floor muscles:

  • Sphincteric

  • Support

  • Stability

  • Sexual

  • Sump-pump

What happens to the pelvic floor during pregnancy?

Throughout pregnancy, the placenta will secrete the hormone relaxin to increase the flexibility of ligaments in the pelvis and soften the cervix as the body prepares for birth. As a result, the connection between the pelvis bones becomes looser, resulting in increased flexibility and a heightened level of instability throughout the spine and pelvic region. The pelvic floor needs to be strong to support the added weight of the uterus during pregnancy, but it also needs to relax and yield to let the baby through during labor and delivery.

While the pelvic floor is weakening in the later months of pregnancy, women will notice that their core is not functioning as efficiently as it should be. They may notice incontinence issues, difficulty breathing, lower back pain, and more. While some of this is normal and to be expected, some dysfunctions require medical or physical therapy guidance.

What are some common pelvic floor issues women experience during pregnancy or after?

Unfortunately, that pressure placed on the pelvic floor can lead to long-term complications during & after pregnancy if left unaddressed. This is known as pelvic floor dysfunction.

By definition, pelvic floor dysfunction is the inability to correctly relax and coordinate your pelvic floor muscles to have a bowel movement. Symptoms can include constipation, urine or stool leakage, and experiencing frequent need to pee. Common pelvic floor disorders include:

  • Bladder control incontinence

  • Dysuria (painful urination)

  • Bowel control incontinence

  • Pelvic organ prolapse

“As the pelvic area shifts to open and the ligaments of the sacroiliac region lengthen while pregnant, you can have some other pressure around the nerves in the lower back into the pelvis, which creates discomfort. Discomfort is normal, but pain is not. Any woman with pain should see a pelvic floor physical therapist for testing and diagnosis. This physical therapist will create a specific program that will work to strengthen the muscles around the pelvis to ease the pain,” Dr. Dawn shares in her Mama Masterclass.

Can you rehabilitate your pelvic floor after birth?

Returning to the analogy of the pelvic floor being like a hammock, it's important to understand the impact of prolonged pressure and stretching during pregnancy and childbirth. Just like a hammock may sag after supporting a heavy weight for an extended period, the pelvic floor muscles can experience similar changes due to the weight of the growing baby and the stresses of labor and delivery.

After giving birth, the pelvic floor muscles may need time and rehabilitation to regain strength and tone. Just as the hammock may continue to sag once the weight is removed, the pelvic floor muscles may remain stretched and weakened postpartum. This can lead to issues such as urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and decreased core stability.

Rehabilitating the pelvic floor through targeted exercises, such as the breath and core activations we shared earlier, is essential to help the muscles regain strength and function. Just as a hammock can be supported and tightened to restore its original shape, the pelvic floor can be strengthened through progressive and consistent exercises.

When can you return to exercise after pregnancy?

Your body goes through a lot in nine months! You must address your pelvic floor health and core rehabilitation before introducing high-impact movements. I see women who suffer from bladder urgency, frequency, or leaking if they start running or jumping too early after birth. Leaking urine is common, but you mustn't live with that issue. It's very treatable.”

Pelvic floor rehabilitation should progress gradually, starting with gentle exercises and gradually increasing intensity and difficulty as your body heals. Avoiding high-impact activities and heavy lifting in the early postpartum period - the 4th Trimester - is typically recommended. This recommendation will change as the mother moves past her 4th Trimester.

By recognizing the importance of pelvic floor rehabilitation after childbirth, women can take proactive steps to support their pelvic health and overall well-being. With time, care, and appropriate exercise, the pelvic floor can regain its strength and resilience, allowing women to resume their daily activities with confidence and comfort.

If you are ready to learn more, enroll in our free Mama Masterclass series to learn more about your pelvic floor from Dr. Dawn. Understanding the essentials of your pelvic floor is not just about gaining knowledge but about taking control of your well-being. These five key facts should be a foundation for informed decision-making and proactive care. Remember, your pelvic floor is an integral part of your body's support system, and by applying this newfound knowledge, you're better equipped to lead a life that's strong, confident, and free from unnecessary discomfort. So, take these facts to heart and embark on your journey towards pelvic wellness and a happier, healthier you.

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