Postnatal pelvic floor damage is an issue that affects many women and yet, is rarely discussed. The recent issues raised regarding vaginal mesh implants have led to changes in how women are given information about looking after their pelvic floor health. But there is a lot more to be done.
As soon as a woman confirms her pregnancy, there are many messages and medical professionals who become involved.
Pregnant women are given information on what to eat and what to avoid. Likewise, they are given information about the signs of pre-eclampsia and other medical issues.
They will receive information on breastfeeding and formula feeding and duly encouraged to opt for the feeding system that works for them and their baby.
What is rarely discussed in the pelvic floor muscle.
The pelvic floor, pregnancy and birth
The pelvic floor is a sling-like muscle that runs across the body from the base of the spine at the back to the pubic bone at the front.
It keeps your bladder, uterus and bowel in place, and is also the muscle that helps to control the release of urine.
It is affected by pregnancy hormones, which weaken it slightly. Labour also affects it, as does pushing to deliver your baby.
Some birthing techniques affect it too, such as forceps delivery. And it can also be damaged during a c-section birth or where the baby is big or delivered ‘awkwardly’.
What happens when it is damaged?
Some women suffer from urinary incontinence, the accidental leaking or urine. This could be when they feel the urge to urinate when they exercise, cough, laugh or sneeze.
It may not be life-changing but if this is happening to you, you may feel the need to keep incontinence pads with you to manage the problem.
For some women, the damage to the pelvic floor can extensive, leading to prolapse. This is where the muscle is damaged or not strong enough to keep the organs, such as bladder, where they should be.
A prolapsed bladder will fall into the vagina. Painful and difficult to manage, many women undergo surgery. In recent years, the preferred surgical solution was vaginal mesh inserts, although as we have seen, this didn’t work for everybody.
Prevention is better
The reality is, that for many women, issues with their pelvic floor muscle during and post-pregnancy could have been avoided.
It is no recognised that along with breastfeeding, pelvic floor health should be discussed in more detail during the birth planning process.
Here are six ways to look after your pelvic muscle, and possibly prevent damage during pregnancy, labour and after the birth too;
#1 Ask your midwife and health visitor for more information on how to strengthen your pelvic floor ready for labour and delivery
Midwives and health visitors are being trained to deliver better information and support for women struggling pelvic floor health. This includes exercises as well as managing incontinence after pregnancy with pads and diet.
#2 Hormones and the weight of the growing baby will have an effect on the pelvic muscle
This could lead to short-term urinary incontinence during pregnancy. As well as keeping incontinence pads with you, making sure you visit the bathroom in good time and stay hydrated too, minimising caffeinated drinks.
#3 Start pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy and continue after the birth as soon as you feel able to
They are simple clench and release exercises, repeated several times a day. They are free and don’t require specialist equipment, although there are some products you can buy to help you perform these exercises better.
#4 Stay active
Regular exercise – at least half an hour a day on most days – can be beneficial for both body and mind. Specific exercise such as pregnancy yoga is also beneficial to the pelvic floor.
#5 Eat a balanced diet
This helps you to avoid constipation which places an extra strain on the pelvic floor muscle and your bladder. Staying hydrated is important too, but sip water through the day rather than gulp it larger drinks.
#6 Ask for help
If the problem continues or it gets worse, or you experience pain, then seek help. Incontinence can be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI), especially if it is painful when you urinate.
There are treatments available for urinary incontinence. It is not something that you have to ‘put up with’, and neither is it something that comes with being a mum.
HARTMANN Direct is a leading online retailer of high-quality incontinence products suitable for use during and after pregnancy.