The pelvic floor muscles are a component part of your core and form a sling in the base of the pelvis.
They work with the deep abdominal, back and diaphragm muscles to support the spine and control pressure in the tummy.
Pelvic floor muscles need to operate at speed, under force and for sustained time periods.
These muscles may well be small but they sure are mighty!
· Help maintain spinal and core stability.
· Support the weight of the bladder and bowel.
· Support the weight of the uterus and foetus.
· Control bowel and bladder movements
· Promote rotation of the baby during birth.
What happens to the pelvic floor during pregnancy and postpartum?
During pregnancy, the effects of the hormone relaxin, combined with the increased mass of the uterus and foetus puts stress on the pelvic floor making it prone to stretching and weakening. Lifting heavy objects or even laughing and sneezing can often cause stress incontinence for pregnant women.
Postpartum, pelvic floor muscles have been further stretched, damaged, and weakened in the birthing process so stress incontinence is even more common.
What can you do to help during pregnancy and postpartum?
· Strengthening your core (including your pelvic floor) can reduce or even prevent stress incontinence.
· Exercises such as kegels can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. A strong and coordinated pelvic floor will improve control and relaxation during the second stage of labour. Postpartum, these exercises can usually start within 24 hours of birth.
· Perform both fast and slow contractions. Slow (hold for 5-10 secs) will support the bladder at its optimum angle and fast (no hold) will help support the weight of the bladder and prevent leakage. Ideally perform these twice daily.
· Incorporate kegels into other exercises where possible e.g. during a squat you could contract (draw up) your pelvic floor muscles as you come up to stand and relax them as you lower.
· Breathing is important – generally you breathe out on the exertion part of an exercise so for a squat you would inhale as you lower and exhale as you stand. By contracting your pelvic floor as you exhale out you are delivering oxygen to those muscles and engaging the muscles correctly.
· Regardless of the type of delivery, women should continue to perform pelvic floor exercises throughout the postnatal phase (and throughout life) to help avoid further complications and ease their return to pre-pregnancy levels of exercise and physical activity.