Your pelvic floor is a broad sling of muscles, ligaments and sheet-like tissues that stretch from your pubic bone at the front of your body to the base of your spine at the back.
The pelvic floor stretches naturally, however if it bears weight for a long time, like during pregnancy, the muscles can become over-stretched and weaken.
What’s All The Fuss About?
Your pelvic floor supports your bladder, bowel and uterus (womb), and gives you control over when you empty your bladder and your bowels.
Having a weak pelvic floor makes it harder for you to squeeze the muscles (sphincters) at the bottom of your bladder to stop wee escaping. You may find you accidentally leak a little wee when you cough, sneeze or exercise.
This is called stress incontinence and you're not alone if you have it. Stress incontinence affects up to a third of all new mums.
It's not just during pregnancy and childbirth that your pelvic floor is important. Your vaginal muscles are affected by your pelvic floor as well, so you may find sex less satisfying if your pelvic floor is weak. A strong pelvic floor can also reduce problems in later life, such as during menopause.
How Does Giving Birth Effect My Pelvic Floor?
During labour and birth, your pelvic floor stretches to allow your baby's head to pass out of your uterus and through your vagina. This may result in bruising, swelling, soreness or numbness.
Your pelvic floor may have been over-stretched during labour if you had a long pushing stage, a large baby, severe tearing, or a forceps birth.
If you had a c-section you still need to exercise that pelvic floor. Hormones from being pregnant loosens your pelvic floor and the weight of your baby stretches it further. However you’re likely to find it easier to do your exercises than someone who had a vaginal birth, as your pelvic floor will not feel as sore.
If you try to do too much too soon after your baby's birth you may feel it in your pelvic floor. If your pelvic floor feels heavy, or if you feel as if you have something bulging between your legs, it's a sign to slow down. When Should I Start Pelvic Floor Exercises Again?
Discuss recommencing exercise with your GP, however in most normal pregnancies it is recommended to start your pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible. Commencing early is really beneficial and can help your perineum and vagina to heal faster, improve the circulation to your perineum and help reduce swelling and bruising, and avoid those embarrassing accidental urine leaks.
You may find for the first few days that you cannot feel your pelvic floor muscles working or that nothing is happening. Don't worry, this is normal and is because of your stretched nerves.
Your exercises will be working even if you can't feel the effects. Keep trying, as the feeling in your pelvic floor will come back.
It's best to start exercising your pelvic floor muscles when you're lying on your back or side. You may find it easier to do your exercises while you're relaxing in the bath to begin with.
How to Exercise
1) Breathe in and as you breathe out gently squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. Pull your muscles up and in, as though trying to stop yourself weeing or passing wind.
2) Hold a contraction for four or five seconds while you continue to breathe in and out as normal.
3) You may feel your lower tummy muscles tightening, and that's fine. If you are tightening your upper tummy muscles (above your belly button) then you are trying too hard!
4) Build up to holding a pelvic floor contraction for 10 seconds while breathing normally. If you lose your breathing control, stop and start again.