Pregnancy and the pelvic floor. Though the connection is fairly clear, pelvic floor dysfunction develops during and after pregnancy and is overlooked far too often.
The pelvic floor is a network of muscles that stretch from the pubic bone to the bottom of the tailbone and support the organs that sit in the pelvis and lower abdomen. Because of the location, it’s no wonder that the pelvic floor serves an important purpose during pregnancy, and is also under a lot of stress leading up to giving birth.
Imagine a hammock sitting at the base of the pelvic region. In it sits the bowel, the bladder, and the uterus. This is the pelvic floor, which provides important support to the body, and is also largely responsible for continence, or the ability to hold urine or feces within the body.
A strong pelvic floor is necessary to support the bowel and bladder, avoid pelvic organ prolapse, and can even help avoid lower back pain. During pregnancy, the uterus grows and extra pressure is put on the pelvic floor.
A pregnant person may become aware of this pressure, in the form of back aches and difficulty with leaks. Many people who have been pregnant will remember the terror of sneezing with a less-than-empty bladder, as a leak was very possible.
Preparing the body for birth
Every body is different and every pregnancy is different. That said, there are certain mechanical changes that one can be fairly certain will occur. Pressure on the pelvic floor will happen, as the uterus swells and the organs shift to make space.
Following birth, whether a vaginal or C-section delivery, the body will be healing and may be left with certain common complaints. Muscle tone throughout the trunk and pelvis, weakness in the pelvic floor, nerve issues, incontinence, and pain during sexual activity are common complaints.
The good news is that many of these symptoms can be improved with pelvic floor physical therapy, and the better news is that by preparing the body before a birth, many uncomfortable symptoms can be avoided.
A gentle but specific exercise regimen can strengthen the pelvic floor and supportive tissues of the abdomen, giving the body extra support as the uterus grows and the due date approaches. This doesn’t mean a pregnant person needs to dedicate precious time to an in-depth workout; it can be as simple as learning movements and subtle exercises which strengthen and tone throughout the day.
Pregnancy and pelvic floor strength
The ideal pelvic floor is strong but not tense, able to support the organs and control muscle contractions. The best way to determine pelvic floor strength is to see a physical therapist who specializes in treating pelvic floor dysfunction.
Together with a physical therapist, you will determine if your pelvic floor is tight and could benefit from stretching to prepare the body for birth, or weak and could benefit from strengthening exercises. A pelvic floor with strength in the normal range will still benefit from those same strengthening exercises, as the pressure of a pregnancy and demands of labor and birth can all lead to damage or weakening of these muscles.
The recommendations may be as simple as learning proper technique for Kegel exercises, receiving advice on hydration, nutrition, and posture, learning exercises on a medicine ball (sometimes called a birthing ball), and discussing how toileting habits condition the body.
Seeking treatment from a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor dysfunction does not need to be a time consuming commitment in an already busy schedule, but committing to simple exercises and habit changes can go a long way towards a strong and comfortable postpartum body.
Treating pelvic floor dysfunction in Long Island
Body Restoration Physical Therapy is located in Roslyn Heights, Long Island, and specializes in treating a number of conditions relating to pelvic floor dysfunction, including pre- and postpartum care, sexual dysfunction, abdominal separation, treating adhesions from surgical scars, and more.
There are things that can’t be avoided, and pregnancy and childbirth can bring with them a myriad of surprises, but being well prepared goes a long way towards positive outcomes. Contact Body Restoration Physical Therapy to learn more about preparing the body and pelvic floor for childbirth.