**This is a guest post by MaryEllen Reider who specializes in educating women about the importance of their pelvic floor. Don’t know what the hell that is? Then read on!**
“Do your Kegels!”
Pretty sure all moms (or moms-to-be) have heard this phrase at the gyno. Most women know the Kegel exercise for sexual reasons, but the exercise actually helps with the upkeep of the pelvic floor muscles. These pelvic floor muscles are hella important and here is why.
Pelvic floor muscles support the pelvic organs and run along the bottom of the pelvis. The pelvic floor muscles provide support to the organs (like the bladder and uterus) that lie on it. Having strong pelvic floor muscles gives us our control over the bladder. Think of the muscles as a hammock. When the hammock gets weak or damaged, it starts to sag and give out which causes the organs to fall on top of each other. When this happens, the pelvic floor can cause incontinence (bladder leaks or overactive bladder) which totally sucks.
What has this got to do with pregnancy? Normally the pelvic floor muscles are strong and flexible, right? Well, during pregnancy, the baby lays on the pelvic floor causing an excess strain. Really, this isn’t a big deal. The big deal is childbirth. Childbirth is like fitting your head through a turtleneck shirt that is two sizes too small and hoping that the head doesn’t cause too much stretching.
When the pelvic floor muscles are toned, the internal organs are held in their natural proper position. And delivery is so much easier when you can effectively push and relax and have command over your pelvic floor muscles. For birthing, a little preparation and a little post partum action has big bonuses. The French, who know a lil’ something-something about love, call it la rééducation périnéale (perineal re-education) and it begins while the mother is still in the hospital.
Back here in the US, we know about post-partum depression (thank you Hollywood mamas), but there is more to it, and it is ridiculously important. Postpartum urinary incontinence affects a high number of women, with around 25% (for c-section deliveries) to 40% (traditional vaginal deliveries) of new mothers experiencing some form of incontinence postpartum. According to a study by McMaster University, women with incontinence after childbirth are twice as likely to have postpartum depression. Good news: you aren’t alone in the uncontrollable bladder world. 1 in 3 women have incontinence. Great news: urinary incontinence is treatable and is not life threatening.
Kegel exercises and pelvic floor exercises are designed to improve pelvic floor muscle tone and prevent the need for surgery down the road. But more than half of the women who try to do a Kegel exercise are doing them incorrectly because they use their rear ends or abs while performing the exercise. If you do them wrong, your pelvic floor doesn’t get the benefit. This is the big difference between a re-educating device and a biofeedback device. A re-educating device will tell your pelvic floor muscles to do the work and then do it for you. A biofeedback device will track your muscle movements for you, but they also will track any muscle movement regardless if it’s the right or wrong muscle. The French moms we just talked about? They tend to use the re-education devices.
A huge misconception about bladder leaks is the idea that incontinence comes with age. If you believe “I peed myself. This means I am getting old like my mom or grandma!” FALSE. Although urinary incontinence can become more common as women get older, it is not a normal part of aging. Anyone who has experienced any of the activities below can have urinary incontinence. These problems can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life and have known links to depression and anxiety. Again great news: it’s nothing to panic about. Urinary incontinence is often totally reversed with treatment like the pelvic floor exercises we keep talking about.
List of activities that can cause urinary incontinence:
-Pregnancy and childbirth
-Straining on the toilet (aka you can’t poo)
-Repetitive motion and High impact exercises (horseback riding, volleyball, ballet, etc.)
For more information about the pelvic floor muscle exercises and relaxation, look up the people