The pelvic floor. You need to know about it if you are pregnant or have had children.
In France, all women receive Pelvic Floor rehabilitation as part of their postpartum medical care. Here in the US, very few women know about it even though the Pelvic Floor is really important. We talked to Marianne Ryan, PT, OCS to learn more.
Why is the pelvic floor important and what happens to the pelvic floor during pregnancy?
The pelvic floor is made up of a group of muscles that have multiple functions. They act as a hammock to support the pelvic organs, are involved with bowel and bladder functions and sexual functions. These muscles form the bottom of the core muscle system and when working optimally they work in unison with the diaphragm, which is the major force in breathing…that is a lot of work for one little area of your body!
During pregnancy, hormones cause these muscles to stretch-out as a way to get ready for delivery. The stresses of carrying a growing baby for 9 months and the rigors of childbirth can cause a lot of strain on the pelvic floor muscles. After delivery, it is important to try to recover full function as soon as possible.
Some of the problems women develop as a result of strained or weakened pelvic floor muscles are incontinence (a leaky bladder and fecal staining), painful sex, back/pelvic pain and pelvic organ prolapse.
One of the best ways to recover fully from childbirth is with pelvic physical therapy. Many women feel that they do not need to address pelvic floor rehab because it is not the norm in the US.
What other changes happen to a woman’s body during pregnancy and childbirth?
Most moms do not realize that their bodies will not “magically snap back together” after childbirth. It takes time for the hormones to rebalance so you can actually regain strength again. Your body is still under the influence of the pregnancy hormones for at least 3 months after childbirth and even longer with breastfeeding moms. This means the hormones that loosen things up so you can deliver your baby, continue to keep things like muscles and ligaments loose longer than you think. During this time you are at risk of injury if you try to engage in activities that are too challenging for you body.
So, even though your doctor gave you the green light to return to all your pre-pregnancy activities after your 6-week check-up, it does not mean you can. Moms need to GRADUALLY return to activities that are jarring to the body or require breath-holding behavior. Some examples are running, jumping and heavy lifting.
How can I regain my strength and feel like I am back in my pre-baby body after childbirth?
My first piece of advice I give mothers who I treat in my office or coach over the Internet, as part of the Baby Bod Program, is to learn to EXHALE when you exert yourself. Make sure the amount you exhale matches the amount of effort required when you are performing a task. For example, when you are picking up your newborn baby, just exhale lightly. When you are picking up a huge pot of pasta to drain, exhale more deeply.
The next step is learning good alignment. Pregnant moms learn to lean their upper body backwards to make room for their growing baby and tend to continue this behavior after childbirth. The best way to get your core muscles automatically working again is to learn to stack or align your rib cage directly over your pelvis. This will help flatten your tummy and encourage the core muscles to support your body again.
Marianne is determined to spread awareness that ALL MOMs need to rehabilitate their pelvic floor and should have pelvic physical therapy after each and every birth. That is why she did her Ted X talk, “What Your Momma Never Told You About Childbirth”. It might be “common” to have problems like a leaky bladder or pelvic / back pain after childbirth, but it is not normal to live with them!
Marianne is the founder and Clinical Director of Marianne Ryan Physical Therapy. She has achieved the highest level of advanced orthopedic manual therapy techniques. She is a thought leader in the field, known for her special knowledge in the areas of Prenatal and Postpartum physical therapy, TMJ and Headaches. A frequent lecturer and source for national media, her international best seller book Baby Bod – Turn Flab to Fab in 12 weeks Flat is available on Amazon.com. Read More