The importance of your pelvic floor – By Sophie Cachia

Prior to having my babies, I’d hear women, mainly middle-aged to older women, talk about their ‘poor pelvic floor.’ There was lots of wetting pants chatter going on in these convo’s. I’d always stir my mum up because for as long as I can remember, every time she has needed to go to the toilet she has HAD to go the VERY SECOND she had the urge. She’d always say, “It’s because of you bloody four!” My sisters and I would giggle away at the image of Mum nearly wetting her pants. You’ll often hear women laughing saying, “Stop! Or I’ll wet myself!” I’m sure there are many of you who’d scoff at the idea of jumping on a trampoline for the very same reason.

As a young girl, I’d find myself asking, “What’s wrong with them?” I was young and definitely naive. My ignorance, even as a pregnant young woman, was outright horrendous! And it’s why I believe that every girl from a very young age should be taught the importance of her pelvic floor muscles.

FYI for those playing along at home, your pelvic floor muscle lies like a hammock from your pubic bone to your tailbone. This crucial muscle not only supports your bladder and your bowel/colon, but your uterus too. So a heavily pregnant body puts a hell of a lot of pressure on it. The urine tube (a.k.a where you wee from) and your back passage (you know what I mean) all pass through the pelvic floor muscle. The strength of this muscle determines how much control you have over your bowel and bladder function. Lastly (a fun fact!) the pelvic floor muscle also contributes to sexual function. All of these reasons above highlight how VITAL it is to keep your pelvic floor muscles strong.

Now, let’s get back to my ignorance throughout my first pregnancy. As mentioned, any possible issues I understood about pelvic floor muscles revolved around women who were much older than me like my mum and my 78-year-old Nan! They were all ladies who I knew had experienced multiple pregnancies and I assumed that it was their age alone that played a big role into why they complained about pelvic floors so much.

Me? Pregnant at 23? Pfft! My pelvic floor will be just fine!

Throughout my first pregnancy, I was constantly reminded by my obstetrician the importance of my pelvic floor. My mum was always asking me if I’d done my exercises that day and my physio would ask me the very same question. I did do my exercises. I was also super fit and strong leading into this pregnancy, so I knew my pelvic floor muscles were super strong too.

From what I recall (2 pregnancies = 2 babies = 2 bouts of ‘mum brain’) I didn’t suffer from any form of incontinence issues throughout my first pregnancy. I did have one experience at 35 weeks whereby a huge gush exploded out of me on my kitchen floor. My then boyfriend (now husband) thought it was my waters breaking. Nope! It was in fact my bladder as my baby had suddenly done a kung-fu like backflip onto it. Other than that, throughout this first pregnancy, I never really lost touch with those muscles. I’ll come back to this later.

Onto my second pregnancy and I saw the warning signs early on. I was leaking urine quite frequently and towards the end of the pregnancy, I had to wear pads most days. Exercise was difficult and I most certainly couldn’t cough without leakage.

I started seeing a women’s health physio, Shira Kramer, who I WISHED I knew about after my first pregnancy. Shira is one of Australia’s leading women’s health and fitness professionals and is an almighty guru when it comes to your pelvic floor.

I suffered with terrible abdominal separation (fancy-dancy term: Diastasis of the Rectus Abdominis Muscle – DRAM) that hit 7cm at just over 20 weeks pregnant. Shira also informed me that I was bordering on a vaginal prolapse. A vaginal PROLAPSE? Surely that only happens to severely overweight old ladies, yeah? Nope. Not at all. Apparently, it can happen to fit young girls in their 20’s who didn’t work on their pelvic floor enough after their first pregnancy. #idiot

Remember before when I said I didn’t lose touch with my muscles throughout my first pregnancy? Well, I definitely did in my second. The last couple of weeks saw me desperately trying to squeeze the muscle only to feel nothing at all. I had lost touch of it completely! It was so weak and my body couldn’t even recognise what I was trying to do anymore.

I was 26 and my pelvic floor muscle had deteriorated. I was wetting my pants every day and my vagina was about to fall out. Brilliant. I knew I had work to do.

After the delivery of Florence (vaginally), I got to work straight away doing my exercises. It was weak. It got tired. But it was there. It fatigued so quickly but I knew I had to do as many exercises as I could to get in touch with the muscle all over again.

My first trip to the toilet post-birth, I began doing my exercises. Not very well but I did them. I remember weeing and using my pelvic floor muscle to stop the wee mid-stream. I did this about 3-4 times. That was enough for her first day back at work.

The next couple of weeks, while allowing my body to heal and recover, saw me purely focusing on my pelvic floor. I’d do 10 or so pulses while waiting for the lights to change and I was engaging my core and switching on the muscle consciously every time I went to pick up the baby or stand up out of a chair. I’ve had to work reallllly hard to get it back. While I am 9-months post-partum, I can’t say we are 100% back (will we ever be?) but I can confidently say we are doing MUCH better and I well and truly avoided the prolapse. If I had more education, further understanding and had been more pro-active in exercising and looking after my body, this WHOLE THING could have been avoided.

I truly can’t stress to you how important pelvic floor exercises are regardless of if you are planning on get pregnant or not. I recently had my girlfriends over for dinner for my birthday where I overheard a conversation about someone, “Not even knowing where their pelvic floor muscle was.” Super passionate PFM activist over here quickly huddled the ladies in for a mini-training class in how to

1) Find the muscle

2) Train it!

I was gobsmacked really, that none of the girls around the table really knew too much about it. But then I remembered that before my kids, I too was that girl.

Therefore, I’m giving you my little tips and tricks for how to work that muscle ladies. And PLEASE never underestimate its importance like I did. And PLEASE never think that your age has anything to do with its abilities. You are wrong…

How to find it: (Warning: This is in my own words and I most likely won’t use correct medical/professional terminology)

  • Lay down, or sit, but make sure you’re relaxed.
  • Squeeze your vagina muscles like you’re trying to desperately hold in a wee. Now squeeze those muscles in so hard.
  • Now that your front is switched on, do the same with your back passage. Squeeze your bum muscles like you’re holding in a well, you get it. Just don’t tense your abs and don’t tense or squeeze your bum cheeks.
  • Now you want to pull ‘up’. You want to feel a lifting up sensation all the way up into your stomach.

Simple Exercises:

  • Tense pelvic floor muscle, hold for 5 seconds, completely release and relax your body. I do 10 of these a night, easy while watching TV.
  • 10 x pulses. These are my favourite at traffic lights. Short sharp ‘off-on’ type exercises.
  • When you’ve relaxed and on the toilet doing a wee, try to stop mid-stream using your muscles. Go off-on a couple of times. Just don’t do this one all the time as it can play tricks on your body.

*ps: Shira Kramer can be found at http://www.beactivephysio.com. She did not, in any way shape or form, sponsor or collaborate for this post. I’m simply sharing her because she is an expert who helped educate me so much on this topic. She taught me everything I now know and she fixed my body from the absolute mess that it was in. She will also most likely tell me off if any of the information I have given today is incorrect (lol).

Written by Sophie Cachia

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