Today we welcome Taryn, a physiotherapist to share with us 7 myths that women face around pelvic health and getting back into exercise postpartum. This is essential information for women who have or are going to have children (whether thats imminent or sometime in the future). I certainly wish I knew it before I went into pregnancy/birth! The last 6 weeks I’ve been consulting with a physiotherapist and it has been the best for my confidence as I know I am safely getting back into running. Taryn’s information is interesting, educating and empowering, I hope it can give you the confidence you also need in regards to your pelvic health.
As new Mums, our instincts take control and almost all of our energy is taken up by focusing on our new baby, their health, and their happiness. In the early phases of recovery postpartum, our health and wellbeing are monitored by our preferred health professional, and if we are lucky our family as well. However, as time goes by and women pass the ‘6 week check up’ mark, there is little contact with our health professionals, unless of course something is amiss.
Women often return to activities of daily life and exercise with little information to guide them. Even when they do join ‘postpartum’ exercise regimes, they are often ‘hit and miss’ as to how much information and guidance is provided regarding their pelvic health.
Why would this be of concern? Well let me tell you a few facts:
1. Up to 1 in 3 women will experience incontinence postpartum. Incontinence is the leakage of bladder or bowel often when you cough / sneeze/ laugh or exercise.
2. Up to 50% of women will experience prolapse. Prolapse literally means ‘falling down’. The pelvic organs (bladder, bowel and uterus) can fall down causing symptoms such as heaviness, dragging, pelvic pain, backache and a bulging at the vagina.
3. Returning to exercise too soon, or participating in the wrong types of exercise can cause pelvic health problems to either appear, or get worse. The problem is further impacted by the fact that women often believe that incontinence is ‘normal’ postpartum. It isn’t! Whilst it is common, incontinence is never normal. Prolapse is seldom talked about, and many women don’t understand the dangers of exercising too soon, and will undoubtedly regret not having been better informed when their insides are creeping into the outside world!
So what is safe exercise and when can you return postpartum?
The bottom line is that this will be different for every woman, and the only real way to tell is to seek the advice of a Pelvic Health specialist – particularly a Women’s Health Physiotherapist. These therapists will conduct an internal examination to help you to understand your pelvic health, and guide you to safe return to exercise.
Unfortunately some women are reluctant to seek advice of a specialist because of the myths that exist around pelvic health….
1. “I do my pelvic floor exercises, so that’s enough”
Statistics show that up to 50% of women do their pelvic floor exercises incorrectly. In fact, rather than lifting through the pelvic floor they are bearing down – which makes any issues worse!
2. “I have tried my pelvic floor exercises and they don’t work”
There is the highest level of evidence that pelvic floor exercises DO work when performed correctly.
3. “I am incontinent, I have a weak pelvic floor”
Not necessarily. Some women have what is referred to as a hypertonic or overactive pelvic floor. The inability to sufficiently relax these muscles means that they are unable to contract effectively. In this case women need to ‘down train’ the pelvic floor and learn how to switch it off.
4. “I’ll just be told to stop running”
Absolutely not! A good therapist will listen to your goals and help you to achieve them. Whilst you may need to take a break for a while, you can still work towards a goal that suits you. Think of your pelvic floor dysfunction like any other injury. The pelvic floor will take time to heal, but with good management you should be able to participate in the activities that you enjoy.
5. “I have a prolapse, but there is nothing that can be done about it”
Whilst prevention is better than cure, there are many ways to manage prolapse symptoms. In the postpartum period there is a ‘window of opportunity’ where elastic recoil can occur to help support your pelvic organs if you do the right things!
There are also lots of different products on the market that can help with symptoms of prolapse.
6. “You can’t get a flat tummy with pelvic safe exercise”
Wrong! In fact, many of the exercises that promote ‘flat abs’ can actually create more of an abdominal bulge or ‘mummy tummy’ as it is affectionately known. If you have a diastasis or an ‘abdominal separation’ post partum, you need to take particular care or what exercises you participate in. Exercises that increase the intra abdominal pressure such as crunches will actually make the separation worse, not better!
7. “I am doing post pregnancy yoga/boot camp/pilates etc, so its going to be safe”
Unfortunately any personal trainer can promote that they are conducting postnatal programs, even if they do not have specific training in the area. Unless your trainer asks you specific questions about your pelvic health, and offers modifications accordingly you can bet your bottom dollar that they are not ‘pelvic health aware’. It is okay to participate in classes that aren’t specifically designed for women with pelvic health issues, as long as you understand how to modify the exercises accordingly. You should never feel pressured into performing any exercises, and if you do, that class / trainer is not a good fit for you.
I urge you, before you regret it, take a look at your postpartum pelvic health and ask yourself are you managing it as best you can? As a mum its very difficult to take time out for self care. It is so important to prioritise your pelvic health though. If you want to participate in fun activities with your kids pain free and ‘leak free’ its vital to get on top of any problems earlier rather than later. For more information and links to excellent resources, visit my page Swim Ride Mum.
About the Author, Taryn:
Taryn is a Mum, Triathlete, Physiotherapist and writes the blog Swim Ride Mum. She is passionate about active lifestyles for Mums. Her blog gives practical training tips, education about pelvic health and insights into body confidence. Taryn believes that healthy lifestyles lead to healthy mindsets, gives mothers much needed energy and confidence, improves relationships with our family and helps us to be positive role models for our children.