The pelvic floor and why we need to exercise it after having a baby?
Physiotherapist Caitlin Dunsford top tips to understanding this muscle and exercising it after having a baby.
Where is your pelvic floor?
First of all, the pelvic floor is a muscle (just like your bicep in your arm or calf in your leg) and it sits like a trampoline at the base of your pelvis. It’s actually a sheet of multiple muscles, that together form somewhat of a “sling”. If you take your hands and feel the hard bone low down at the front of your tummy, that’s your pubic symphysis. Then at your back, follow your spine all the way down to the tip of your tailbone, that’s your coccyx! Now, in sitting, move from side to side and feel the hard bones underneath each of your bottom cheeks, these are your ischial tuberosities. If we think of these 4 spots as the edges of a diamond, your pelvic floor virtually slings between each corner of this diamond. On top of your pelvic floor sits your bladder at the front, your uterus, then your bowel/rectum at the back. These are referred to collectively as your pelvic organs (because they are organs that reside within the pelvis). Your pelvic floor plays a role in holding these organs up against gravity.
When functioning correctly, the pelvic floor plays a role in:
- Increasing sexual arousal and reaching orgasm
- Holding urine/poo and wind in when we need to go, especially when you are laughing, coughing or jumping!
- Maintaining the pelvic organs high up within the pelvic cavity
- Holding a tampon in
- Allowing us to do a poo with ease
- Keeping our back and hips strong and pain free
- Good “core” stability
How can you find and exercise your pelvic floor?
We start with breath work and awareness as this improves motor control of the muscle. The theory is that you increase the amount of messages reaching the muscle via the nerves, thereby allowing for a stronger contraction of the muscle. Because you cannot see the pelvic floor, it is SO important to tap into your intuition and internal compass so that you can find heightened awareness of how to control and feel the muscle at work. Where your mind goes your energy flows, embrace this!
Step 1: Sit or lie in a relaxed position and take your attention down to your pelvic floor. Notice the sensation of your undies on your skin, notice any tension you are holding in your perineum (skin between vagina and anus). Can you feel your vagina touching the surface you are sitting on?
Step 2: Keeping your tummy and leg muscles relaxed try to squeeze the pelvic floor gently, picturing that you are trying to tighten your anal sphincter (as if trying to hold wind). You should feel a gentle squeeze/tightening of the muscles around your anus (and vagina too), as well as a gentle lift. Now relax the muscles and pay attention to the feeling of “letting go”/ a drop or your pelvic floor.
Step 3: See if you can tighten and relax repetitively 10 times in a row for 3 sets. Holding the squeeze for 2 seconds each time and ensuring complete relaxation after each squeeze.
Some common mistakes when doing this exercise are:
- Holding your breath
- Sucking your tummy in
- Squeezing your abs and legs/bottom cheeks
- Pushing down like you are trying to do a poo
Learning to squeeze and then train the pelvic floor can be tough. If you are experiencing symptoms (leaking urine, pain etc) or having trouble doing this exercise then reach out to your local pelvic floor physio.
For more information take a peek at Caitlin’s instagram feed: @pelvicfloorwithcaitlin