Essential Pelvic Floor Checklist
Mar 07, 2017
6 Do's and Don'ts that are vital for pelvic floor health, especially when preparing for pregnancy!
I've had many discussions with health practitioners and patients over the years about pelvic floor exercises or Kegels and it remains huge point of interest in the women's health space. While Kegels can be helpful, simply building strength does not equal better function when it comes to the pelvic floor. (If you're interested in some alternatives for improving your pelvic floor health, our Prenatal BABEs Program goes into great depth!)
While strength is important, a pelvic floor with muscles that are too tight (and are constantly reinforcing that tightness by always contracting, clenching, squeezing, or holding on all day long) will not be able to function the way they should, and will not be able to do things like keep in that little bit of sneeze pee, supporting the pelvic organs, or enjoy pain-free sex.
This becomes especially important when we add the loads of pregnancy and carrying a new baby. These discussions often lead toward a question I get asked fairly frequently:
"If Kegels aren't the only answer, then what else?"
What can these Mamas, and women everywhere, do to improve the function of their pelvic floor and help prepare it for the rigors of carrying a growing child? I'm glad you asked! I've put together a checklist that is essential for the function of your pelvic floor - it's not exhaustive, but it is full of movements, habits, and lifestyle changes that are vital for the health of your pelvic floor, especially during pregnancy and when preparing for birth:
Want to learn more about how you can prepare your body for birth and help set yourself up for a smooth postpartum recovery? Check out our Prenatal BABEs program here
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√ - Practice Good Alignment
Whenever you are upright, your pelvic floor muscles are directly underneath the load of your pelvic organs and abdominal contents, your growing baby during pregnancy, and the rest of your torso. In response to this load, the pelvic floor muscles are constantly ‘working out’. This means the alignment of the pelvis within the body, and with respect to gravity will determine how well the muscles can respond to that load. When you start throwing your alignment out of whack the loads end up in all of the wrong places, causing strain to muscles, joints, tendons, and pressure on organs where they shouldn’t.
√ - Sit With a Neutral Pelvis
Ever had somebody sit on your lap and which made you think "Geez you have a bony butt!?" That is where you want your weight to be when you're sitting. More than anything, if you can become aware of improving your alignment throughout the day in between moving (more on that later) you can be facilitating a healthy pelvic floor throughout your everyday life.
√ - Release Your Stomach and Abdomen
This will be tougher for some than it is for others and touches on both the mental and physical aspects - it's definitely one that I still have to work on. Many of us have a habit of holding a lot of tension in our abdominal muscles and have practiced ‘sucking in’ from a young age in order to look slimmer or because we believe it will help tone our muscles. However, instead of strengthening these muscles, it actually inhibits them from working properly and creates unhelpful pressure in the abdominal region and pelvic floor.
Learn to relax the belly and avoid tight fitting clothing that makes you suck in or compresses your abdomen. Keep in mind, those organs and tissues have to go somewhere when you change the shape of your tummy so suddenly, and it isn't always where they're supposed to be!
√ - Employ a Proper Position While On the Toilet
I bet you didn't think you'd have to learn how to go to the bathroom all over again as an adult did you? Think again! This one is so simple and can change your life!
The ideal and most natural position to empty both bladder and bowel is squatting.
Ideally, you want some sort of raised platform like a stool, shoebox, or squatty potty (if you haven't had the pleasure, this video explains the squatting concept in a very entertaining fashion) which will allow you to unkink your bowel and go without creating extra pushing forces to do so.
Speaking of which, straining on the toilet is a huge no-no, especially when you have that hormonal stretchiness of your ligaments and additional pressure from pregnancy. This can be a major factor in prolapse and pelvic pain. Try to relax during bowel movements and don't go until your body tells you you're ready!
√ - Wear Flat Shoes
I know, I know - They make you feel sexy! You love them! But unfortunately, those heels aren't doing any favours for your pelvic floor.
Those running shoes with the padded-up elevated heel? Yep them too.
Good pelvic health starts from the ground up and exposure is key. The more time you spend in a positive-heeled shoe, the more your body will adapt to that position (more about alignment and choosing your footwear here) - increasing the tightness of your calf and hamstring muscles which will continue to pull your pelvis into that tucked under position, even after you have taken the shoes off. Once the pelvis is out of neutral, the muscles are no longer able to respond to gravity and the loads being placed on it - so long story made short, fall in love with some cute flats instead!
√ - Move
Do a quick survey of your daily movement habits. How much of your waking day do you spend sitting or being stationary? If you break down your day I bet you'll be surprised. Your body adapts to what you do 100% of the time, and so sitting for long periods will result in the shortening of muscles across your hips and therefore limit the mobility of the pelvis. It is also a major contributing factor to pregnancy-related lower back and pelvic pain. The solution here is easy: Move more throughout your day. Plan walking meetings at work, take regular movement breaks or change position at your desk between sitting and standing, park farther away at the shopping center - the list is endless and the result is you up and moving!
You'll notice these dos and don'ts are simple for the most part, but they are absolutely vital for the health of your pelvic floor. Preparing for pregnancy? These lifestyle changes are even more important! I'd even recommend printing the checklist above off and placing it on the wall where you spend a lot of your day so you can remind yourself of the points we've! Don't worry if you find yourself in don't territory more often than not! Just work through one or two points at a time gradually and the results should come a bit easier.
Any questions or comments? Feel free to comment below, or connect with me on social media or at [email protected] Also, click the following link if you're looking for Women's Health Physiotherapy local to Brisbane.