Recently we have seen a few women with pelvic floor and postnatal issues, so thought it may be helpful to give some general guidelines around this subject. Approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men have urinary incontinence issues, so this is a very relevant topic!
Often after having a baby, women are keen to return to exercise. This is great! However, getting back into running or high impact sport too early after giving birth can cause the pelvic floor muscles to weaken, and result in prolapse or lasting bladder and bowel problems later in life.
Firstly – what is my pelvic floor?
Your pelvic floor is a sling of muscles that goes across the bottom of your pelvis. Your pelvic floor is responsible for:
- protecting your internal organs and supporting them whilst you are standing
- it acts with your deep abdominal muscles to help support your spine and hold you in a good posture
- it helps to control your bladder and bowel motions and prevent leakage
- pelvic floor also plays an important role during sexual intercourse.
How does pregnancy/childbirth affect my pelvic floor?
When you are upright there is a lot more load and pressure exerted on the pelvic floor due to the weight of your baby and the surrounding fluid. When you give birth the baby passes through the pelvic floor and stretches the muscles, traumatic births and the use of forceps can increase the risk of trauma to the pelvic floor. If you do not allow your pelvic floor to recover sufficiently after childbirth you can increase your risk of vaginal prolapse and incontinence in later life.
When can I get back into physical activity/sports/fitness after having a baby?
In the first 3-4 months after the birth, Relaxin is still at work in the body, this can last up to a year if breast feeding. This is a pregnancy hormone which softens the ligaments of the body, consequently there is an increased risk in injuring your back and other joints due to a loss of stability. Your pelvic floor muscles have been working hard to support the baby for the last 9 months, so they will need time to regain their tone and strength.
- Research recommends that you should not do any exercise for the first 6 weeks post childbirth except gentle walking and pelvic floor exercises
- And no high impact or strenuous physical activity for at least 6 months to a year
A good way to think of it is – it has taken your body 9 months to adapt to the changes of growing a baby.… it will take just as long for it to adapt back in the opposite direction!
Consider visiting a physiotherapist for a postnatal abdominal muscle check and pelvic floor muscle testing before returning to high-impact exercise, running, sport or abdominal exercise programs. Click here to book in to see one of our physios for an assessment.
You can return to previous activity levels provided your pelvic floor muscles have returned to normal and you are not experiencing any back pain, vaginal heaviness, or urine loss during or after exercise.
All the best for getting back out there ladies!