7 ways to strengthen your pelvic floor
If you’re suffering a bit of leakage every time you cough, sneeze, laugh or even dance, then that’s the sign to start working on your weakened pelvic floor immediately to reduce your risk of suffering a prolapse.
It’s estimated that half of women who’ve had at least one baby will have some degree of genital prolapse – either already or in the future. That’s an alarming statistic yet prolapse can be prevented or, at least, lessened from the moment you get pregnant.
What is a prolapse?
The word ‘prolapse’ literally means to ‘fall out of place’ – and that’s what happens to those organs – such as the rectum, bladder and uterus – which are meant to be held in place by the pelvic floor.
It’s caused when the ligaments that support the pelvic organs stretch and the organs start to feel the pull of gravity. Pregnancy, childbirth, being overweight or obese and having a chronic cough can weaken the pelvic floor, as can having a family history of pelvic floor problems or even being overly flexible.
It all sounds very unpleasant but your chances of suffering an uncomfortable condition which can interfere with your continence, sex life and general activity – and possibly require surgery – can be lessened if you start taking measures now.
What are the symptoms of prolapse?
That little bit of ‘leakage’ when you sneeze, laugh, cough or play sport is a big sign that all is not as strong as it should be in your pelvic floor. If you have these symptoms below as well, then you may have some degree of a prolapse.
- The presence of a lump at the vaginal entrance which might feel like a golf/tennis ball.
- Dragging feeling or pain in the lower abdomen and lower back.
- Stress incontinence – leakage of urine (or bowel contents) with coughing, sneezing or changing position.
- Having to manually aid opening of bowels by putting pressure on the vaginal wall.
- Discomfort with intercourse.
- Inability to hold in a tampon.
How to prevent prolapse
Without intervention the symptoms of prolapse usually worsen over time. The good news is that there is much you can do yourself to get your pelvic floor strong.
The Jean Hailes Foundation for Women's Health has these must-read prolapse prevention tips.
- Always do your pelvic floor exercises from the moment you get pregnant and continuing after the birth and ever after. You’ve heard it all before but these simple little exercises help keep everything in its place.
- Keep your weight in the ideal range for you height, regardless of other health issues you may have. Obesity and being overweight increases the risk of prolapse.
- Never strain to empty your bowels – always take your time! One incidence of straining can be enough to cause prolapse! So always aim to keep your bowel actions soft with a healthy diet and lots of water.
- Coughing and sneezing puts pressure on the pelvic floor, so deal with respiratory issues and hayfever urgently.
- Always avoid heavy lifting at home and at work. That one move of the freezer or repetitive lifting of young children may be enough to cause problems.
- Don’t ‘hover’ over public toilets. Sit down!
- If you have a bit of a continence problem now, seek some advice from a physiotherapist or your doctor.
Related women’s health articles
- The best pelvic floor exercises
- The benefits of exercise during pregnancy
- 5 simple ways to ease pregnancy back pain
- 12 reasons sex is good for you
This article was written by Fiona Baker for Kidspot, New Zealand's best family health resource. Sources include The Jean Hailes Foundation for Women's Health and The Continence Foundation of Australia.