Pelvic Floor Essentials - A Pregnancy Checklist You Need to Know
Six vital habits to improve your pelvic floor health!
I've had so many great discussions about pelvic floor health with practitioners and patients alike! One that comes up frequently is how to strengthen the pelvic floor, and what are the alternatives to Kegels (or Pelvic Floor Exercises - depending on where you call home!) when attempting to improve the health of the pelvic floor. First off, while Kegels have their place in pelvic floor health, building strength does not mean better function when it comes to the pelvic floor. (If you'd like to learn more on this topic, I've put together a video that busts the Kegels myth in my free pregnancy video series here). Secondly if you set your body up to function in optimal conditions and positions with some of the tips below, your pelvic floor will be working hard everyday - especially if you're carrying a growing child.
So if not Kegels, then what? What can you do everyday to help improve the health of your pelvic floor and prepare your body for pregnancy and birth? As it happens the answer to your heart's desire is available in fun infographic format below:
√ - Practice Good Alignment
Poor alignment of the skeleton takes our pelvic floor muscles OUT of the plane where they can respond properly and decreases the ability of the abdominal and gluteal muscles (which are essential to the function of the pelvic floor!) to respond appropriately. Since your body adapts to whatever you do most frequently, continuous poor alignment while sitting, walking, or standing will result in a less functional pelvic floor.
When you are pregnant (and often even when you’re not), it is very easy for us to end up in standing postures that leans the pelvis out in front of us. With the hips out in front of you, your pelvic floor muscles are no longer able to appropriately respond to the load of the rest of the body and belly above it, and as such will not receive the input to build the strength required to support this extra weight - so pregnant or not, think hips over heels!
√ - Sit With a Neutral Pelvis
Having a slouchy posture with your weight on your tailbone or sacrum (which is the middle of your pelvis) will put you pelvic floor muscles again into a disadvantaged position where it cannot do its job properly. Furthermore, pushing the sacrum INWARDS, especially when the ligaments are more stretchy thanks to pregnancy hormones, will have the affect of shortening the pelvic floor muscles and narrowing the pelvic outlet or birth canal - not something you want to be doing leading up to childbirth. The solution? When sitting - get your weight ON your ischial tuberosities (i.e. your “Sit Bones”) and OFF your tailbone and sacrum.
√ - Release Your Stomach and Abdomen
Unfortunately this will be more difficult for some than it is for others, in fact I would dare say it would be difficult for most (this is one I struggle with personally). We've been conditioned from a young age as women to believe slim is desirable and as such suck in our stomachs and tense our abdomens on a daily basis. However did you know this inhibits the ability of the pelvic floor and abdomen from functioning properly? That pressure has to go somewhere, and its usually down towards your pelvic floor causing undue stress and strain on the pelvic floor muscles. Learn to release and relax your tummy and try to avoid clothing that is tight or restrictive that will trigger your mind and body to tense or suck in.
√ - Employ a Proper Position While On the Toilet
"Wait you mean I've been going to the toilet wrong my whole life?" I wouldn't quite say wrong, but your technique can likely improve.
Squatting is the most natural position to empty both your bladder and your bowel, it allows your muscles to relax and removes the kink in your bowel that would otherwise make things difficult. Unfortunately for those living in most western countries the height and shape of your toilets are not set up to allow for this. The solution? A raised platform like a shoe-box, stool, or squatty potty (if you haven't heard of it, they explain this whole squatting while on the toilet concept in the most entertaining of fashions here) under your feet to allow you to assume this all natural position while going to the bathroom.
The squatting position will also allow you to go without pushing - which is you do not want to be doing, especially when pregnant with the ligaments being more prone to stretch because of hormones. Pushing on the toilet can be a large contributor to prolapse and pelvic pain, so don't go until your body lets you know its time and try to relax.
√ - Wear Flat Shoes
Yes, they make you feel sexy, taller, and sometimes even more professional - right up until your feet and back hurt and you're walking bare foot with your shoes in your hands. Unfortunately I'm not just talking about your favourite pair of stilettos, I'm also talking about those running shoes with a padded and elevated heel. Your pelvic floor health starts at your feet, the more time you spend in a shoe with a heel that is higher at the front than it is at the back, the more your body will adapt to that position - think shortened calf muscles and a pelvis that is constantly trying to compensate for being loaded in the wrong position.
Unfortunately if you make wearing heeled shoes a habit, this adaptation by your body even happens with the shoes off! Long story made short? Fall in love with a cute pair of flats and try to wear a shoe with a neutral heel when moving and exercising.
√ - Move
This one is simple - move more throughout your day. Think of all of the time you spend in a single position (usually sitting) and know that your body adapts to what you do every minute of every day. If its sitting that means shorting of your hips muscles, limiting the mobility of your pelvis and also contributes heavily to pregnancy-related lower back pain.
Try to plan a walking meeting at work, stand at your desk occasionally, take a movement break, or print at the furthest printer from your desk - the options are infinite and the result is you getting move movement into your day.
For the most part the essentials listed are simple, but make no mistake they are absolutely vital for positive pelvic floor health, especially during pregnancy with the extra loads of a growing baby.
Want the best results? Print this checklist off and place it where you spend a lot of time during your day as a reminder. Also try to implement each point gradually over time (maybe one or two just to start) and don't feel guilty or disheartened if you find yourself in a don't situation, just adjust and try to remind yourself going forward!