Here are the basics of what the pelvic floor is, what it does and how its relevant in having a baby!
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that hang like a hammock from the front of your pelvis (pubis bone) and your tail bone (coccyx). Both men and women have a pelvic floor.
What does the pelvic floor do?
The job of the pelvic floor is to support your pelvic organs (bladder, bowel, womb), to control going to the toilet and has a role in sexual function. The pelvic floor muscles are always working at a low level (without us even thinking about it) to essentially stop the pelvic organs dropping low into the pelvis. The pelvic floor muscles relax when you need to go for a wee or have a bowel motion to allow these things to pass out of the body. And the pelvic floor muscles switch on more forcefully when we do more stressful movements like run, jump or even cough/sneeze to prevent any leakage of the bladder or bowel with these more forceful movements.
What happens to the pelvic floor in pregnancy?
As the baby grows, the pelvic floor not only has to support the pelvic organs but also the weight of the baby. During pregnancy a hormone called Relaxin builds up and makes all our ligaments and joints looser. This is normal and very important as allows the pelvis to open up for the baby to come out of the vagina. But this combination of a heavy baby and loose ligaments around the pelvis and pelvic floor, means the pelvic floor has a hard time and gets weaker and more stretched.
What happens to the pelvic floor during birth?
When a baby is born vaginally, the baby is pushed through the pelvic floor muscles causing them to be stretched. Although this sounds negative, it is a very normal thing to happen in order to birth a baby. In some cases the muscles will be torn as they are stretched too much, and may require stitches to heal. If the baby is born by C-Section, there will be less of this stretching to the pelvic floor muscles. However, there is a large link between the pelvic floor muscles and the stomach muscles which are cut through in a C-Section so it is still very important to think about the pelvic floor even if you don’t have a vaginal delivery.
What happens to the pelvic floor after birth?
After the loading of the pelvic floor during pregnancy and the trauma of the birth, the pelvic floor muscles are weakened and often the brain has forgotten how to work them, If you injure your calf playing sport, you would have a short period of rest, followed by regular rehab exercises until the calf was at full strength and function. The same applies exactly to the pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor is a muscle that is extremely important for normal day to day function and we use without even thinking about it. When we have a baby it is perfectly normal to have some damage to pelvic floor due to what is goes through during pregnancy and birth.
I will follow this up with a “How to Rehab Your Pelvic Floor” blog soon!