Wondering what happens to your pelvic floor when you’re expecting? Claire Merrett, Jessica Ennis-Hill’s postnatal physio, explains all…
Most people are aware of the strain pregnancy puts on your stomach muscles. But the strain pregnancy puts on your pelvic floor muscle is far less visible and far less talked about. Until now.
It might sound strange, but at Jennis Pregnancy, we’re passionate about the lesser-celebrated pelvic floor muscle. Why? Because the work you do to protect it while pregnant can save you a lot of health hassles later down the line. So, what exactly is your pelvic floor and what does a growing baby do to it? We ask pelvic floor expert and super-physio Claire Merrett to tell all.
What is your pelvic floor muscle?
How does pregnancy impact your pelvic floor?
Because of the position of your pelvic floor muscle in your body, it makes sense that the weight and position of your growing baby is naturally going to put strain on your pelvis during pregnancy, stretching your pelvic floor muscles so they become thinner.
Your pelvic floor holds up your bladder, bowel and womb, so it’s a pretty big deal
But, there are other factors at play, too. Towards the end of your pregnancy, your pelvic floor is further stretched when oestrogen levels fall. Then, of course, when your baby’s head engages, your pelvic floor muscle is stretched.
Why does it matter?
If your pelvic floor is weakened, it’s harder for you to squeeze the muscles and sphincters at the bottom of your bladder to prevent wee from escaping, which means you may accidentally wee when you cough, sneeze or exercise (stress incontinence). When it comes to putting a figure on that, according to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, 34% of women report some degree of urinary incontinence in pregnancy, which continues for one year plus after baby is born.
Because that pelvic floor sling we mentioned earlier also affects your vaginal muscles, if you have a weakened pelvic floor you may find sex less satisfying and feel less sensitivity in your vagina.
Top tips for a stronger pelvic floor in pregnancy
The good news is that pelvic floor muscle exercises (PFME) can help prevent such problems. A 2017 Cochrane review found that pregnant women who did PFME to prevent urinary incontinence were less likely to report urinary leaks in late pregnancy and for up to six months after the birth. The even better news is that these exercises aren’t too technical or time-consuming, and for the most part, no-one knows that you’re doing them, which means you can do them on the bus, in a meeting, at the dinner table etc.
If you have a weakened pelvic floor, you may find sex less satisfying
When should I start these exercises?
To be honest, all women should be doing them at all times in their lives, as it’s beneficial for all. However, it’s worth making a conscious effort to start your pelvic floor muscle exercises once you’ve decided to try for a baby.
As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, it’s really, really important to do them because of the extra pressure that little one is going to be putting on them.