By: Lee Elkins
Loving life as a freelance writer and mom of four based in Connecticut.
You’re ready. You’ve counted down the days, tracked your baby’s progress, and researched every detail about delivery. Your tribe has prepped you with advice about the best baby products and how to take care of baby’s every need. But who’s teaching you how to care for your postpartum body? Your pelvic floor takes a beating during pregnancy and childbirth, and a weakened pelvic floor can lead to incontinence. In fact, 1 in 3 women experience incontinence, often starting after childbirth. In addition to your age, you can’t control many factors that contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction, including fetal position, length of delivery, fetal head circumference, and physical damage. But there are ways to prevent incontinence and even correct it if you’re already leaking. Here’s all you need to know about speeding recovery for a healthy pelvic floor.
What is my pelvic floor?
A woman’s pelvic floor is a vital part of her core strength. This network of layered muscles is like a hammock-type sling that supports the bladder, uterus, and rectum. A healthy pelvic floor controls your urinary and fecal urges, and contributes to a healthy sex life (stronger muscles = better orgasms). Most people don’t notice their pelvic floor when it’s working properly. But when it’s not, it can mean bladder or even fecal incontinence.
How does childbirth affect my pelvic floor?
There’s no way around it—giving birth is traumatic for your body. Of course, the season of pregnancy and childbirth is full of wonder, but it also takes a physical toll, with your pelvic floor bearing the brunt. For nine months, your pelvic floor muscles stretch and relax to make room for your growing bundle of joy. This loosening also makes it easier to deliver your baby. And part of that delivery may include an episiotomy and even potential nerve damage, resulting in losing some sensation in the pelvic area. Also, studies show that a longer second stage of labor often means a longer recovery period. Slack and damaged muscles can result in more difficulty holding your pee or controlling bowel movements because the muscles that manage these functions aren’t reacting as quickly or strongly as before pregnancy.
How can I help my body heal?
Just as your body stretches and adapts to accommodate a new life, it’s also built to heal. And strengthening your pelvic floor muscles is an essential part of postnatal recovery. Jackie Giannelli, a Family Nurse Practitioner outside of New York City, says there’s a gap in educating women about the importance of a healthy pelvic floor. She wants to prepare and empower women to take control of their postpartum healing.
The benefits of a strong pelvic floor are innumerable, and when weakened (say, after childbirth), women can experience urinary incontinence, painful sex, constipation and even vaginal prolapse [a condition where the bladder or uterus drops down into or below the vagina]. However, women are not taught about this as a part of the continuum of childbearing, and are therefore unprepared to deal with these issues when they surface. Another problem I find is that most women don’t really understand the proper technique with which to perform Kegels. And if they are able to demonstrate good technique, they tell me they really don’t have the time to do them regularly. –Jackie Giannelli, Family Nurse Practitioner
Restoring strength to your pelvic floor muscles begins with gentle training. And although “training” seems like a dirty word when you may have stitches and are still feeling postnatal aches, there are safe and comfortable ways to promote healing. In addition to rest, proper nutrition, and hydration, one of the best ways to get your pelvic floor back into shape is to practice Kegels.
How do Kegels help and what if you can’t do them?
Kegel exercises help speed postpartum recovery by strengthening the pelvic floor. These exercises involve repeatedly contracting and relaxing pelvic floor muscles, but many people find it hard to zone in on which muscles to contract. One way to identify pelvic floor muscles is to imagine gripping something with your vagina. The movement is internal, so you shouldn’t see any movement in your abdomen or buttocks. Hold the contraction for 3–5 seconds, and repeat 3 times. Physicians recommend doing this 3 times a day. But with a new baby, leaky boobs, and possibly stitches, it’s challenging to focus on your Kegel form, especially if you haven’t learned how to do them correctly before delivery, or even remembering to do them at all.
But where there’s a challenge, there’s a solution. Specifically designed tools can actually do your Kegels for you, targeting the correct muscles for the right amount of time. Not only does this strengthen your pelvic floor and better support your pelvic organs, but it also tightens up the vaginal area, which can lead to better sex and a decreased risk of bladder leakage. However, most of these tools require vaginal insertion, which is a postnatal no-no. Fortunately, there’s an effective device you can use externally. ELITONE is the only device cleared by the FDA for use as early as 6 weeks postpartum. Designed by a woman, ELITONE is worn under your clothes, much like a pad, and uses disposable GelPads to deliver gentle stimulation to contract your pelvic floor muscles. Just put it on, get dressed, and go about your day; ELITONE turns off automatically after a short session. You don’t need a prescription, and ELITONE is covered by some insurance plans.
What’s your postpartum recovery plan?
Childbirth certainly changes your life forever. But it doesn’t have to leave a permanent mark on your body. Prioritizing pelvic floor health now by formulating a recovery plan is key to your postpartum healing and long-term pelvic health. So while you’re stocking up on breast pads, proper supplements, and the perfect postpartum jammies, make sure to invest in strengthening your pelvic floor muscles. By working from the inside out, your core will be prepared to return to your active routine and take on more challenges. Including the biggest one of all: parenting.
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- Bozkurt M, Yumru AE, Şahin L. Pelvic floor dysfunction, and effects of pregnancy and mode of delivery on pelvic floor. Taiwan J Obstet Gynecol. 2014;53(4):452‐458. doi:10.1016/j.tjog.2014.08.001
- Pardo E, Rotem R, Glinter H, et al. Recovery from pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms in the postpartum is associated with the duration of the second stage of labor. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2019;300(1):127‐133. doi:10.1007/s00404-019-05173-1
- Mørkved S, Bø K. The effect of post-natal exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1996;75(4):382‐385. doi:10.3109/00016349609033336