What's that, you say? You never considered pre-pregnancy pelvic floor health before you read the title of this post? Oh, what was that? You didn't even know this was even a thing? Well, lady-friend, join the club. I know I was pretty clueless pre-pregnancy as were many of the women in my circle. So! Here I am breaking it down to let you know some simple things you could do pre-pregnancy to try making your downstairs as healthy and ready for pregnancy and birth as possible.
Ensure that your body is ready to carry a baby by addressing any pain or problems associated with posture or weakness before pregnancy. Many women, myself included, don't even realize that they have an issue because maybe "it's just always been that way" or they assumed it was like that for everyone. Listen, I don't want this post to make you become paranoid, wondering if you have problems. I hope that more than anything, this post is educational and points out the types of issues that many women face on a regular basis that simply don't have to be the every day norm.
1. Strengthen your pelvic muscles. To strengthen your muscles, use pelvic floor contractions (aka: Kegels). I recently learned that I had been doing these exercises all wrong. For years! To do them correctly, one gently squeezes the sphincter muscles (rather than the buttocks and thighs like I had been doing). These exercises help prevent urine leakage when a woman sneezes, coughs, jumps on a trampoline, etc, and can help reduce pelvic pain during pregnancy. Please note that for some, doing Kegels incorrectly can worsen conditions such as incontinence, pelvic pain, and even lower back pain. This is why it is important to consult a women’s health physical therapist before beginning an exercise program. And lucky for those of you readers in the Central Ohio area, one of the posts in this series will be a list of professionals around town who can help with this very thing! If you can't wait til the post is released, leave a comment here or contact me through the Contact tab on my website and I'll hook you up.
2. Focus on your core. Core exercises can help prevent a common problem called diastasis recti, where the abdominal muscles separate, leaving a dome-like presence in the abdomen and/or a palpable gap between the muscle. Sound awful? It is! As your belly grows throughout pregnancy, the abdominal muscles along either side of the belly button can be forced apart. If they separate too much, it might create low back pain, pelvic pain, or other issues as your body tries to compensate for weaker core muscles.
A note for those who might really love doing workouts focused on the core (and for those who don't): Sometimes, exercises like sit ups can actually increase the likelihood of developing diastasis recti, incontinence, and back pain during and after pregnancy. If you're curious about if you could be that person, be sure to mention it to your physical therapist so that she/he can get you on the right exercise plan to a healthy and strong core.
3. Just breathe! A physical therapist can help prepare your body and mind for a healthy pregnancy by simply guiding you through and teaching you some relaxation breathing. If done well, your core and pelvic floor muscles will contract automatically as you exhale fully, and this can aid in core stability and health.
4. Exercise regularly. Exercise helps reduce stress hormones in your body and boosts your muscle strength and endurance — just a couple things that'll come in handy when it comes time to carry any extra baby weight. Once you're pregnant, regularly participating in low-impact activities like walking, swimming, biking, or using low-impact exercise equipment. When the muscles and ligaments that support a woman's pelvic organs become weak, the repetitive motion of running can cause those organs to descend and cause serious problems. This is known as pelvic organ prolapse. Physical therapists strongly recommend that women wear undergarments or compression shorts that support the pelvic floor, both during and after pregnancy.
5. Sit up straight! Poor posture can have a major effect on every part of your body. A physical therapist can evaluate your posture and suggest muscle-strengthening exercises and lifestyle modifications to help with this. Healthy posture habits before pregnancy will better prepare your body for the extra weight of pregnancy and reduce your chances of lower back pain and pelvic discomfort.
Stay tuned for part three in this series where we'll go over some tips for an optimal pelvic floor while with child!