10 Tips for Safeguarding Your Pelvic Floor After Giving Birth (that aren't Kegels)
A vaginal delivery can be a huge trauma for our pelvic floors.
I won't go into detail about that in this blog post, but if you want to learn more, you can watch this video:
During the first few weeks after giving birth, we want to be mindful of and implement strategies for safeguarding our pelvic floors, preventing pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic organ prolapse.
Most mummy blogs only talk about kegels - while this can be an important aspect of pelvic health, it is so much more than that.
In this blog post I am going to go through 10 things you should do (or not do) in order to protect your pelvic floor.
1. Breathing Exercises to Connect
The first thing you can do to protect your pelvic floor after having a baby is to CONNECT to the pelvic floor through the breath.
The following tutorial will take you through a diaphragmatic breathing technique that 1) helps you connect to your pelvic floor and 2) helps you identify any tightness in your diaphragm and upper abdominals that might be creating unnecessary pressure down onto your pelvic floor.
2. Keep Weight OFF Your Pelvic Floor
Being a mother will require us to be on our feet for much of the day - whether it is rocking a newborn, pushing a stroller, doing housework or looking after other children.
Much of this may be unavoidable, BUT it is important to get weight OFF our feet and OFF our pelvic floor, especially in the early days and weeks.
When standing, or walking, the weight of our pelvic organs will be literally and physically on our pelvic floor. Lying down, our healing pelvic floor no longer has to cope with that load. We allow our pelvic floor to rest.
In particular, we want to pay attention to any feelings of heaviness, bulging or pressure in the pelvic floor. If you do feel any of these sensations, you might want to lie down, maybe even with a pillow under your bum.
3. Cool it with the baby wearing
I know, I know - a lot of people hate this one.
I know it’s a really important part of motherhood for many women.
I know it’s become very fashionable.
BUT - it does mean adding an extra 3, 4, 5 or maybe more kilos to your pelvic floor!
I’m not saying that baby wearing is bad - you just need to weigh it up with your pelvic floor health.
It might be a good idea to not wear your baby for long periods of time.
It might also depend on how YOUR pelvic floor is doing - if you had severe tears, and episiotomy or a vacuum delivery, you might need to take more caution.
Again, tune into any feelings of heaviness and take breaks when you need to.
Lots of women tell me, or other women, proudly, how they went for a 2 hour walk just 2 weeks or a few days after giving birth.
Often with a baby strapped on them the whole time!
We often admire this kind of tenacity and physical strength.
But this isn’t the time to push yourself physically.
Many women go for long walks out of boredom, but also because they feel like it can help them shift the baby weight.
I am a big fan of walking - it is healthy for your body and mind, and your health-care providers will usually encourage you to walk from day one.
It may be best, though to keep walks short, maybe just 10 minutes in the beginning, and build up to longer periods of walking gradually over time, paying attention to the pelvic floor as we go.
It often feels like the only kind of physical activity that we are “allowed” to do early on - so it may also be helpful to know that there are other ways that you can move your body in the early days, that may be MORE pelvic floor friendly.
This gentle sequence, for example, will take you through some gentle mobility exercises and is designed to not put pressure on the pelvic floor.
If you want to learn more about your body and what to expect in the first 6 weeks postpartum, download my free ebook here.
It can help you ease aches and pains from being hunched over, holding a newborn.
You might also try this “workout” that includes core, mobility and strength exercises that you can do in the first few weeks. Again, very pelvic-floor friendly
5. Blow before you go
This expression was coined by Julie Wiebe. The idea is to exhale through the effort throughout our daily life: when lifting our babies, getting out of the car or when standing up from the sofa or toilet.
Most of us will hold our breaths when performing these tasks, which increases intra-abdominal pressure and may put pressure down on our pelvic floor.
We can then apply the same technique when we start exercising - exhaling through the hardest part of the movement.
6. Use a Pillow when Coughing and Sneezing.
Coughing and sneezing can be a huge and sudden strain on our pelvic floors.
Many women leak urine only during these actions - this is called SUI, or "Stress Urinary Incontinence"
We can use a pillow to provide mechanical support to our pelvic floor when we need to sneeze in the early days postpartum.
If you can’t grab a pillow in time, you can also just use your hand!
7. Toilet habits
Establishing good toilet habits is so important to protect our pelvic floors postpartum.
First of all, we need to prevent getting constipated, since when this happens we tend to hold our breath, strain and bear down on the pelvic floor. This can be a recipe for pelvic organ prolapse (POP).
Drink plenty of water (dehydration can lead to constipation) and eat fibre-rich foods.
It’s also important to do a poo with our feet on a stool or squatty-potty - we want knees above our hips, to lean forward, elbows on knees, relax the pelvic floor, butt and thighs and BREATHE (practice your diaphragmatic breathing!)… don’t PUSH and don’t hold your breath.
Absolutely take a stool softener if you need to!
8. Strengthen the glutes
Glutes and pelvic floors are BFFs! Strengthening your glutes (bum) muscles should be a central part of your exercise programme.
Early on, you should start with exercises that keep weight off your pelvic floor, like these:
You can progress to things like this:
Back when I was pregnant, I read about these Perineal Healing Padsicles - I excitedly prepared them, put them in the freezer and eagerly made this blog post:
You make a calendula infusion which you pour onto sanitary towels and put them in the freezer - you can pop them in your panties during the postpartum period to help bring down swelling and soothe the area.
Little did I know that I was about to have an emergency c-section…
They did actually wind up being pretty useful as I used them on my c-section scar instead!
So I highly recommend that you prepare these one evening in your final trimester - they really are quite lovely!
10. Choose Exercises that are Low-Demand for the Pelvic Floor
As you return to exercise, it is important that you consider the demands on your pelvic floor during each exercise.
For example, a squat might be a lot more demanding on the pelvic floor than a glute bridge, due to, well, gravity.
For that reason, you should start with exercises that are supine (lying on your back), rather than standing.
High-impact activities like running should also be avoided in the first 4-6 months, during which you can do much to prepare your body for this type of activity.
I wrote a detailed blog post on Returning to Running Safely Postpartum
Of course, you can do Kegels too!
It just isn't the be-all and end-all of pelvic health!
If you'd like a guide to doing pelvic floor contractions, as well as tons of other tips about looking after your body postpartum, AND a free training programme, download my FREE ebook, The First 6 Weeks
And if you're ready to recover from pregnancy and birth and get strong, join my online programme, THE COMPLETE POSTPARTUM PROGRAMME today