The pelvic floor can be an elusive beast, especially because we can’t see it. Let's understand what's going on during pregnancy and after birth!
What is the pelvic floor anyway?
These muscle fibres form a web between your pubic bone, tail bone and two sit bones. They are essentially the ‘floor’ of your core which supports your organs such as the uterus, rectum, and bladder.
During pregnancy, the pelvic floor is put under increasing pressure and load as your baby grows. If you have a vaginal birth, the pelvic floor is also put under stress during labour.
Since the pelvic floor is supporting your organs, it’s pretty important to strengthen this area after pregnancy and birth otherwise there is a risk of a prolapse, urinary and / or faecal leakage. You don’t need to and shouldn’t be expected to put up with this! You can train this area just like any other muscle group.
A misconception, however, is that we can only strengthen this area with pelvic floor specific exercises. Yes, these are very beneficial, but you can also strengthen this area through breathwork and movement.
It is possible to overtrain this area leading to pelvic floor dysfunction or the inability to relax your pelvic floor muscles. This can lead to problems around not being able to pass urine or faeces easily causing more serious problems down the line.
3 ways to engage and release your Pelvic Floor
1. Specific pelvic floor exercises (e.g. win zip, elevator, etc. - all covered in my course and more!) focus on engaging and releasing your pelvic floor muscles.
The best way to think about engaging this area is to imagine you’re holding in wind (a fart) and trying to stop a pee mid-flow. If you struggle to feel this area, try sitting on a cushion to feel these muscles engaging.
It is also very important to release these muscles as well. Just like you wouldn’t do lots of bicep curls and leave your arm stuck that way, you shouldn’t continually engage your pelvic floor either. Release work is key! Pelvic floor exercises like the ‘sniff, flop, drop,’ going into a deep squat and breathwork can also be helpful for this.
2. Breathwork (e.g. longer exhales, even breaths, pranayama, etc.) is so important for your pelvic floor health.
Your diaphragm and breathing mechanics are intrinsically linked with your pelvic floor. While you can engage and release your pelvic floor at any time, it helps to think about the breath supporting you.
When you breathe in, your diaphragm descends and creates intra-abdominal pressure which pushes down on the pelvic floor (think about blowing up a balloon against a trampoline). This is a great time to work on releasing your pelvic floor because you have the help of the intra-abdominal pressure.
When you exhale, the intra-abdominal pressure decreases and the diaphragm lifts so it’s a good time to engage the pelvic floor. This can seem like the opposite direction for people, but I promise it works.
Sit up tall through your spine and on your sit bones and give a few big inhales and exhales a try to find out.
3. Movement or gentle exercise can also engage your pelvic floor in the process.
The muscles that are intrinsically linked to your pelvic floor because they run through this area are your inner thighs (adductors), glutes and core muscles of which the pelvic floor makes the base. When these muscles are engaged or worked, you might feel tone in your pelvic floor as well.
Give it a try by squeezing a cushion between your thighs or doing some cats (engaging pelvic floor and abdominals) to extended cats (releasing pelvic floor and abdominals). Walking can also help tone the pelvic floor area.
We cover all of these exercises (and more!) as well as their progressions during my 6 week online postnatal course. This course is designed with new mums (moms) in mind and can be done flexibly around your schedule. Click here to find out more about the course or email firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions.