Pregnancy and childbirth transform your body and ask a lot of it in a very short space of time. Naturally it takes time to get back to ‘normal’ – or your ‘new normal’ after giving birth, but one thing you shouldn’t have to put up with or accept, is having ‘accidents’ or painful intercourse.
Inevitably childbirth puts your pelvic floor muscles through their paces but I’ve become increasingly frustrated to see women feel that they have to resign themselves to peeing themselves occasionally. It’s almost accepted as ‘normal’ which is something I just can’t get on board with. Peeing yourself when laughing, sneezing, coughing or simply not being able to get to the loo quickly enough is not something you should have to accept as routine once you’ve become a mum. Leaking, painful sex or little accidents are not ‘normal’ months after giving birth. They can actually be symptoms of a damaged and/or dysfunctional pelvic floor. The good news is that there’s lots you can do to make things better.
Leaking For Life?
Pregnancy and postnatal textbooks and blogs talk a lot about strengthening your pelvic floor (Kegels, anyone?) but not enough good instruction is given on how to do them correctly and not enough emphasis is placed on the core as a whole. In fact, we know that a pelvic floor which is too tight can be as problematic as a pelvic floor that is too weak. At the same time, a core that doesn’t function well can have devastating effects – the result is the same – improper function. It may be that you feel you have no or less control over your urinary function or have urinary urgency, difficulty emptying the bladder, leakage or pain during intercourse. These sorts of issues often make women feel very inhibited about their bodies – fundamentally because they feel less in control which can lead to a major lack of confidence. And if there is something every new mum needs after giving birth – it’s more confidence, not less!!
There’s simply not enough dialogue about this issue, despite it affecting so many women and this needs to change. Any doctor or midwife who tells their patients they’ll just have to put up with accidents and painful sex should be ashamed of themselves. I really hope that education about this issue, and importantly attitudes towards it will improve quickly but in the meantime ladies, take the lead and don’t accept you have to live with leaks after giving birth, without having done everything in your power to get the problem sorted.
Does a C-Section make you safe?
Pelvic floor dysfunction can affect any new mum or mum to be and it doesn’t discriminate either. No matter whether you’ve had a C-section, a straightforward vaginal delivery or an assisted birth, you may well find yourself leaking or finding intercourse painful in the weeks after giving birth.
The pelvic floor muscles and core muscles both suffer stress during pregnancy and birth and when there are complications like having an episiotomy, experiencing tearing or having an assisted birth, the damage can be more severe. Having a dysfunctional core and pelvic floor before pregnancy will put some women at higher risk as well.
Don’t accept that it can’t change
As mentioned, if your doctor or midwife says that leaking or painful sex after giving birth is normal or something you need to learn to live without having done any investigation , then please don’t accept that this is the case. Either change your healthcare provider or pay for a private session with a women’s health expert. See it as an investment in your health and your femininity, as well as your future confidence and happiness.
So what’s normal after giving birth?
You’d be forgiven for thinking your pelvic floor is entitled to temporarily, shall we say, ‘misbehave’, after giving birth – it has had the most challenging experience of its’ life but that’s not to it should be dysfunctional ever after. It’s actually very normal to feel disconnected to your pelvic floor and core after birth but it shouldn’t last forever. If suspect you have pelvic floor or core dysfunction it can present in different ways – from urinary incontinence to sexual dysfunction to a heavy feeling inside your vagina to backache. So whichever symptom is worrying you, make sure you book an appointment with a woman’s health physiotherapist who knows her stuff or even your doctor or midwife if you feel they will take a progressive and proactive approach. They’ll be able to check you over and provide advice on how to move on.
Women often think about pelvic floor exercises but this is not the only thing that can be done to improve pelvic floor and core dysfunction. Pelvic floor exercises are important but the real benefit comes from doing them correctly. I suggest that you invest in a few sessions with a women’s health physio or women’s health expert post birth to help you get reconnected to your pelvic floor and core.
Many women are surprised to learn that nutrition is just as important as exercising your pelvic floor and core correctly, especially after birth. I’ve been lucky enough to study Nutrition for Postpartum Healing with women’s health experts Jenny Burrell and Jessica Drummond and we all agree that the main nutrients that are required for tissue healing are fibre, protein, healthy fats, Vitamin C, A, zinc and collagen. An easy and fast way to get these nutrients into your body without spending ages in the kitchen is by making a smoothie of blueberries, bananas, spinach, avocado and coconut water, adding a tablespoons of collagen powder if you’re not vegetarian. Remember you need to drink lots of water to stay healthy. You need to make sure your body has all the right nutrients to recover.
Good posture can help improve the alignment of your body which in turn helps to alleviate misplaced pressure and can help improve pelvic floor and core function.. Of course it is easier said then done, especially considering the fact that pregnancy alone will have pulled you out of alignment, not to mention the physical challenges that looking after a new born baby can bring. So begin by controlling what you can – don’t wear high heels for a start, and when you’re in a seated position be mindful to sit fully onto your sit bones.
As a midwife I understand how stressful pregnancy and birth can be on the body and understand how the postpartum journey can often be a long one. It’s my professional opinion that post birth, women need proper guidance on how to reconnect to their pelvic floor and core and how to subsequently how to optimise function. Leaks, accidents, pain and shame shouldn’t have to be things you accept as part of ‘life after childbirth’. Get help and discuss your concerns – you owe it to yourself (and your vagina) to make changes that will make these issues a thing of the past.
Concerned about pelvic dysfunction? Sofie Jacobs offers one to one sessions to assess and treat issues relating to pelvic dysfunction. Book a consultation HERE.