UT Health shares everything you need to know about pelvic-floor dysfunction.
Ladies, let’s address the post-baby sneeze-and-pee phenomenon. If you’re a mom, first of all, you’re a rock star for creating, nurturing and birthing an actual human being into this world. While we can talk all day long about how beautiful motherhood is, if you’re experiencing the not-so-beautiful “I laughed so hard I peed a little” situation, or have had some, ahem, accidents where you just didn’t quite make it to the ladies’ room in time, you should know this is not a sacrifice you have to make.
UT Health Austin’s Women’s Health Institute pelvic-floor physical therapist Maureen Christian explains, “The pelvic floor is a multi-layered group of hammock-shaped muscles along with other ligamentous and connective tissue structures that span from the pubic bone anteriorly to the sacrum/coccyx posteriorly.” The pelvic floor separates the pelvic cavity above from the perineal region below and helps support the pelvic organs. Pelvic-floor dysfunction occurs when the pelvic-floor muscles have become weak or damaged, potentially generating urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, constipation or pain with sexual intercourse.
During pregnancy, the added weight pressing down on the pelvic floor can cause compression and prolonged stretching, possibly making the muscle tissue weaker and more challenging to contract. Christian adds, “This, combined with added pressure directly on the urinary bladder, can cause urinary leakage with surge pressures from coughing, sneezing, laughing, position changes, etc.” The degree to which the pelvic-floor structures are stressed during childbirth is dependent on many factors, such as fetal weight and head size, length of the second stage of labor and labor-to-birth positioning.
“The truth is, childbirth does change things and puts a woman at greater risk for pelvic-floor dysfunction. However, barring injury, given time, the body heals, recovers and returns to its pre-partum state,” Christian says. There are several interventions a pelvic-floor therapist can educate the patient on in order to reduce and, ideally, eliminate the symptoms. It’s important to seek the assistance of a pelvic-floor therapist should you have persisting symptoms after six to eight weeks postpartum.
Prior to pregnancy, become well informed about your pelvic floor by visiting a pelvic-floor therapist. Utilizing safe body mechanics, being mindful of engaging abdominal muscles and practicing a balanced routine of pelvic-floor muscle engagement and relaxation can help to prepare the tissue for the extensive stretching it will encounter during the birth process.
“In the latter stages of pregnancy (post-37 weeks), have an experienced therapist begin manual perineal stretching treatment and instruct you on proper self-perineal stretching techniques,” Christian recommends. With therapy and guidance from experts, many women are able to strengthen their pelvic-floor muscles, regain control and live without incontinence or other issues.
If you are experiencing symptoms of pelvic-floor dysfunction or are concerned about your pelvic-floor health, make an appointment with experts at UT Health Austin’s Women’s Health Institute by calling 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737).