Pelvic floor is a buzz phrase right now- we are learning about what an important role it plays in our overall health and well-being. And yet, most women don’t fully understand what causes pelvic floor dysfunction and what to do about it.
Unfortunately many of the signs of pelvic floor dysfunction are so common, especially for mothers, that they believe what they are experiencing is normal and acceptable and simply “what every woman goes through” and potentially just live with these symptoms their whole life.
The pelvic floor is a complex system made up of muscles that work together to perform many different tasks in your body. The pelvic floor hold your abdominal organs in and suspends them in place to function properly. The pelvic floor is meant to relax at the right times to enjoy sex and let go of urine and bowel movements at the appropriate times. The pelvic floor is meant to hold onto the contents of these eliminating organs as well.
A lot of women believe that the only pelvic floor issue is when this muscle group gets too lax and causes problems with incontinence. These weakened muscles can also cause sexual activity discomfort and pain, as well as a general sense of heaviness and bulging in the vaginal or rectal area.
The truth of much pelvic dysfunction is that many women have the opposite problem- their muscles are too tense and they walk around doing their daily lives holding an unhealthy amount of tension in their pelvis. Symptoms of this dysfunction can also be painful sex, trouble with constipation, or issues with emptying the bladder or rectum fully in the bathroom.
What’s a lady to do? The kegel has been touted as the primary exercise women should be doing to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. You can see with the example of having too much tension above that this is the opposite of what women should be doing in this circumstance. Unfortunately, even women who have actual weakening of these muscles, they are often doing the kegel incorrectly! What a confusing situation to navigate, right?
The best way to determine what kind of dysfunction you may be dealing with in your own body, we recommend seeing a pelvic floor therapist- a physical therapist that specializes in the pelvic floor muscle group and function- in order to correctly asses your anatomy and work out a personalized plan of getting back to optimal health.
We know from person experience and taking care of many women in our midwifery practice in San Diego that getting to a physical therapist for your pelvic floor symptoms is easier said than done. We have a few tips for you to consider while you work out getting seen by a professional.
The first one is properly doing a kegel. While you practice tightening these muscles, lay down on a flat surface and place a pillow or bolster under your bottom so that your pelvis tilts forward, bringing your pelvic bone closer to you umbilicus (belly button). In this position, do the tightening motion or squeezes in your vagina. The squeeze should be felt in the front part of your pelvic area, as if it was right behind your frontal labia and behind your pubic bone. You shouldn’t be feeling this squeeze in your anus or rectum- these muscles are usually not the ones that need strengthening and doing a kegel incorrectly can make a pelvic floor weakening problem even worse. Once you get the muscle memory in your body to do a kegel correctly, you can practice your kegels in all different and more convenient positions.
The other incredibly important aspect of activating the right muscles is practicing diaphragmatic breathing. Many people think that this is the same as belly-breathing but there’s a nuance to learn. Inflating your belly with your breath is not the same as diaphragmatic breathing. What you want to do to get this exercise correct is place your palms on either side of your rib cage, and imagine taking a breath so that you expand your lungs out into your hands- widening your rib cage and feeling the expanse under your hands with each breath going out laterally. You’ll notice this has a very desirable calming effect after about 3 good breaths, it’s a great biofeedback exercise that calms the nervous system. The mechanism of this exercise for your pelvic floor is lifting your organs and activating your muscles to hold and relax at the same time.
If you can do both exercises well at once, you are onto pro level healing and body awareness! These are not supplements for good care from a pelvic floor therapist, so please hear us say that will be the best use of your energy and time in this department. Hopefully this information gave you a lot more knowledge and little bit of something new to think about and try. As mentioned often in our talks, we believe vagina steaming is an excellent application to pelvic floor issues too- as it brings needed heat to the area, nourishing herbs to your muscles and tone and balance to your entire pelvic area. Grab your own batch at the “shop” tab above in the header. Let us know if you try it!