It brings unparallel excitement but for many women, it brings dread and fear too but the process of giving birth is a rewarding one, no matter how you do it.
In the western world, medical research and experience now mean pregnant women have access to much improved medical care when pregnant, during the birth and after.
But there are medical experts who believe that medical during and after pregnancy is lacking in one subject: pelvic floor health.
What you need to know about the pelvic floor
Women do not realise or are not informed that the risks of problems with the pelvic floor can be reduced in pregnancy and after birth.
The muscle is unique in the human body in that it is a sling-like muscle that runs from the front of the body by the pubic bone, to the back. It supports and holds the bladder, uterus and bowel in position.
Pregnancy and childbirth can weaken the pelvic floor muscle and can overstretch and tear due to the increased pressure.
A weakened or damaged muscle can lead to the inability to control the bladder or control bowel movements leading to incontinence. Occasional incontinence in pregnancy is not uncommon and can be easily managed by incontinence pads.
In the UK, shame and embarrassment about incontinence are common emotions but there is also the media adverts that suggest, for women, that incontinence is inevitable and ‘part and parcel’ of being pregnant or being a mum. It is also widely suggested by the media that urinary incontinence is a common menopause ailment.
Accompanied by taglines such as “oops moment happen. C’est la vie”, we have become accustomed to thinking that there is nothing that can be done. But pelvic floor problems in pregnancy – and before and after too – can be avoided.
Prevention better than cure
Being informed and understanding what the pelvic floor is and how it works is part of preventing problems.
The second is to take pro-active steps to look after this important muscle, keeping it toned and elastic for when it needs to bear the weight of a growing baby.
Pelvic floor muscle training – referred to as PFMT – is a treatment that involves clenching the muscle that prevents urine from escaping or stops wind escaping. This muscle is easily strengthened and toned by practising a series of long and short hold clench or ‘hold exercises.
A series of 10 fast squeezes of this muscle, three times a day can do much to improve the tone, strength and elasticity of this muscle.
In more severe cases of incontinence, women were offered surgery, but this is making headlines. Vaginal mesh inserts have been described as ‘barbaric’ and recently led to more than 800 women suing the NHS over complications which include permanent pain, inability to walk or to work or to have sex.
Focusing on women’s pelvic health
This recent vaginal mesh scandal has led many more to know see the importance of informing and helping women with pelvic floor health.
There is evidence that shows PFMT can help to prevent and treat incontinence in pregnant women as well as women who have recently given birth.
The figures are outstanding with 30% of women having their first baby less likely to experience incontinence in the six months after delivery if they practised PFMT.
There is also an increasing body of evidence that suggests it also prevents pelvic organ relapse. And this means for women, a much better birthing experience and the reduced need for more invasive treatments too.
Midwives give out information regarding PFMT at the first ante-natal appointment but there are studies that suggest for it to be effective, it needs to be delivered as part of a structured programme.
And what this means for you as a pregnant woman is performing the clench and release pelvic floor muscles at least three times every day during pregnancy and after you have given birth too.
Many women say there were not told about the importance of these simple, effective exercises. Neither was the information they received making a clear connection between the muscle and their urinary tract health, or how a strong pelvic muscle was advantageous during labour and birth.
Incontinence should not be seen as a normal part of pregnancy or birth. It is not something that women should put up with or afraid to talk about through embarrassment. For too long, the simple solution for helping women has not been highlighted.
The message is clear: strengthen your pelvic floor muscles to minimise potential incontinence problems during and after pregnancy.
HARTMANN Direct has a range of incontinence pads and pants suitable for use during and after pregnancy to help manage occasional incontinence a little easier.
*This is a collaborative post. For further information please refer to my disclosure page.