Decorating the baby’s room, buying tiny newborn clothes, picking out a name – the joys of preparing for the arrival of a baby are limitless. But did you know you should also prepare your pelvic floor?
The pelvic region is a system with many parts – bones, ligaments, joints, connective tissue and muscles – all of which support the pelvic organs and play a role in pregnancy and childbirth.
“If you have a dysfunctional pelvic floor – and a lot of women do – you think it becomes this way because of childbirth. However, what people don’t realize is they likely had dysfunctional pelvic floors before childbirth,” says Urogynecologist Julie LaCombe, MD, FACOG, with Overlake Clinics Pelvic Health.
Women can carry stress in their pelvis and unknowingly clench the pelvic floor muscles. This in turn makes the muscles tight. And, when they are tight, they are actually weak. If you go through childbirth in this state, you run the risk of protracted labor (where the baby’s descent down the birth canal could be stalled by non-relaxing muscles), third- or fourth-degree tearing, or increased risk of C-section because the muscles aren’t trained to relax.
What can be done to balance the relaxation with the strengthening of the pelvic floor? The answer is a combination of breathing and muscle training. “Ideally, the ‘core and floor’ should be strengthened before or during pregnancy,” says Kathy Golic, an Overlake physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor issues. “This is accomplished by activating the pelvic floor and recruiting the abdominals while working out and when doing challenging activities.” But it is also important to relax and release the pelvic floor muscles in between contracting the muscles. This can be accomplished with diaphragmatic breathing: breathing in through your nose and filling your belly – not chest – with air.
Should a woman have a pelvic health issue arise after childbirth, such as urinary or bowel incontinence, prolapse or pelvic muscle dysfunction, Overlake’s multidisciplinary care team can help. The team includes urogynecologists, colorectal surgeons and pelvic floor physical therapists. Typically, patients start with conservative treatments like physical therapy, behavioral strategies, medication or minimally invasive minor procedural options, but sometimes surgery is necessary.
“Overlake thinks about women’s pelvic health in a holistic and collaborative way. Whether you receive treatment from a urogynecologist, colorectal surgeon, physical therapist or all three, we will get your pelvic floor going again,” says Dr. LaCombe.
If you’re experiencing pelvic pain, be sure to visit your healthcare provider. For a full list of women’s services at Overlake, visit overlakehospital.org/womenshealth.
NEW! Expecting moms and families can now track pregnancy milestones with Overlake's free mobile app, OBaby. Download will be available April 15: Visit overlakehospital.org/obaby.