How to treat postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction - Ruth Health

How to treat postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction

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Fast facts:

  • The physical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth can weaken your pelvic floor, often resulting in postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction.
  • Common postpartum pelvic floor issues include urinary and fecal incontinence, constipation, pelvic organ prolapse, and sexual dysfunction.
  • Some women find that their pelvic floor muscles naturally strengthen as the body heals. In other cases, pelvic floor training is necessary to treat symptoms.
  • Ruth Health’s pelvic floor training and recovery sessions are tailored to your body’s unique needs. Learn more.

Carrying a baby to term and then bringing that tiny human into the world is no small feat. Many physical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth can cause trauma to the pelvic floor muscles. This often results in postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction, or issues with the pelvic floor’s main responsibilities.

While the condition may be a natural effect of growing a baby and giving birth, it isn’t something you just have to live with. Postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction is both treatable and preventable.

Take a look at some common postpartum pelvic floor issues and how to solve them.

What is the pelvic floor?

The female pelvic floor is a group of muscles, ligaments, and tissues at the bottom of your torso.

It supports your bladder, bowels, and uterus. (These may also be referred to as the pelvic organs.) The urethra, vagina, and anus pass through the pelvic floor as well.

The pelvic floor plays a crucial role in many aspects of your overall health and wellness including bladder control, sexual function, and even the comfort of your lower back.

What are common symptoms of postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction?

Urinary incontinence

What causes it: Urinary incontinence, or the inability to hold in your urine, often develops as the result of a weakened pelvic floor. 

It is especially common during pregnancy, as your growing uterus compresses your bladder. Additional stretching and straining of your pelvic floor muscles during childbirth is also a factor.

How to solve it: This postpartum pelvic floor issue often lingers for a few weeks after childbirth. In some cases, it may last longer. The duration depends on:

  • How the uterus compresses the bladder as it shrinks back to its normal size
  • The extent to which your pelvic muscles changed during childbirth

If urinary incontinence persists beyond six weeks, it’s time to visit the doctor. These small changes can help:

  • Limit your caffeine intake, as it can stimulate the muscles that empty your bladder.
  • Practice exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles such as heel slides and toe taps.

Fecal incontinence

What causes it: Postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction may also involve the loss of bowel control, or fecal incontinence. The following aspects of labor and delivery are often contributing factors:

  • Tearing in the perineum, the tissue between the vagina and anus
  • Straining of the anal sphincter, which is the ring of muscle that opens and closes the anus

These issues are more common if you had a long or complicated delivery or if forceps were used during childbirth, both of which can put significant pressure on the pelvic floor muscles.

How to solve it: The tactics that help with urinary incontinence also apply here. Beyond doing heel slides and toe taps and limiting your caffeine intake, try to consume dairy and spicy foods in moderation.

Constipation

What causes it: At the other end of the spectrum, weakening of the pelvic floor muscles during childbirth can delay the emptying of your colon and cause constipation. 

How to solve it: In addition to practicing exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, you may also benefit from increasing your water and fiber intake or taking stool softeners under your doctor’s guidance.

Pelvic organ prolapse

What causes it: One of the pelvic floor’s main functions is to hold your pelvic organs in the right place. A weakened pelvic floor (due to the weight of your growing baby!) can cause the uterus, bladder, or rectum to prolapse, falling into your vagina.

If you’re experiencing pelvic organ prolapse, you may have a feeling of pressure or discomfort in your pelvic region, or a sensation of something coming down into your vagina.

How to solve it: Work with a pelvic floor specialist who can recommend appropriate exercises that heal pelvic organ prolapse. (Better yet, get expert support during pregnancy to prevent this issue altogether!)

Sexual dysfunction

What causes it: Up to 80% of women may experience some degree of postpartum sexual dysfunction.

In addition to a weak pelvic floor, other contributing factors include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Postpartum hormones
  • Sleep deprivation

Any changes to how you feel about your body can also lower your sex drive.

How to solve it: Physical therapy can help address sexual dysfunction caused by weak pelvic floor function. It can also focus on helping increase circulation to your pelvic floor. More circulation can help increase your sex drive if that’s a priority for you.

Working one-on-one with a pelvic floor specialist also allows you to discuss these issues before your first postpartum visit with your OB/GYN, which is usually at six weeks.

How can I treat postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction?

When you’re experiencing postpartum pelvic floor issues, it’s easy to wonder if things will ever be the same again. Pelvic floor dysfunction is treatable.

Some birthing people find that the pelvic floor muscles naturally strengthen as the body heals. In other cases, pelvic floor training may be necessary.

Healing is a gradual process. It may take several months of physical therapy before symptoms get better. Be patient and remember that consistency is the key to improvement.

When can I start pelvic floor training after childbirth?

Postpartum pelvic floor exercises are safe to perform as soon as you’re comfortable and have spoken with a healthcare professional or physical therapist. 

You also don’t have to wait for postpartum pelvic floor issues to arise to begin strengthening your pelvic core. Working with a pelvic floor specialist during pregnancy may help prevent postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction altogether.

How can I strengthen my pelvic floor at home?

No two bodies are built the same, and Ruth Health takes an individualized approach to pelvic floor training and recovery.

Our 30-minute virtual sessions blend physical therapy with fitness to deliver the pelvic floor TLC that your body needs.

Book a session today.

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