In recent times, we have read heartbreaking stories of women left in excruciating pain from vaginal mesh implants. Meant as a tool to repair vaginal and pelvic floor issues after birth and other trauma, they failed to provide women with what they needed.
In Britain, along with other Western countries, the medical care and advances in medical technology mean, in the main, better care and services during pregnancy.
And yet, we are only just beginning to talk about pelvic floor health in women pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy and after birth.
There are some experts who believe that with more information, help, guidance and support, fewer women would suffer pelvic floor damage.
But why is it that so many women are still needing incontinence supplies post birth? And why have we seen these as a ‘normal’ part of birth for so long?
The pelvic floor – a unique muscle
To understand why we need to perform specific exercises for the pelvic floor muscle, we need to know a little more about it.
Unlike other muscles in the body, the pelvic floor muscles lie across the base of the pelvis here – highlighted in red in this diagram.
It is described as a floor because it is the base that keeps major organs of the bladder, uterus, and bowels in place.
During pregnancy and childbirth, this muscle is placed under pressure. A toned and strong muscle can stretch and mould back into shape.
But when it is weak, like a piece of over-stretched elastic, it is not so quick to regain its shape.
What this means is women relay on incontinence products to manage escapes of urine.
Photo credit © Continence Foundation of Australia
In extreme cases, the bladder prolapses, a painful condition in which the bladder falls out of position. For some women, the only solution is surgery.
A common, normalised and hidden problem
The number of women – and men – suffering from incontinence in the UK is an estimated figure. Embarrassment and shame result in many people not seeking help or treatment.
Over 5 million women in the UK are affected by incontinence, with nearly half of pregnant women experiencing incontinence in pregnancy and after birth.
In one study, it was found that three in four women continued to experience the symptoms of incontinence 12 years after giving birth.
As well as embarrassment and shame, incontinence in women has become normalised in British society. It is something that is seen as inevitable during and post-pregnancy, something that comes with ‘being mum’.
Prevention is key
Most incontinence problems during and post pregnancy are avoidable.
- Pelvic floor exercises
Not many women understand the importance of pelvic floor exercises. Important at any time of life, this simple clench and release exercise can stave off problems with incontinence.
In recent studies, it has been found that women who did practice these exercise were 30% less likely to suffer incontinence in the months after birth.
- Labour and birthing
A weakened or damaged pelvic floor is more likely to happen during a vaginal delivery but is not unheard of with c-section births either.
Some experts are calling for more support, information and help for women during the labour process to be able to relax the pelvic floor, allowing the muscle to naturally stretch.
Some deliveries, such as the use of forceps, are also likely to damage the pelvic floor. Again, giving women and their partners information about the different birthing options is also a prudent move to ensuring a woman’s pelvic floor health is regarded as important.
- Information and support
As well as pelvic floor muscle exercises, there are other ways of preventing pregnancy incontinence and pelvic floor damage;
- Rather than normalising incontinence, normalise talking about pelvic floor health to young girls and women
- Information and support are key, something now being introduced to ante-natal and post-natal classes, as well as individual midwife appointments
- But this is sketchy and isn’t happening universally in the UK
- Encouragement to seek treatment because there are options for dealing with, managing and treating incontinence
- Surgery should be the last option as it is intrusive and is not always guaranteed to work
Running a marathon
Labour and birth are physically intensive. Lasting a few hours to days, it is a time in which the woman must draw on stamina and reserves she never knew she had.
But, would you run a marathon without training for it? Some experts believe that ‘training’ the pelvic floor is critical in helping women enjoy the labour and birthing experienced – and not come out the other side damaged.
With a range of absorbencies across a growing range of products, HARTMANN Direct is a well-known and trusted online incontinence products supplier.
This is a collaborative post.