Why Pelvic Floor Health Is So Important During Pregnancy - Exclusive

Believe it or not, your pelvic floor muscles can actually play an important and essential role during pregnancy. Located at the base of the pelvis, the pelvic floor consists of a group of muscles that help support your pelvic organs, including your bladder, bowel, and uterus (via Better Health Channel). While many people may not even be aware of their pelvic floor muscles prior to becoming pregnant, they can certainly have a significant impact on your health throughout your life, especially during pregnancy and childbirth.

In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Dr. Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, owner of Femina Physical Therapy in Los Angeles and PT with plusOne, discusses the importance of maintaining good pelvic floor health during pregnancy. According to Dr. Jeffcoat, pelvic floor muscles "serve important functions through all stages of life, but when women start to experience urinary urgency and frequency, bladder leakage or sexual dysfunction, they become intimately aware that this is a region that is deserving of more attention."

What do your pelvic floor muscles do?

In fact, Dr. Jeffcoat says that it's important to take advantage of this awareness. That's because your pelvic floor muscles are responsible for helping your body perform some of its most basic and essential functions. For instance, your pelvic floor muscles work to help support your organs and growing fetus, control your bladder and sphincter, aid sexual function, support your posture, and assist in pumping your lymphatic system.

As it turns out, strengthening these muscles can help improve these vital functions. "Many women view pregnancy as a time to increase their overall fitness, but strengthening just the hip, abdominal or low back muscles without our pelvic floor will create muscle imbalances that will impair optimal functioning of our core," Dr. Jeffcoat explains. This can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction — a condition that refers to the inability to control and relax your pelvic floor muscles, which can cause incontinence and painful sexual intercourse.

How to improve your pelvic floor health during pregnancy

According to Dr. Jeffcoat, one of the most common signs of pelvic floor dysfunction is bladder leakage, along with urinary urgency and painful sex. In order to make sure this isn't happening, Dr. Jeffcoat recommends going to see a pelvic health physical therapist after 32 weeks of gestation, even if you're not experiencing any symptoms. "I'll often find my pregnant patients are developing overactivity in their pelvic floor muscles," she explains. "With this finding, we start doing pelvic floor muscle relaxation techniques, including specific intravaginal release techniques, mobility exercises for the pelvic floor, hips, and lumbar area, as well as coordinating their breathwork with bearing down to prepare for a vaginal delivery." 

When the pelvic floor muscles are in a tonic state of overactivity, it's not as easy to relax them. As a result, breathing techniques, exercises, and even orgasms can help relax your pelvic floor and make your feel more comfortable during pregnancy and childbirth.

The benefits of pelvic floor physical therapy during pregnancy

Overall, pelvic floor physical therapy can help assess the state of your pelvic floor muscles and determine whether or not you should be focusing on exercises that help you either strengthen or relax your muscles. Just like any other group of muscles in the body, your pelvic floor muscles need to be trained in order to expand their full range of motion.

By performing an intravaginal assessment, a pelvic health physical therapist can help you find out if "you are coordinated with actively shortening or lengthening your pelvic floor muscles, how well you relax after contracting, and address your postural changes and body mechanics to reduce stress on your pelvic floor, spine, and lower extremities," Dr. Jeffcoat shares. "Learning the functions of your pelvic floor muscles and being aware of signs of dysfunctions will carry you not just through your early postpartum days (could also say your fourth trimester), but will maximize your overall health throughout your life."

To learn more about Dr. Heather Jeffcoat, visit Feminapt.com. To find a pelvic health physical therapist near you, go to aptapelvichealth.org. Sexual health products and toys can be found at plusOne.