Written by SMH Physical Therapist Kristi Kliebert
Pregnancy brings about many wondrous changes in a woman’s body — some exciting and others not so much. Hormonal shifts and the mechanical demands of an expanding uterus can place unexpected pressures on many parts of a mother’s body, including the pelvic floor.
The uterus’ neighbor, the pelvic floor comprises three layers of muscles in the pelvis that help control core stability and bodily functions like urinating. When these muscles become weak or too tight, a woman is likely to experience urinary incontinence (UI), the involuntary loss of urine.
About 64% of pregnant women and one-third of postpartum mothers struggle with UI. In fact, pregnant women who experience incontinence are more likely to have it after giving birth and during menopause.
As every woman who’s been pregnant knows, sometimes, there’s just no relief for pregnancy-related body changes. But thankfully, there is a way to prevent or remedy urinary incontinence during pregnancy and after birth. You don’t have to live with it.
Pelvic Floor Rehab for New, Expecting Moms
One of the best ways to prevent or treat urinary incontinence caused by pelvic-floor issues is to train the muscles using specialized exercise and rehabilitation techniques.
Did you know that nearly 30% of women cannot perform a correct pelvic-floor muscle contraction on the first try? Most use the abdominal and gluteus muscles, instead of the pelvic floor, when there are muscle weakness or coordination issues. But with proper instruction and visual feedback, anyone can learn how to properly contract the pelvic floor to better control their bladder and alleviate other symptoms.
Pelvic floor training can include exercises, manual therapy like trigger-point release, soft-tissue mobilizations, myofascial release, balance training, and posture and body mechanics education.
Pelvic floor rehab not only can alleviate incontinence, but it can help pregnant women improve mobility, relieve pain and better manage other pregnancy symptoms and natural birth. For new mothers, initiating the right pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy or immediately after birth can prevent UI postpartum and later in life; it can also help manage diastasis recti or delivery-related nerve injuries.
For help with incontinence and other pelvic floor-related symptoms, pregnant and postpartum women should work with a care provider specially trained to work with new and expecting mothers. Physical therapists (PTs) trained in pelvic floor rehabilitation can determine whether symptoms are due to a weak or tight pelvic floor, can develop a care plan accordingly, and can be great resources for learning how to properly perform pelvic-floor exercises.
When tightness of the pelvic floor muscles leads to urinary incontinence, a care plan should focus on improving flexibility to ease UI symptoms before beginning a strengthening routine. Strengthening the pelvic floor when muscles are still too tight can actually worsen incontinence. An evaluation by a trained PT can ensure your training program gets you on the right track.
How to Get Help
The often-misunderstood pelvic floor is typically ignored until something goes wrong. Sarasota Memorial Outpatient Rehabilitation offers a range of solutions to help. Specialized physical therapy for pregnant and postpartum women (up to a year after childbirth) can help relieve the temporary physical challenges that come with pregnancy and even related chronic problems. Following an initial evaluation, specially trained, certified physical therapists will provide customized, one-on-one treatment, education and guidance.
These rehab services are available three convenient Sarasota Memorial locations: the Health Care Center at Heritage Harbour, the Rehab Pavilion (main SMH campus) and the Health Care Center at University Parkway. For more information or to schedule an appointment with our physical therapists specialized in pregnancy/postpartum pelvic-floor rehab, please call the location that’s best for you.
Sarasota Memorial Physical Therapist Kristi Kliebert, CAPP-OB, holds a doctorate in physical therapy and carries certification in pregnancy/postpartum physical therapy. She helps all kinds of patients, including moms-to-be, reach their personal health and wellness goals.