5 Simple Ways to Chat with your Pelvic Floor

pelvic floor health


Not that long ago, I stood on the side of the road, 4 months pregnant, having peed my pants.

Not that long ago, I stood on the side of the road, 4 months pregnant, having peed my pants. It was not a glorious moment for me. Unfortunately, I had horrible morning sickness and well, the pressure was so strong that, yup, I peed my pants! And at the time, I thought that was normal.

You know, that’s what happens when you’re pregnant, right? I still believed it to be normal, albeit very embarrassing, when I couldn’t manage to do jumps in my postnatal exercise class because when I did, I peed a little bit.

I wanted to share this experience because I know that women are looking for answers, for help.  I see it every day! It’s not easy for me, or for any of us, to share these embarrassing moments but it’s time to get all this out in the open so we can get the help we need and lead a vibrant and healthy lifestyle.

‘Lift your pelvic floor’ she said, to which I replied ‘wha??!!’

The number of times I sat in a yoga or pilates class and was instructed in various ways to engage my pelvic floor is pretty impressive considering when I was in those classes, I had NO idea what the hell they were talking about!

I mean, I had many wonderful, knowledgeable teachers but those muscles were completely foreign to me. Even after doing my own yoga and pilates training I was still left a bit mystified. I knew approximately where they were but I wasn’t quite sure what it meant to engage, or lift, or squeeze.

But I did my best…

I clenched my butt and I imagined lifting, I went through the motions, and went through the motions, with absolute urgency during my pregnancy, yet I still wound up with pelvic floor issues. It’s not easy to share with all of you and as well as the rest of the Internet that my pelvic floor muscles were less than stellar but I know there are women out there who are right where I was a few years ago. Completely out of touch with that area of their body and frustrated with the way things are working and feeling ‘down there!’

Don’t worry, we’ve all said ‘whaa?’

Most of us have no real connection to the pelvic floor muscles. We aren’t sure exactly where they are or how they work, we just know we need to work ‘em.

It really has been a taboo subject here in Canada up until recently but in many European countries Pelvic Health Physiotherapy has been part of standard care for postpartum women for decades… amazing! Thankfully this is changing and the information women need to feel better and more confident in their bodies is slowly coming to light!

Pelvic floor meet brain, brain meet pelvic floor!

Let’s take a look at some of the contributing factors to our disconnection of the pelvic floor muscles and what we can do to increase our awareness and function of these muscles.

We assume dysfunction is normal.

I hate to use the word dysfunction… and I just used the word dysfunction. No one likes to think of themselves as broken but if there is pain, or the muscles are not working optimally, there are things that can be done to help. A lot of women figure that experiencing a little bit (or maybe even a lot) of incontinence is normal during pregnancy and postpartum. But there is a difference between NORMAL and COMMON. Many, many women are experiencing incontinence, pelvic pain and discomfort throughout their pregnancy but that doesn’t mean it’s normal. Misalignment, improper breathing techniques, increased tension and trauma of the tissues can contribute to a weakening and/or decreased function of the pelvic floor muscles.

It’s embarrassing.

When it comes to incontinence even though we may think it’s normal, most likely we’re dealing with it silently and not really broadcasting it to everyone. I mean how many people want to tell the world they peed their pants on the side of the road?

It can feel quite disheartening, especially after having given birth and not necessarily feeling comfortable in your “new” body. I know for myself I felt like something must be wrong with me and this was just something I’d have to live with.

Incontinence, painful sex, pain when inserting a tampon, even an increased pressure in the pelvic area can be really hard to talk about. If you feel uncomfortable with a certain area of your body it is going to directly affect your relationship with those muscles and most likely, you will shy away from actually working on those areas/muscles because it feels overwhelming and scary to start.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Another big reason we feel disconnected from that area of the body is that unlike many other muscles in our body, we don’t actually see the pelvic floor muscles because they are internal. Generally, we don’t talk about them. We don’t often touch them and we haven’t received a whole lot of education on these muscles. And our muscles can’t speak to us either. Well they can, however, if we aren’t entirely sure how to identify their stress signals, how are we to know that there’s something wrong with them in the first place?

It’s no wonder that the majority of us are walking around without any kind of awareness or relationship with these muscles!

Generally, it’s not until we experience some kind of dysfunction that we become aware of these muscles and begin to look for help. I can remember these wonderful teachers trying to cue how to engage the pelvic floor muscles but it wasn’t until a physiotherapist suggested I actually touch and feel those muscles that I had a better understanding of where they were and how they should work.

Decreased function and sensation.

The one thing that most of us think of when we hear about the pelvic floor is kegels. We’ve all heard we should be doing them religiously – morning noon and night, plus every time we hit a red light!

Kegels focus mainly on the engaging aspect of the pelvic floor muscles and many of us are actually dealing with hypertonic pelvic floor muscles, meaning they are too tense. Tight and stiff muscles don’t work to their full potential and have a limited range of motion.

We can imagine that when we think of our hamstring muscles.

When we feel stiff in our hamstrings they don’t have as much yield to them and feel stuck. Well, that tension and lack of pliability can definitely occur in the pelvic floor as well. When tension builds over time these muscles will not move through their full range of motion therefore we don’t have a good sense of what they feel like when they are relaxed because they are living in a constant state of tension.

Deepening our awareness of the pelvic floor muscles (and other muscles as well) has a direct impact on how well our muscles function. Along with increased awareness comes the ability to move more accurately, ensuring that the proper muscles are working and that we’re not just compensating – this includes our glutes too! Having the pelvic floor muscles working optimally means that your internal organs, spine and pelvis are properly supported.

Let’s explore five ways that we can increase our awareness and deepen our relationship with the pelvic floor muscles.


1. Feel the Rhythm.

I have written about the Core Breath (coined by Bellies Inc. but also known as Diaphragmatic Breathing or Pelvic Breathing) before and what this really means is retraining our core muscles to work in synch with each other as they naturally should. Child’s pose can be a really helpful position to practice this breathing in as it naturally lengthens the pelvic floor muscles allowing us to feel the releasing phase more easily.

Come down onto the floor and rest your bum back toward your heels, knees can be apart or together. Place a pillow under your bum if it does not comfortably rest on your heels. As you inhale imagine the SITS bones (the bones in the middle of each bum cheek) widening apart. As you exhale see if you can feel a gentle lift. You are not squeezing on the exhale but allowing the pelvic floor muscles to naturally draw up. If that doesn’t resonate with you try thinking about the pelvic floor muscles softening or relaxing on the inhalation. If you cannot actually feel any movement just visualize the muscles moving with each breath.

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2. Let it go.

For some of us the pelvic floor muscles may not actually move that much because of excessive tension. Try placing a tennis ball (or Yoga Tune Up ball) under one bum cheek, just to the inside of the SITS bones. Allow your muscles to soften and release as you stay here and breathe. You can do this sitting on a chair or on the floor.

baby & me fitness diastasis

3. Get some feedback.  

It can be really hard to sense the subtle movements of the pelvic floor, so using some kind of prop may allow you to feel the muscles better. A yoga bolster or something that resembles one (such as a few pillows or a rolled up blanket) works well. A stability ball is another great tool. If you are using a blanket or bolster you will sit on it with your legs on either side of the prop so it is directly below your perineum. Practice diaphragmatic breathing here and feel for the release of the pelvic floor muscles into the prop beneath you.

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4. Get in touch.

Many of us are tactile learners so actually touching our bodies and palpating our muscles greatly increases our awareness. Oftentimes we hear or read about anatomy but if we don’t have personal experience with these muscles and bones we don’t have the clearest picture possible. External palpation of the bony landmarks around the pelvis is really helpful as is internal palpation of the muscles and tissues. Remember, education is key in helping you to feel more connected and more confident in your body and with your body!

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5. See a professional.

It can be overwhelming to book an appointment with someone who’s going to take a look at your lady bits and let you know what’s going on in there. I get that. Sometimes ignorance is bliss! But I guarantee you will not regret getting a clearer idea of how your body is working, especially if you’re experiencing pain, discomfort, incontinence, a sensation of heaviness in the pelvic area, or even a feeling of weakness in the abdominal muscles. A pelvic health physiotherapist will help guide you and work on any specific issues you have but that being said I cannot stress to my prenatal clients what a great resource a physiotherapist is as you prepare your body for childbirth.  

I’m not saying this journey is an easy one. It takes time to build a relationship with these muscles. I would love for you to consider the ways that you can learn to connect to your pelvic floor so that the next time you are in a pilates or yoga class (or even some really great cardio/strength classes) you will know exactly what they are talking about. You could also jump into classes that are specifically designed to connect you to your core and pelvic floor. Many of the classes I offer are designed specifically for optimal function and alignment in the body and we get to know our pelvic floor a whole lot. Hopefully, one day we’ll even come to love our pelvic floor.

The most simple and effective core exercise ever

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When I work with prenatal and postnatal women, clients are always eager to work their abs. Pregnant women are looking to keep their abdominal muscles strong throughout pregnancy, while postpartum women are looking to get their flat tummies back. While they may need to work their abs, what they really need to work is their core, their whole core, not just the ‘six pack’ ab muscles.

I work exclusively with pregnant women and mothers so if there is ever a time when your midsection goes through immense and dramatic changes it’s through the childbearing years. It can be difficult to see your body changing so much, or to not feel like yourself physically (not to mention, mentally/emotionally) after the birth of your babe. So many women are drawn to intense ab exercises in order to ‘get back to their pre-baby body’ and some professionals even recommend it. 

The truth is, you will need to work the core as a whole to regain strength in your body, from the inside out. Strengthening your core is a great way to reduce back pain, to help your balance, stand taller, even flatten the tummy after baby. I mean, it seems like a strong core can pretty much fix anything but what does “strengthening your core” actually mean? And what does that look like during pregnancy and postpartum?

What exactly is “the core”?

First off, let’s take a look at what your core actually is. There’s a lot more to your core than just your abdominal muscles. Your core, or Inner Unit, is actually comprised of 4 muscles, the transversus abdominals (TvA for short), the pelvic floor muscles, the diaphragm, and multifidus muscles.

Whoa!

Hold up!

I know right? I’m guessing there’s some muscles in there you’ve never even heard of! Well that’s what makes core training more complicated than just doing some sit-ups or planks.

These 4 muscles work together as a system to provide support and stability to your body and that is why it is essential to train this system throughout pregnancy. Your body undergoes a TONNE of changes during those 9 (plus) months and often your body gets pulled out of alignment because of these physical changes. Over the next few weeks we’ll explore these changes in more detail and how they affect our core muscles as well as our overall physical wellbeing throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period. 

 A dynamic system 

Julie Wiebe, is a leading physiotherapist focusing on women’s health and describes the core muscles as 4 parts or gears of a system. She speaks of the importance of training these 4 muscles together as a team instead of focusing on each muscle individually.  Each muscle works better when in conjunction with the others and the reason for this is that our natural breathing mechanics is a dynamic and constant system.

Every time you inhale, your diaphragm drops in order for your lungs to take in air. The diaphragm pushes down on your abdominal cavity and in order to make room for all of your abdominal contents, your belly expands outward slightly and your pelvic floor has to lower as well. On the exhale your pelvic floor draws back up, your belly draws inward slightly creating some tension around your spine for support and your diaphragm moves back to it’s original position as well.  Pretty cool right? I find this process so amazing.

The Diaphragm

The diaphragm can become compromised throughout pregnancy due to postural changes as well as a growing baby that tends to push up on the lungs and diaphragm. It is common during pregnancy for women to shift their weight onto the front of their foot which can cause us to instinctively lift our ribcage  as a way to stop us from falling flat on our face!

When we lift the ribcage the diaphragm is further compromised and taking a full breath is much harder. Give it a try. Julie Wiebe uses the image of a bell for this. Think of the bell ringing forward (ribs lifted) and try taking a breath in here. Then ring the bell back (ribs dropped) and try breathing in, in this position. Think of the bell being still and quiet (ribs in neutral alignment) and see if the breath blows easier and more full here.

Pelvic Breathing

Now that we’re encouraging the diaphragm to work more optimally, let’s check in with the pelvic floor.  In order for the pelvic floor muscles to work their best we want to find a neutral position for the pelvis. You can try this by either sitting on a stability ball or sitting cross legged with your bum up on the edge of a blanket or yoga block. Feel for the tripod of the pelvis here, the two sitting bones on either bum cheek and the tail bone, and feel for equal weight in all 3 of those points.

With the pelvis set in a good neutral alignment and your ribcage stacked on top (bell quiet and still) take a breath into your ribcage.  It may be helpful to place your hands around your ribcage (bra line area) and feel for expansion out into your hands as you breathe in. As you breathe in see if you can sense your pelvic floor muscles relaxing. If you’re on the ball you may feel a bit of heaviness as you inhale. On the exhale, do nothing and let your pelvic floor draw back up naturally and feel the ribcage deflate. Your belly will expand on the inhale and gently draw back in as you exhale.

Simple Yet Effective

There’s a great quote by Wendy Powell, creator of the MuTu System, a postnatal reconditioning program, who says, “You can’t strengthen muscles that you aren’t even talking to”. And to me, pelvic breathing is a basic and fundamental exercise and is a great way to start talking to muscles you probably weren’t even aware of.  It also gets the 4 core muscles communicating with each other which may be new to you. This exercise is safe and super effective for pregnant women, new moms, not so new moms….well basically everyone!

A healthy and well functioning core is essential as your body changes throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period and helps to reduce back pain, pelvic pain, weakness of the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, to mention a few things but is also essential in the birthing process and postpartum recovery. Moving forward we’ll look at some exercises to help your core muscles work together better so you can feel your best throughout pregnancy and motherhood.

What is Mummy Tummy anyway?

‘Mummy Tummy’ has certainly become a buzz term these days, especially in the world of pregnancy and postpartum. We hope the term hasn’t become cringe-worthy just yet because it is a hugely important topic and we’re happy it’s finally part of the conversation.

If you are hearing the term for the first time right now, you may be thinking we are talking about the extra weight that remains after the birth of a baby, you may even think we are being a bit rude! I promise you, we are not!

When we talk about ‘Mummy Tummy’ we are talking about that stubborn paunch that remains after birth. It is most common during the first year postpartum, but can last for years. This ‘paunch’ is most often caused by weakness in specific core muscles, but it is often mistaken for ‘baby weight’ that won’t go away, no matter how hard you try.

Diastasis Recti = Mummy Tummy

Fixing this Mummy Tummy is much more than just how you look on the outside (although it will flatten the paunch), its about how you feel on the inside. This weakness in the core can cause separation of the rectus abdominis muscles (your six pack), also known as diastasis recti. Diastasis can cause a whole host of other issues such as back pain, weakened pelvic floor, incontinence (peeing a bit when we sneeze!), and hernia. Yikes!

The picture below is a great example of Mummy Tummy. This wonderful woman was 8 months postpartum when she took this photo, it is very clear that there is not much weight left for her to lose but the weakened core created a paunch. Once she closed the separation and strengthened her core, the paunch completely disappeared.

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Is it common? You bet! We have a whole support group on Facebook dedicated to it. Can it be prevented in pregnancy and fixed postpartum? Another big YES!

Our ‘Mummy Tummy Tune Up’ program is by far our most popular online program because it is full of the information you need to say bye bye to mummy tummy for good, or even better, prevent it.

An amazing offer for you!

We normally offer this program for $49, and it is worth every bit, but we want to extend a limited time offer that will make this program more accessible to our community. It is important to us that this information gets out there, not only for vanity reasons, but because having a strong core is important for our overall health. It’s going to make life easier as you take on the challenging task of raising active babies!

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All you have to do is use the code mummytummydeal on checkout to claim your deal, we will make it available until the end of January!

As always, if you have any questions or concerns you can contact us anytime,  we are always here to answer your questions. We look forward to hearing what you think about the program, you are going to love it!

How To Fuel Your Energy Tank When You’re Running After Baby

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We’ve all heard it, in fact we all have most likely sang it on the playground many moons ago…“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage”. So idyllic, and so blissful, the thought of bringing a baby into the family. And so it is!

After 9 months of preparation, and eager anticipation, the curtain drops and into your life comes a small miracle. Through the haze of emotional ecstasy comes a slow and steady realization that this ‘little one’ is now solely dependent on you, the caregiver. Even with all the love that you can provide, that is no small feat! From this point to forever, as a parent, you will expend physical, mental and emotional energy. That energy may wane as the years pass, but as a parent, it will never subside.

So what is the secret to getting energized and staying energized?

In order to perform admirably in duties such as the countless diaper changes and baby feedings, to getting up throughout the night and becoming entertainer in the daytime, your body and mind requires an abundance of energy!

Think of yourself as your favourite car for a moment. You have a gas tank. In order to function, and to travel any distance, you need gas in the tank. Gas fuels the car and can allow the car to perform optimally. As the fuel gets used, the gas tank empties, therefore the car will need more gas to continue to perform optimally. You still with me?

Now to you. Your body requires fuel to energize your system. Over time that fuel gets used up and needs to be replaced. Fuel comes in different forms for the human body. Check out my tips to stay energized and on a full tank:

SLEEP
This is one of the most important aspects of our lives and typically the area we cut back on most. Your body needs sleep for recovery and energy. Optimal sleep is anywhere from 7-11 hours per night. Naps are also proven to be extremely beneficial. Why not sneak a 20-30 minute catnap when the ‘little one’ dozes off!

NUTRITION
Much like the gas tank analogy, the quality of what you put in the tank is equally important for performance. The better the gas, the better the performance. Much has been said, written, studied, and documented about nutrition and its absolute benefits. Some general principles and guidelines: Reduce or remove all sugars, refined products, and processed foods. Eat the colours of the rainbow. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Drink pressed juice, or make fruit and vegetable smoothies. Add more nuts, beans and legumes. You are what you eat! Eat good, feel good!

In addition, take time to plan meals and snacks ahead of time. Have the ingredients, have meals and snacks prepared and ready to go. This time saver alone is a huge energy booster.

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HYDRATION
The human body consists of 50-65% water. It is a crucial part to our day to day functioning. Even a 2% drop through dehydration causes lethargy, lack of focus, and low energy. A study by Loughborough University showed a water loss of as little as 5% can result in a 30% loss of energy. The recommended daily intake of fluids by the Dietitians of Canada is 9 cups (2.2 litres) for women, and 12 cups (3 litres) for men. Now that is not easy, but learning to drink on an ongoing basis is certainly more optimal than drinking when thirsty. Have a water bottle handy and drink continuously throughout the day. Although you’ll begin by running to the bathroom more, you will notice a clear mood and energy difference.

EXERCISE
There is nothing like some exercise to boost energy and promote feeling good. Exercise stimulates the body and releases dopamine, the bodies natural feel-good drug. Whether you are tired and run down, or just flat out not in the mood, if you can muster up the strength to get through a 15-30+ minute workout, (run, bike, swim, yoga) you will feel rejuvenated, self-confident, de-stressed, and energized!

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Sleep, Nutrition, Hydration, and Exercise are by no means a secret. In fact, they are the pillars to leading a well balanced and healthy lifestyle. Here are some additional tips to find energy in other ways:

JUST BREATHE
Step outside, go for a walk, or open the windows. Let some clean air circulate through your lungs and permeate your system. Breathing in clean air and ridding your body of toxins is a great way to grab an energy boost. Take 5 minutes or more to connect with nature.

BE PRESENT
Sometimes when your child is playing and all you can think of is the laundry list of things-to-do, take a moment to be present. Enjoy the moments that seem to pass in the blink of an eye. You won’t regret it! Be silly, dance, play, laugh, act like a scary tickle monster, sing like Elmo. You’re kid(s) will love you for it all the more, and guess what, you’ll love yourself that little bit more too. Yay for energy!

Looking forward to greater health

OTHER MOMS (PARENTS)
Seek out other moms. They are everywhere, and most likely feeling, and thinking, the same as you are. There is strength in numbers. Call and meet up with friends for a playdate. Looking for new mom friends? Check out your local library and community centres for events and gatherings. Head out to the park. Say hi and spark up conversation at the grocery store. Find mom groups online in your area, check out ‘Mom Meet Mom’. For many, this is a welcome relief and a win-win. Some like-minded adult contact and conversation goes a long way in dispelling any doubts, fears, and concerns. In fact, you may feel energized and supported by the network you create.

Simply put, your energy can come from intentional acts and behaviors. Raising a baby is arguably the most rewarding responsibility in your lifetime. Make each day and each moment count. Nobody said it would be easy, but they all say it was worth it!

Calea

Calea is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC) through the Coaching Training Institute (CTI) who specializes in helping moms find a balance between being a mom and being themselves. She is the founder of Yummy Mummy Life where she will help you in the confidence department, offering 1 on 1 signature packages designed to make your dreams happen + goals happen. In addition, Calea is also a mom & baby fitness instructor, and an essential oil wellness advocate. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Has Juggling Time Got You Tipping The Scale?

The Coles Notes to Weight Loss Victory

When life is just too busy and stressful and has us feeling as though we have no personal time to commit to ourselves, we need to stop, sit down, and organize our daily routine. Buy an organizer and begin recording what we do, if you don’t already. Here are some helpful tips in achieving our goals:

• Setting realistic goals.
The weight did not appear overnight, so stop thinking about losing it by dawn. Be patient! Set your first major goal at losing only 10% of your current weight, aiming to lose approx. 1-2 lbs. a week.

• Cut down on fat and sugar consumption
Try to eat more protein-rich foods with a moderate low-carb intake and finish your day with a low fat intake.  Always check the ingredients list on any packages. Federal law will soon insist that all products contain nutritional value on the package.

Superfood
• Do not skip meals (if you can avoid it)
You will tend to eat more at your next meal. Your mother was right when she told you to start your day off with breakfast. Anything whole-grain and full of fiber is definitely a good choice. A healthy breakfast will give your metabolism a boost and keeps it revving throughout the day.

• To survive, do not deprive!
Do not deprive yourself of the foods you crave, instead try to moderate the amount you eat.

• Ditch those annoying low-calorie diets
In the end, you are just starving yourself of essential vitamins and minerals.

• Food cannot burn fat!
So don’t buy into those ‘miracle’ foods. They don’t exist!

• If you’ve got the munchies…
Then curb it by selecting something healthy to eat like fruits and/or veggies.

• Size up your portions!
In the time of fast food culture, it’s important to learn to say no to “Do you want the biggie size for 49 cents?” Most of the time, the fast food portions are too small anyways and it’s nothing that 49 cents can cure. Try healthier eating.

Healthy pregnancy eating salad

• Variety is next to Godliness
Fill your plate with a healthy array of colourful fruits and veggies which are sure to entice anyone sitting down to eat with you.

• When on the run, think twice.
Don’t let time bully and antagonize you. Slow down when dining and consider the menu in front of you. A lot of margarines and oils go into preparing those dishes you order. Don’t be afraid to ask!

• Jump on the bandwagon!
We all need support from our friends and loved ones. Try working out with a health conscious friend or family member who is just as interested as you in keeping fit. Like-minded people add that extra little bit of motivation that you might find yourself needing in you darker times. Personal training is always a good choice, but make sure you select which trainer’s personality is right for you. Everyone is different and some are willing to push you harder and motivate you more than others!

• Eat like a cow! (Graze frequently)
What I mean is, increase the frequency of your meals to jump start your metabolism. You should be eating 5-6 times a day, balancing your carb and protein intake for each meal and try to drink two cups of water with each sitting.

• We are 80% water, so drink up!
Aim for 8-10 glasses of water a day to keep you running properly. Drinking 10 glasses a day may be hard to imagine, so at least drink two with each meal.

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Finally and most importantly, light a candle under your rear and get your bum in gear! In order to lose it you have to move it. A healthy eating plan needs a tag team partner and exercise is just the one. Together they will knock out your weight loss goals!