3 Shocking Truths about Exercising During Pregnancy that will Help You Protect Your Pelvic Floor
Choosing the wrong workout during pregnancy can be like when you chose to watch Twilight for the first time, you start out thinking that it will probably be pretty good, but by the end your thinking, what was I thinking?
One of the things I hate seeing is women engaging in activities that they expect to be nourishing but end up being damaging.
Unfortunately, most of the advice floating around out there about exercising during pregnancy falls completely short. Almost none of it will mention anything about the need to protect your pelvic floor and abdominals.
Did you know that 2 out of 3 women will suffer from separated abs by the end of their second pregnancy?
This can result in having to push longer during labor, back pain, and peeing when you sneeze!
Yes all 3 of those things are not badges of honor or things that must be endured during pregnancy, but signs that something in you body is begging for help.
While I encourage you to listen to your body during pregnancy (and always), I also want to shed some light on some common misconceptions of the ‘do it all’ during pregnancy attitude and help you find exercises that will stregthen your body and help you move more functionally.
Because you know what you need during labor? A body that can move, a body that can sustain intense activity and a body that can push a baby out.
Myth 1: If you were doing it before pregnancy you are fine to continue it.
There are women who are perfectly safe exercising, running, even competing during pregnancy. However, even if your doctor has given you the okay to continue your exercise routine, take a moment to consider the extra impact your normal routine is placing on your pelvic floor and your linea alba, that muscle fiber that runs down the front of your stomach and connects your abs together.
Just because your routine is safe for baby, doesn’t mean it is the best routine for you.
A good rule of thumb is that if an exercise is making your boobs bounce, it is making your pelvic floor bounce as well.
‘Running puts three times your body weight on your pelvic floor which, if it’s already weak, can lead to a prolapse of the vagina, bladder and/or bowel – where the organ drops down, often into the passage beneath it – months, if not years later,’
High impact exercising including running, jumping etc put extra pressure on your pelvic floor. If you are not moving functionally, you will likely damage or increase the damage done to your body if you continue doing these during pregnancy.
Returning your body to full function is a long term investment. One that is definitely worth it, especially if you enjoy high impact exercises.
Myth 2: Crunches are the best way to strengthen your core
Nothing could be further from the truth!!
Crunches only work one part of your abdominals, the rectus abdominis which runs from your rib cage to your pubic bones. While this is where you would see a 6 pack, it’s also the most likely to be damaged.
Every time you do a crunch you put extra stress on the space between your abs. I promise you, it is not worth it!
You do and can strengthen your abs during pregnancy. And you definitely don’t want to forget your obliques and your transversus abdominis which is the deepest abdominal muscle which actually runs horizontally across the torso.
Why do you want to make sure you don’t separate you abs?
Your abs hold and support your organs, if they become too weak your organs will put extra pressure on your pelvic floor. It is possible that if this persists it can even cause a tipped uterus and put you at increased risk for needed a c-section.
When you do abdominal work, you want to make sure that the exercises you do are focused on knitting your abs together and working the deeps abdominals mentioned above.
I love this easy way to change your ab exercises to make them safer during pregnancy.
Here is what expert prenatal yoga teacher Blair Fillingham says about core work:
“simply having the intention to move, with attention on the subtle feelings in your glutes and lower back, while keeping your ribs knitted in, will do more to knit your core together than thousands of sit-ups.”
Sometimes, doing less really is doing more.
Myth 3: Do all the kegals you can
We know you want to have confidence to be able to laugh, cry and vomit without fear of peeing a little bit. To stop incontinence, many pregnant women turn to kegals.
But the answer to preventing and healing these problems are not more kegals. In fact according to a Seattle based pelvic floor therapist, 40% of women do kegals incorrectly to begin with!
When you cough, sneeze, jump, poop, pee and push a baby out, you want all your abdominals to be working together, functionally.
If your abdominals are not properly supporting your organs, than extra weight is placed on your pelvic floor. No amount of kegals will make your pelvic floor strong enough to do two jobs instead of one.
Even though two out of three women will have separated abs which can lead to pelvic floor problems, it is easy to know if that is you. If it is, then stop your current routine and get functional first.
You will not regret the time you invest in your body as it will make many of your pregnancy discomforts vanish and even help you push your baby out more effectively and could even reduce your risk of tearing! It’s a win win win to pay attention to your pelvic floor health first!
How do you know if you have diastasis recti or pelvic floor prolapse?
If you think you have a pelvic floor prolapse or diastasis recti, you may want to see a physical therapist for an evaluation.
Until then look for these symptoms:
You pee a little when you sneeze or pee
You have to pee wayyyy more often than you expected, even during pregnancy
It is painful when you have sex
You have a physical bulge in your vagina that you can feel
You feel constant pressure or discomfort on your pelvic floor.
Your low back is aching
You have lots of reflux
You feel a separation of your abs, you can place a finger or two or more between your abdominal muscles
After pregnancy you have a ‘mommy tummy’ though you aren’t pregnant anymore, your tummy still hangs looser and fuller and though you are close to your normal weight, you still look a little pregnant
Of course, your body is made to handle the weight of your baby and should be able to move comfortably throughout pregnancy. The number one sign that you should seek out help is if you simply just feel uncomfortable in your body.
The majority of people in our world do not move functionally, which reeks havoc on our bodies and causes pain in joints, backs and pelvic floors.
If you feel pain in your pregnancy know that while it might be normal in the sense that many people experience pain, it is not normal in the sense that it is just part of pregnancy and there is nothing you can do about it.
What to do when you want to keep getting strong to bring your baby into the world 💪🏼
When you want to really dive into being strong and prepare your body for birth remember “strong glutes, happy pelvic floor.” Squats and bridges are excellent friends, but make sure to geek out on form and do them correctly!
Begin taking a walk every day, work up to going 2 or 3 miles daily.
And of course, my favorite is always prenatal yoga.
You think you have a pelvic floor or diastasis recti problem, now what?
Depending how severe you think your problem is try one of these options:
There is an amazing book called Pain Free for Women by Pete Egoscue. Inside there is a chapter on pregnancy with a specific set of exercises and stretches to do to help you correct your posture, move more functionally and be more comfortable during pregnancy. These are easy to do, and the safest of the safe movements that even mothers on bedrest would likely get approval for. Bring the book to your doctor and ask them if you are unsure!
It’s no secret that I love prenatal yoga and practiced it most of my pregnancy. Inside the MTRNL prenatal yoga studio, there is an incredible set of classes made specifically to strengthen your abs and pelvic floor.
Starting with, you need to learn how to do a kegal properly and use those pelvic muscles correctly. MTRL teacher Blair can break this down for you in her class “how to pick up a blueberry with your vagina” and you can totally geek out on helping your abs with the class “creating proper alignment to strengthen your core.”
These classes are for the mom who feels like her core and pelvic floor are getting worse by the day and wants it to heal!
While flow classes are wonderful, these classes are very slow and very detailed so you can examine exactly what your body is doing and learn the exact form that will help your body heal. You may even find that this attention to detail makes them all the more challenging and they will definitely have you working.
If you are postnatal, there is an entire section of classes that can help you knit your abs together. I recommend starting with the class called “Ensuring integrity in your core and pelvic floor.”
If you have a severe diastasis recti or pelvic floor prolapse find a physical therapist to work with. A physical therapist can evaluate you to see which muscles are weak, which muscles are doing the work other muscles should be doing and create a custom plan for you.
If you have any questions about your pelvic floor, please let me know. I am happy to answer questions about MTRNL and would love to help you find a referral to a good pelvic floor therapist if that’s what you need.