Pelvic floor health is essential for women of all ages, but it's a topic that isn't always discussed openly.
Incontinence alone affects almost 40 per cent of Australian women. The pelvic floor muscles play a crucial role in supporting our body's internal organs, controlling our bladder and bowel, and even improving our sex life. Yet, many women don't know how to properly care for this important part of their body.
To encourage women to start the conversation about their pelvic floor, we spoke with women's health and pelvic floor physiotherapist Charlotte Conlon, to get her top five tips for supporting pelvic floor health.
Here we explore why pelvic floor health matters, common misconceptions, and practical tips that you can start implementing today to support a healthy pelvic floor. Whether you're a new mum, an athlete, or simply want to prioritise your health, there's something in here for you.
Top five tips for supporting your pelvic floor
1. Keep your pelvic floor muscles strong and long
When completing your pelvic floor exercises, it’s important to work on the contraction (think squeeze the vagina and anus and lift up) and the relaxation of the muscle (after the squeeze and lift make sure you completely relax the muscle back down). I suggest having a pelvic floor assessment with a women’s health physiotherapist to get a baseline of where your strength and function is. Once you know what your pelvic floor needs, and are confident you are doing the exercises correctly, make them an ongoing part of your life.
2. Good bladder habits and drinking appropriate amount of fluids
Don’t go to the toilet “just in case” as this can, over time, form bad habits and increase the sensation of bladder fullness, making you need to urinate more frequently. It is also important to stay hydrated for optimal health and wellbeing. Drinking too little fluid can make your urine very concentrated and can irritate the lining of the bladder wall which can cause bladder dysfunction. However, on the flip side of this, drinking too much fluid causes your kidneys to produce urine at a very fast rate and this can cause rapid expansion of the bladder muscles and may cause urinary urgency and incontinence. I recommend trying to drink around 2.5L of fluid in a 24-hour period.
3. Maintaining a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight and living an active lifestyle is important for not only your overall health but for minimising pelvic floor dysfunction. When simply sitting or standing you have approximately 60% of your total body weight on top of your pelvic floor muscles. The more weight you are carrying the more downward strain is on your pelvic floor and connective tissue. However, this being said, I understand the vicious cycle that may occur with pelvic floor dysfunction (such as incontinence) being a barrier to exercise. If this is something you are experiencing, a women’s health physiotherapist can help.
4. Avoid constipation and straining on the toilet
Optimising your bowel health is crucial for minimising pelvic floor dysfunction. Chronic constipation and straining on the toilet can put a lot of downward pressure on the pelvic floor and connective tissue. When sitting on the toilet to open your bowels, rest your feet on a small footstool, lean forward and try to relax your pelvic floor muscles. This will put you in the best position for optimal emptying.
5. Manage chronic coughs and hay fever
As above with straining, chronic coughing and sneezing can place increased pressure and strain down on the pelvic floor and connective tissue. Working with your doctors and healthcare team to manage these conditions is important for protecting your pelvic floor health.
What are the biggest misconceptions around pelvic floor health?
That pelvic floor health is only important in pregnancy. You only get one pelvic floor so you need to look after it during all stages of life and especially pregnancy, postpartum and as you head into menopause. Often women don’t know they have pelvic floor damage from childbirth or pelvic floor dysfunction until they experience the extreme hormonal changes of menopause.
Learn more about Charlotte
After graduating from the University of Sydney, Charlotte started her career as a regular physiotherapist however, once being exposed to women’s health physiotherapy a few years into her working career she fell in love with the role she could play in empowering women to better health. “I started my business Flow Women last year. We are a women’s health company providing digital and physical products to help women optimise their health. We have just launched our own early postnatal eBook ‘The First Six Weeks - Rest & Recovery Guide’,” says Charlotte.
“Learning about what issues women had to deal with really made me look into the area of women’s health and then seeing the difference I could make to their lives was the thing that really drew me in,” she explains. “I am incredibly lucky to go to work every day and make a significant impact on women’s lives. Having my own children and my own pelvic floor journey has made me the women’s health physio I am today.”