The pelvic floor is important for all the bodily activities that we often prefer not to talk about: pooping, peeing, and having sex.
As you can imagine, if this essential foundation gets weakened, it can lead to a myriad of uncomfortable symptoms.
But there’s good news!
From simple exercises to sophisticated therapies, there are many ways to pay attention to this vital area so that it stays strong.
In this article: 📝
- What is a pelvic floor?
- How do you know if your pelvic floor is weak?
- How do you know if your pelvic floor is strong?
- What causes a weak pelvic floor?
- How do you fix a weak pelvic floor?
- What is pelvic floor muscle training?
What is a pelvic floor?
Your pelvic floor is the support structure for the organs in your pelvis, namely the bladder, bowel, and uterus.
Curious where to find it?
The pelvic floor sits from front to back between your pubic bone and your tailbone (coccyx), and from side to side between your sitting bones (right and left ischial tuberosities, those bony bumps that you feel when you sit).
If you’d like to feel your pelvic floor, insert your finger into your vagina and tighten your muscles as if you’re holding in a pee.
Feel the muscles tighten?
The pelvic floor is essentially a group of muscles and tissues that form a funnel-shaped dome sheet with two gaps in it (namely your urethra and vagina and anus) that allow for waste management and sexual activity.
It’s also part of your core muscle group, along with your abs, diaphragm (the muscle below the lungs that controls your breathing), and back muscles.
Together they protect your spine and create stability.
How do they do this?
Well, when you do high-pressure stuff like coughing or heavy lifting, you need those muscles to work really well in order to balance everything inside.
When all is going well, the pelvic floor holds your pelvic organs in place while giving them enough flexibility to perform their functions.
This means you are able to poop and pee when the time is right (continence) and not when the time is not (incontinence).
If these muscles weaken, stressors from lifting heavy objects to a simple sneeze can cause a trickle when you’re not expecting it.
Another thing the pelvic floor is really important for?
Pregnancy and childbirth.
Having a uterus means that your pelvic area is larger and more readily designed to allow a baby to flow down through it.
When you’re pregnant, your pelvic floor helps to support your growing baby.
And when you go into labor, it stretches to facilitate your baby’s birth.
This is all pretty incredible!
That’s why you want to prepare your pelvic floor as much as possible for this important job.
How do you know if your pelvic floor is weak?
A weaker pelvic floor can lead to:
- Stress incontinence, leaking urine or feces when you’re laughing, sneezing, coughing, running, or lifting something heavy
- Pelvic prolapse, a condition where your organs slip down and cause a bulge in your vagina
- Problems pooping and peeing
- Less sensation or pain and discomfort during sex
How do you know if your pelvic floor is strong?
Sometimes, your pelvic floor may not be able to relax as it should, and this can also lead to pelvic dysfunction.
An overly tight pelvic floor is called a hypertonic pelvic floor.
It can get in the way of your ability to go to the bathroom easily and cause pain in your pelvic area, particularly when you have sex.
What causes a weak pelvic floor?
There are a number of factors that can lead to a weakened pelvic floor.
We’ll take you through some of the more common ones.
Pregnancy and childbirth
Having a baby growing inside you puts pressure on your pelvic floor.
But that’s not the only thing affecting this important area during these nine months.
Pregnancy hormones, specifically relaxin, work to relax our muscles, ligaments, and joints in preparation for birth.
So if you have vaginal discomfort in pregnancy or other kinds of pelvic pain, it could have to do with a combination of these factors.
(Important: If you’re experiencing serious pain of any sort, check in with your doctor so that they can ensure that you and your baby are healthy and safe.)
Giving birth affects your pelvic floor too.
This can be a big deal when it comes to thinking about vaginal delivery.
But it’s important to note that while we know that there are definite links here, research is still ongoing as to the exact nature of the connections.
While pelvic floor disorders, like pelvic organ prolapse, are more common in vaginal births than in cesareans (especially if forceps or a vacuum device are used), there’s a lot you can do to prepare your pelvic floor beforehand.
You can also still develop pelvic floor disorders if you have a cesarean or even if you’ve never been pregnant.
So if vaginal birth is one of your birth preferences, don’t let fear of pelvic floor damage get in the way.
It’s just good to be aware of the risks and prep yourself to focus on this area postpartum.
Like with every muscle group, your pelvic floor needs a certain amount of attention, or it may give you certain problems later in life.
According to research, there’s a link between these muscles and menopause, but many factors come into play here.
Hormonal changes that happen during menopause — specifically a decrease in estrogen — combined with the effects of aging on your body may lead to a weakening of the pelvic floor.
Apart from the fun of incontinence, weakened muscles do mean higher chances of uterine prolapse.
Symptoms include pain or pressure in your pelvis and lower back, trouble peeing (sometimes with frequent bladder infections), and a feeling that something is coming out of your vagina.
You may also feel pain during sex.
If you experience vaginal bleeding after menopause, this could be the cause.
And while this condition is not necessarily dangerous, it can really affect your quality of life, so it’s important to check in with your doctor.
Anything that puts the area under pressure
Chronic constipation or straining to go to the bathroom is likely to weaken these muscles.
As can heavy lifting.
A chronic cough can do it, too — so getting treatment for underlying health conditions might be your first port of call.
Stopping smoking is always a good idea.
(Head here for advice from the CDC if you’re keen to try.)
There’s some evidence that your genes can predispose you to pelvic floor trouble.
Our genes have considerable influence on the makeup of our muscles, tissue, and ligaments and how strong they are.
Having surgery that affects the area, like a hysterectomy, may also be linked to pelvic floor issues.
How do you fix a weak pelvic floor?
Now for the good news.
If you have a weak pelvic floor, there are various treatment options available, depending on the exact nature and severity of your symptoms.
First and foremost, prevention is always better than cure!
We’re going to take you through pelvic floor strengthening options below.
Also, talk to your doctor about how best to minimize any distress that could be caused during vaginal delivery.
If you have pelvic organ prolapse, surgery is a possibility.
But other non-surgical treatments are usually tried first.
A popular option is biofeedback, an effective physical therapy treatment that can help you gain greater control of your muscle contractions and body responses.
For this treatment, you’ll be hooked up to electrical pads that give your therapist information about your body.
They can then use this info to help you gain greater control over your functions.
Medication can also help.
Depending on your specific set of symptoms, your doctor might advise meds to help out with bladder issues or constipation.
And pelvic floor exercises can be beneficial, no matter where you are in your life!
Here’s the, um, lowdown:
What is pelvic floor muscle training?
Pelvic floor muscle training (AKA kegel exercises) are super simple — and incredibly beneficial.
They involve strengthening the muscles in your pelvic area by performing a set of easy exercises.
The best part is, nobody will even know you’re doing them, so you can do them pretty much anywhere!
- Empty your bladder.
- Gently contract the pelvic floor muscles, making sure to keep your thighs, glutes, and stomach relaxed.
- Hold the contraction for a count of ten.
- Relax for a count of ten.
- Repeat ten times.
Doing this three to five times a day can really help you see results.
These exercises are good for anyone, regardless of whether you’re pregnant or have had children.
They should also be a vital part of your postpartum exercise routine.
And yes, Kegel exercises are an important part of sexercise — yep, it’s a thing.
Having a strong pelvic floor has some serious bedroom benefits.
Keep them up, and you may be — dare we say — floored.
Wherever you’re at in your journey, the Peanut community is here for you.
We’re having this and many other conversations to do with your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.