How your breathing is connected to the function of your Pelvic floor and essential for Postnatal recovery?
When diaphragmatic function is compromised, every system in the body can be affected – from foggy thinking and decreased stress management to back pain to bladder leakage, prolapse and constipation… essentially our capacity to move happily through the world can be challenged. This is common in Pregnancy and in the Postnatal period, however it doesn’t mean it’s normal and absolutely not something you should just accept and ‘get on with’.
Every breath you take….
Proper breathing is incredibly important for healthy pelvic floor function. Our primary breathing muscle is the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle which operates like a parachute. It connects to the lower part of the ribcage. The Intercostals, the small muscles that fit between your ribs, also play a primary role in breathing. Then there are the secondary breathing muscles: the Scalenes in front of the neck, the pectoralis in the chest, the sternocleidomastoid from behind the ear to the sternum, and the upper trapezius.
Let’s take another look at the diaphragm. When we bring in air from the mouth or the nose, the lungs expand and the diaphragm muscle moves down towards the pelvic floor. So on the inhalation, the diaphragm pushes down our organs, which fit in a sack called the peritoneum. And where does that sack of muscles get pushed? To the pelvic floor.
This is why breath is such an important part of pelvic floor work. When we breathe in, the pelvic floor is receiving the breath and the downward-moving organs. As we exhale, the breath moves up and out, the organs also move up. A healthy pelvic floor stretches as we breathe in and contracts slightly as the breath moves up and out.
Connecting the dots
We’ve looked at the connection between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. But there’s another key player in the healthy function of the pelvic floor: Our abdominals.
Particularly important is the transverse abdominus, the deepest abdominal muscle, which is like a corset that goes all the way around the lower torso, attaching at the bottom ribs. The fibers of the transverse abdominus are horizontal, which means when they’re contracted, they pull in the diameter of the abdomen (think of the image of tightening a belt). These muscles also serve a purpose in exhaling the breath.
If we have “poor” posture or spend a lot of time sitting our transverse abdominus muscles will weaken. This, in turn, can be linked to pelvic floor problems. For example, if we collapse our chest while sitting, we end up with a “C-curve” in the spine. This makes it challenging to take a deep breath, and as a consequence, the muscles of the pelvic floor don’t receive the gentle ‘exercise’ they need, stretching and contracting with every breath in and out.
In short, if our posture is not good and we’re not breathing into the abdomen, our pelvic floor is most definitely suffering. Everything is connected, and deep belly breathing is the most efficient way to take care of the pelvic floor.
It’s not easy to change breathing habits and patterns, and the key is to never force.
To get you started on deepening the breath and the connection with your pelvic floor, here is an exercise you can try:
As you exhale for a count of 8 you should feel an automatic tensioning of your abdominals, the muscles of your back ( especially the low back region) and your pelvic floor both tightening and lifting. Congratulations…your ‘Core Synergy System’ is working!
On the out- breath as you feel your tummy muscles being activated and being drawn in, visualise drawing your Pubis at the front of your Pelvis towards your Coccyx at the rear of the pelvis and then LIFTING THE ENTIRE PELVIC FLOOR.
An advancement of this would be then to add visualization to bring the two sitting bones (Iscial Tubersosisties) together at the same time as the Coccyx and Pubis for a much more integrated and inclusive activation and connection to the Pelvic Floor along with all the other components of the core.
I you suffer from any Pelvic floor issues such as pelvic pain, back pain, incontinence, prolapse, C section healing or you just need advice and guidance in your Postnatal recovery, there is no need to struggle in silence…
I would love to support you in your Postnatal wellness journey by offering specialised Physiotherapy treatment, advice on nutrition, return to movement and mindfulness practises.