Who doesn’t like a good bounce? Along with twirling, spinning and swinging, it’s the stuff kids’ dreams are made of. And it doesn’t dissipate as adulthood descends – I still love a good bounce and testament to this is the maniacal leaping I performed when a new trampoline arrived at our house a few months ago.
But the bouncing didn’t last long, no no. Only a few moments, in fact. Whizzing myself very quickly put a stop to the joyful jumping, and this red-faced mum slunk away quietly, leaving two whining kids begging me to re-join the fun. But how could I explain to them that each whoozy bound was like having the urgent desire to give birth to a watermelon? It was like a hypothetical fisherman had snagged my pelvic floor, hook line and sinker, and was hauling in a whale.
I’m not incontinent. Well, not yet, anyway. Let’s just say the stretchy muscles supporting my pelvic floor ain’t what they used to be. And trampolining sure brought that fact out into the open – yet again.
Yes, I’m secure enough as a woman to admit the muscular ‘trampoline’ supporting my lady organs is not in the best shape thanks to years of coughing (asthma), childbearing (kids) and yelling (husband). Like most mums, doing my pelvic floor exercises is something I keep filing under the ‘have manicure/pedicure/massage/hair cut’ file. Or, rather, the ‘never gets done’ file.
As Continence Awareness Week (2 – 8 August) is now upon us, there has never been a better time to open up the Never Gets Done file and examine it far more closely.
Did you know that seventy-five per cent of Australian women have laughed, coughed, sneezed, exercised (or bounced) themselves to bladder leakage? This ‘stress incontinence’ is enormously common, yet barely a quarter of its sufferers have spoken to their GP about it – surprising considering the fact that the condition can quite easily be prevented, managed and/or completely cured.
“In many cases, stress incontinence can be treated through simple interventions such as a pelvic floor muscle training program,” says Dr Margaret Sherburn, Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapist.
“Women are often too embarrassed to talk to anyone – or for many women, their baby is the key focus after childbirth, so they do nothing to tackle the problem. This can lead to the pelvic floor muscles becoming weaker and the problem getting worse over time.”
Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause are the main causes of stress incontinence in women, however obesity, constipation, obesity, heavy lifting or a chronic cough can contribute – even in men and children, proving pelvic floor issues are not limited to age nor gender.
Mary O’Dwyer, Senior Teaching Fellow, Bond University, is a pelvic floor physiotherapist with 30 years clinical and teaching experience in women’s health. O’Dwyer says women’s ‘bad habits’ also contribute to weakening in the pelvic floor muscles. The way we move, exercise, lift, even go to the toilet, can seriously affect our perineal health, and an astounding forty per cent of women live with bladder control problems and fifty per cent suffer pelvic organ prolapse.
“Today, there is an epidemic of pelvic floor dysfunction that women generally accept as part of being female. Great emphasis is placed on training our bodies, while the pelvic floor is completely ignored”, says O’Dwyer.
“Women’s worst habit contributing to pelvic floor problems is constantly drawing back the waist to flatten their stomach. Researchers show that narrowing the abdomen at the waist, increases pressure inside the abdomen which in turn puts pressure down on the pelvic floor.”
Having witnessed the effect of pelvic floor dysfunction from her patients’ stories, O’Dwyer is determined to educate women about their pelvic floor health, to enlighten and empower them in the management of relevant problems, while giving them the confidence to make informed decisions. Her best-selling book, My Pelvic Flaw, has just been re-released under the title Hold it Sister, and is recommended by Dr Christiane Northrup M.D. to help women of all ages both prevent and treat pelvic floor problems.
The Continence Foundation of Australia also provides education and training for women keen to get bouncing again. Their website is packed with information and resources for women who can take heart in the fact that ‘someone else cares when nature calls’.
You can log onto the website here (http://www.continence.org.au/site/index.cfm?display=130383) for information on presentations, expos and workshops all over Australia during Continence Awareness Week.
In the meantime, these simple tips can really help you bound into life with confidence:
- Maintain a good water intake
- Eat a healthy diet, containing at least 30gms of dietary fibre per day
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake
- Maintain good bladder habits by only going to the toilet when the bladder is full
- Treat the cause of any chronic coughing or sneezing (for example, asthma or hayfever)
- Do not lift heavy loads and brace yourself when you do lift lighter loads
- Do not strain when using your bowels
- Relax a tightly held waist
- Breathe in by opening your stomach out
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid smoking
And the most important tip of all – remember that every woman’s pelvic floor issues are different. Learn how to keep your pelvic floor toned by speaking to a continence and women’s health physiotherapist.
Even if you’re a lucky one and your trampoline bouncing days aren’t yet over, it’s still vital to take early control of one of the most vital parts of your body. Good perineal health can not only prevent stress incontinence and prolapse, it can also heighten sexual pleasure and function – one of the many upsides of learning more about this commonly ignored part of our female anatomy.
Perineal issues are not reserved for Gran. If you, too, have to cross your legs when you sneeze, I feel heartened in the knowledge that I am not alone. Me, I’m determined to learn more and get some muscle-balanced perineal health going on Down Under. Maybe my trampoline days aren’t over yet.
Learn more about Mary O’Dwyer’s work and her book at www.holditsister.com.
For information on practitioners and resources, head to the Continence Foundation’s website www.continence.org.au or contact the National Continence Helpline on freecall 1800 33 00 66.
Main photo credit: Patricia Hofmeester – Fotolia.com