It happened suddenly and without warning. I was in the shower , coughed and then suddenly felt something strange down below. It felt like a little lump. It wasn’t painful, but it certainly wasn’t a pleasant feeling.
I knew what it was though. I had heard of vaginal prolapse in my training and had been vigilant with doing pelvic floor exercises after my sons were born, just as I had been taught to do and as I had taught others to do. Yet here was I, now 31 and now it appeared, I was joining thousands of women who have to deal with life after a prolapse.
What is Vaginal Prolapse?
Vaginal Prolapse occurs when the pelvic floor muscles relax sufficiently to cause the vagina to slip down through the opening. In some women, this can be a complete prolapse, in others, like myself, it is a partial prolapse. Extremely severe prolapses include the rectum or the bladder and even the uterus.
“Eww!” You are probably thinking. You may be surprised though to know that prolapse could happen to anyone who has had a baby. Prolapse occurs in most cases because something has interfered with the strength of the pelvic floor. The Pelvic Floor is that cradle of muscles that hold everything in place down below. When you have a baby, it causes those muscles to lose their strength and tightness and become loose.
Many women don’t realise how much their muscles are weakened until they enter menopause and then start to have issues with urinary incontinence, sexual problems and other embarrassing issues. For others, these problems can begin much earlier and it is essential that every lady, continues to make sure she continues the exercises (which are very easy to do and not at all intrusive into a busy schedule) throughout her life.
Every Woman Should Do Pelvic Floor Exercises
The only way to prevent it all becoming loose is to do pelvic floor muscles to tone and tighten the muscles, just as you do when you go to the gym and use weights to strengthen and tone your muscles. The problem is, whilst we are all encouraged to do this after we have a baby and maybe very diligent in doing them, once our babies are a little older and life becomes busy, we forget.
The Role of Oestrogen
When I had my babies, we were told that we should keep doing them for at least 6 months. I did this, but continued breastfeeding well into my sons’ second years of life. The hormones that help produce breast milk cause reduced production of oestrogen, which helps the pelvic floor to maintain its tone. I should not have stopped doing them, but as every woman should know today, you should NEVER stop doing them (they are great for toning up for sexual intercourse as well, even women who haven’t had children will benefit from doing them).
Because of the prolapse, I had to immediately wean my second son to help restore oestrogen levels and I received a warning that as I approach menopause I could find myself facing a hysterectomy or incontinence. I was encouraged to do pelvic floor exercises every day religiously and these did help immensely. That tell tale lump would reappear if I didn’t keep doing the exercises particularly around menstruation time.
Today thankfully, I am not as affected by the prolapse as I would have been had I not been doing the exercises. I live a normal life and am only minimally affected by the problem, however as menopause looms and oestrogen levels are again becoming depleted , I am increasing my focus on the health of my pelvic floor. Technology has progressed since my prolapse to ensure that I shouldn’t require surgical repair if it does become a problem during menopause, but I am determined to do all I can to prevent the symptoms returning through exercise and other strategies to keep it problem free.
Women with pelvic floor weakness are encouraged to modify their exercise routines and there are many useful articles to read on the Continence Australia website and I encourage all ladies to read them, even if you are not affected by pelvic floor weakness yet. They provide excellent resources demonstrating the best exercises and the techniques to follow to improve your pelvic floor muscle tone and strength no matter your age.
To see some specific exercises & videos for the pelvic floor click here
This article was written by Anne, who wished to remain anonymous
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