If you’ve had a baby, your pelvic floor will have been stretched and weakened by extra weight pressing down on it during your pregnancy – even more so if you had a vaginal delivery. Learning how to effectively recruit your pelvic floor muscles is essential – not only the ‘Kegel squeeze’ (imagine trying to stop the flow of pee) but activating your tummy muscles at the same time – and learning to always exhale on any exertion.
If it’s a poochy tummy you are worried about, please don’t be tempted to go hard on crunches and planks. If your tummy muscles are stretched and weakened, or if you have a separation of the tummy muscles (diastasis recti), planks and crunches are more likely to lead to more downward pressure on your pelvic floor. Much more useful is learning how to activate your core and pelvic floor with your breath.
The connective tissue – fascia, tendons and ligaments – that support our pelvic organs, heal more slowly than our muscles, and after pregnancy they can take up to 2 years to heal and return to full strength.
2 years? Yes – although everybody heals at different rates. So ignore the mum who ran a 26.2 with a pram and instead, listen to your own body.
When you run, these are the red flags to look out for:
leaking poo or pee
feeling or seeing your tummy bulge
feeling heaviness or dragging sensations in your vagina
All of these are signs that your core and pelvic floor are not ready for running yet.
Exercises that train your hip stability are essential – after all, running is essentially a single-leg exercise, so you want to be able to load in a single-leg position without tilting or dropping your pelvis.
Pelvic organ prolapse – when the womb, bowel or bladder shift inside your pelvis and bulge into the vagina – affects half of women over 50. One in ten women over 80 have had surgery for a prolapse (Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists). Taking care of your pelvic floor can help avoid prolapse.
Leaking pee when you run is common, but it’s not normal. It’s not ‘one of those things’ that happens when you’ve had a baby. It won’t get better by itself. If it happens to you, go to your GP or a Women’s Health Physiotherapist.