Tara Thompson is the owner and creator of the Hello Vagina Podcast. She is a personal trainer and owns a pelvic floor and postpartum recovery focused gym. She’s trained and certified to help people with vaginas recover and strengthen their pelvic floor and body.
If you didn’t deal with your pelvic floor issues, your diastasis recti or other issues immediately after the birth of your children, those issues are typically still there years later and need to be dealt with! Most personal trainers don’t know how to correctly engage the pelvic floor and will recommend things like crunches and planks that actually can worsen the problems suffered by postpartum women. 80% of those that have gym memberships are actually women, so we need more trainers that know how to help postpartum injuries. It’s crazy that the industry doesn’t focus more on women.
We’re not doing enough to support the postpartum journey. And really, you’re considered postpartum any time after having children, not necessarily in just those 2 years after the birth of your children.
There’s so much that we don’t talk about in womanhood, like childbirth and many of the injuries that can come with it, including stitches, c-sections, difficult deliveries, swelling, bleeding, etc. Too many people are keeping this quiet behind closed doors and we need to talk about the female journey more and stop the isolation. Let’s start talking about everything that happens to our vaginas.
So what is the pelvic floor and why do I need to be exercising it?
It is a grouping of muscles that holds everything else up, including your uterus, bladder, etc. It relates to your posture, your back, incontinence, sexuality – your pelvic floor is so important. Pelvic floor health isn’t just important for females either, men need to take good care of their pelvic floor as well!
Kegels aren’t just squeezing your vagina, a proper pelvic floor contraction is squeezing your urethra, your vagina and your anus at the same time in an upward motion towards your belly button. Tara’s favorite visualization is picturing a jelly fish lying flat and then with a contraction, everything sucks up and together. Pelvic tilts are another great exercise for the pelvic floor, but need to be done lying down with a neutral spine to begin instead of sitting. (The relaxing is just as important as the contracting). Many people that think that they’re squeezing correctly are bearing down instead of squeezing up, which is why seeing a Pelvic floor physical therapist can be so helpful.
OB/GYNs typically are not Pelvic Floor Physical Therapists and will not check your pelvic floor health at your 6 week check-up after delivery. They simply check your cervix and *might* check healing stitches. If you need physical therapy of your pelvis, you typically have to seek that out on your own.
For many too, it’s not a matter of being “too loose” but actually of being too tight (called overactive pelvic floor) and being unable to release those muscles, which is information that a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist can provide you, and help you know what to do to help it.
We need to talk more about prolapse and incontinence. It is not normal to pee your pants – we need to stop normalizing it! Urinary and Fecal Incontinence signals that something is wrong and should be treated that way. Prolapsing can get worse and worse and lead to serious problems. There is no longer a good treatment available for uterine prolapse especially, so prevention really is the most important thing you can do. Once it gets to that point there’s temporary fixes like a pessary, that manually holds up your organs, but the best case is prevention.
Once you know how to activate the pelvic floor, it’s just a matter of doing those simple exercises regularly to keep your pelvic floor healthy. Besides preventing prolapse and incontinence, it helps with things like less back pain, better orgasms, and less pain with intercourse.
So how can we tell if our pelvic floor is strong enough? Or contracted all the time? Or too weak?
In a perfect world, it would be so great if everyone could be checked by a professional. Some red flags include: involuntary leaking, pain during sex, hip pain or back pain, fecal incontinence or prolapse. Time can push these things over the edge – just because you are doing well now and not exercising doesn’t mean you will still be ok 5 years from now. And stress from exercise can cause problems as well, things like heavy lifting can cause incontinence if not paired with pelvic floor exercise! The only way to truly know that you’re doing a pelvic floor contraction properly is to have it checked by a professional.
Following good instructions should help you become familiar with how to properly contract your pelvic floor. Studies have just found that 50% of people are doing it wrong.
Because we can’t see the pelvic floor, we don’t always think of it as important as it is! Just being pregnant stretches, weakens and strains the pelvic floor simply from the weight of the baby. A c-section doesn’t prevent pelvic floor damages because vaginal delivery is only a small part of the damage done.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE to start rehabilitating your pelvic floor. It may take longer, but you can start healing at even 20 years postpartum. Why not improve your quality of life now?
Peeing your pants isn’t normal!!!
What’s the best thing you can do before/during/after pregnancy to help take good care of your pelvic floor?
Exercise your pelvic floor! Just simple pelvic tilts, either standing or laying down during pregnancy and after can help keep those muscles toned. Get checked by a pelvic floor physical therapist during pregnancy at 36 weeks to make sure you don’t have an overactive pelvic floor, and then again postpartum at 6 weeks and 12 weeks postpartum. If you have an overactive pelvic floor they can help you work on releasing to help with delivery, and then access damage after delivery.
Why shouldn’t we do planks or crunches? How can I heal my diastasis recti?
Diastasis Recti is the separation of your abdominal muscles and happens to 90% of women with pregnancy. Typically it heals on it’s own with time and gentle exercises, depending on the severity. Exercises like crunches too early after delivery can actually pull apart those muscles that are trying to heal back together. Planking isn’t good because it puts all of the pressure of your organs on that newly reconnected tissue. Better exercises like side planks and pelvic tilts are much more effective and less damaging.
We need to take time to rebuild from the inside out. Dieting can affect your milk supply, and withhold necessary nutrients. Postpartum is a time for gentle exercise, rest and allowing your body to heal. Invest in yourself, how you care for yourself in those first 12 weeks postpartum will matter a year later!
“6 weeks” doesn’t apply to everyone when it comes to recovery. Listen to your body to decide when YOU feel best about returning to exercise, resuming intercourse or restricting your diet (or not). Tara has created a space in her gym where people can exercise safely and ease back into exercise as they feel like they can.
“6 weeks” is just an average figure. Many trainers don’t understand much of what’s happening in postpartum recovery and won’t understand how different exercises could be affecting you. Your focus postpartum should be rebuilding your inner core and pelvic floor and being mindful of how your other exercises could be affecting that. What am I doing as I’m rebuilding from the inside out?
Get checked. Get checked and know what you’re doing. Put value on this. We’ll go out to a fancy dinner and spend $150, but we won’t spend that to have our pelvic floor checked. Having a healthy pelvic floor impacts your entire life! It’s so important, we need to make our pelvic floor part of our everyday life!
Tara, what is your favorite way to manage your period?
Implanon! I don’t have regular periods but when I did I was a tampon user. Now that I know about period panties, I want to try those next!
Tara, where can we find you?
Check out her resources for challenges and at-home programs!
Instead of a sponsor this week and in honor of Tara (who’s Australian), I’m encouraging all my podcast listeners to donate to one of the following charities:
Australian Red Cross
The Australian Red Cross is accepting donations to its Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund, which has helped to send 1,285 staff members and volunteers to communities affected by the fires and to provide support to displaced people sheltering in more than 69 evacuation and recovery centers. The Red Cross also provides emergency grants to help people cover their immediate needs.
There are other ways to help if you cannot donate money. The Red Cross says clothing and household goods can be given to Red Cross-affiliated shops, or suggests holding garage sales or fund-raising events. Volunteering roles are also possible. After training, volunteers are deployed to fill emergency roles.
GIVIT is an Australian organization that matches donated goods with items that are specifically requested by victims of the fires. People have asked for things like car batteries, fence posts and gas pumps.
Salvation Army Australia
Like other organizations, the Salvation Army advises donors to send money instead of goods because of the logistical difficulties of storing and distributing goods in areas affected by disasters. Donations are funneled to various forms of assistance, including mental health support and housing.
“Financial donations also allow residents the opportunity to make their own choices and inject much-needed funds into local economies and businesses, helping communities recover sooner,” the organization says.
St. Vincent de Paul Society
The lay Catholic organization has more than 60,000 members and volunteers who assist people in need across Australia. Its bush fire appeal designates how far specific financial amounts can go, and brings home the reality of how the disaster has upended the lives of the dispossessed: $50 (about $35 American dollars) can provide food for a displaced family; $150 can help stave off bills; and $300 can help clothe a fleeing family that had to leave behind their belongings.
NSW Rural Fire Service
Firefighters and community workers in rural fire brigades are in the thick of it. The fire service has a map that is regularly updated, showing clusters of fire spots stretching along a swath of the country’s southeast coast. Donations are directed to emergency efforts and nonemergency community work.
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
The hospital has a GoFundMe appeal for its work with the National Parks and Wildlife Service searching for koalas in the Port Macquarie area. At least 31 koalas have been brought to the hospital from several fire grounds, the hospital’s appeal says. More than $4 million in donations have been accrued so far. The money has enabled the organization to purchase a vehicle to distribute water and to set up drinking water stations in areas affected by the fires, especially in New South Wales. It has also enabled the organization to expand its breeding program.
RSPCA New South Wales
Funds from the organization’s bush fire appeal will support its work at evacuation centers in northern New South Wales and other areas. Once fire zones are cleared, its inspectors will enter those areas to assess how to help any injured animals.
Australian Koala Foundation
Donations can be made through its website.
Koalas in Care Inc.
The nonprofit accepts funds for its work. It assists about 65 koalas every year, but the bush fire situation is “one that we have never experienced on such an enormous scale.” Here is a video of Lucas the koala recovering from his burns.
World Wildlife Fund
Hundreds koalas have died in the fires and more have been injured or burned, according to figures from the group; it’s likely that many more have died, some ecologists say. Donations go to medical treatment and planting trees for koalas.
The most affected state, New South Wales, which includes Sydney, Australia’s largest city, is having its worst fire season in 20 years.
WIRES, or the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc., is Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organization. Donations can be made online, by telephone and through Facebook and PayPal.
Facebook and GoFundMe
Several people have organized fund-raisers on social media or GoFundMe pages to help people in need. Celeste Barber, an actor and comedian, started a fund-raiser on Facebook for The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund. It has already generated more than $26 million. Dacre Montgomery, who starred in Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” started a GoFundMe page. The money raised, which tallies more than $250,000, is earmarked for the Australian Red Cross.