Here’s the thing, there are myriad variables that can positively and negatively impact the pelvic floor and when you’re passionate about pelvic floor health the way I am, then you want to talk about ALL of them.
When I first learned about my pelvic organ prolapse I was desperate to get that puppy into remission.
I wanted to be asymptomatic ASAP and so I pulled out ALL THE STOPS.
I worked from every direction to change how I lived so that I wasn’t putting unnecessary strain on my pelvic floor. I wanted to care for it the same way I cared for the rest of my body. Train it, nourish it, relax it, help it not to feel stressed, but then also depend on it to be resilient when necessary.
And so one of the areas I heavily researched was what happens in the bathroom, aka potty habits.
Yes I’m a mum and I say “potty” and that’s probably the least awkward thing I will say in this post, FYI.
With the rectum and bladder being TWO of the primary organs supported by the pelvic floor and also two organs that can prolapse, it’s important to be vigilant about how these two organs operate.
Here is my simple (thoroughly explained) list about potty habits you might be doing now that you’re going to want to get away from to protect your pelvic floor and quite frankly, improve your overall quality of life!
- Preemptively peeing. This is a poor habit because it trains the body to need to go more often. I know it starts out with just you being anxious that you’re not going to have access to a bathroom and God-forbid have to pee in public, which by the way I think is why women were long skirts for so damn long in history. I mean how much easier is it to relieve yourself without a bathroom if you’re donning a long privacy curtain, but I digress….
According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, a healthy bladder can hold one and a half to two cups (300-400mls) of urine during the day, and about four cups (800mls) at night.
There aren’t small bladders and large ones. There are just healthy bladders and bladders that require medical attention. YOU might have a perfectly healthy bladder that is receiving some miscommunication from the brain.
When you pee “just in case,” you don’t give your bladder a chance to send the signal you need to go. Over time, your bladder will learn to tell you that you that you need to pee before your bladder is actually full!
Now I’m not encouraging you to “hold it” that’s a different thing entirely, but I am recommending that if you are in the habit of peeing “just in case” stop that, because you are perpetuating a vicious cycle of needing to go more often which will cause you to need to pee preemptively and so on….
The pelvic floor (PF) and bladder work together intimately. The PF relaxes so that you can empty the bladder of urine. Incontinence and the urge to pee are signs of pelvic floor dysfunction, BUT for some people these sensations are in the brain and not necessarily a symptom of dysfunction.
Your pelvic floor physical therapist can work with you by giving you a tracking sheet to help you determine exactly how often you ACTUALLY need to empty your bladder.
There are conditions such as interstitial cystitis that actually make you need to urinate frequently, all the more reason to see a pelvic floor PT to get to the bottom of your pee habit!
- Prolonged pooping. Chronic constipation effects up to 27% of the US population, and most likely the number is even higher than that because lots of folks are uncomfortable addressing their constipation.
That’s a LOT of people straining to eliminate waste on a routine basis and let me tell you, that puts a lot of wear and tear on your pelvic floor. Bearing down repeatedly for ANY reason is going to be problematic, but when you consider most people are going to the bathroom once or twice daily and if they’re constipated, they are working hard to clear their rectum.
Pelvic floor dysfunction CAN be a major contributing cause of constipation, because the tightening of the pelvic floor muscles makes it difficult to relax enough to eliminate waste. But constipation caused by diet, poor gut healthy or mental and emotional distress is a risk factor for prolapse of not just the rectum, but all your pelvic organs.
So if you experience chronic constipation, make an appointment with BOTH your pelvic floor PT and have her check your pelvic floor for hypertonicity (too much tightness) and your local functional medicine trained MD to determine the root cause of your constipation.
IF you are someone that only intermittently battles constipation, then you can try a magnesium citrate supplement at night, psyllium husk, increasing your insoluble fiber intake, probiotics (Ultraflora by Metagenics and Equilibrium are my favorite right now!) AND getting yourself a squatty potty. Routine movement and conscious relaxation are also SUPER helpful for alleviating stress-induced constipation.
- Fast-paced potty habits. While spending lots of time straining and pushing in the bathroom not a good thing, neither is racing through the process.
To empty the bladder, the pelvic floor muscles must relax, the bladder contracts and then urine comes out. Rushing the process will precent the pelvic floor from fully relaxing and will not allow the bladder to empty completely.
Straining and pushing to make sure that you empty ever last drop is going to disrupt the relaxation/contraction relationship between the bladder and PF, a relationship that your quality of life sort of depends on.
The same goes for the rectum. These pelvic floor muscles tighten (contract) to prevent stool from leaking (incontinence). During a bowel movement, these muscles must relax in a coordinated manner for you to successfully eliminate stool from your rectum. When you have pelvic floor dyssynergia, the muscles do not relax, resulting in constipation-like we talked about above! So in a nutshell, the muscles of your bladder and rectum are designed to work in coordination with the pelvic floor, let them do their job and if you notice that they aren’t. Well, go see your local pelvic floor PT!
- Peeing in the shower. If you do a Google search right now of “peeing in the shower” you will see tons of advice that tells you to practice stopping your urine flow in the shower.Let’s just take a step back and think about two things
1.Do you want to feel the urge to pee every time you hear running water when you’re washing the dishes, walking beside a stream, using the hose or taking a shower? Then in the same way that peeing more than you need to can train your brain to tell your bladder to go too often, training your brain to tell your body to pee when it’s hears running water will cause you to eventually experience urge incontinence.
2. Practicing stopping the natural flow of urination while you are peeing is confusing to your body that is currently of the mind that in order for the bladder to empty, the pelvic floor must relax.Save your pelvic floor strengthening muscles for a different time and leave peeing alone. And before you spend too much time kegeling, have your pelvic floor evaluated so that you know for sure your pelvic floor isn’t already hypertonic. I have had many a client that believed their pelvic floor dysfunction was caused by muscle weakness only to learn that they were overactive and too tight!
You know, EVERYONE has a pelvic floor and even if you aren’t a mom, don’t plan on becoming a mom or maybe you’re not even a woman, you still want to be aware of your pelvic floor health and do what you can to protect it! These habits and conditions may seem innocuous for a time, but repeated reinforcement of habits OR strain on these incredibly important muscles of your body are going to take it’s tole on your pelvic floor, the foundation of your core and center of your strength and stability!!
Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction include:
- A frequent need to urinate. When you do go, you may stop and start many times.
- Painful urination.
- Stress or urge incontinence
- Pain in your lower back that cannot be explained by other causes.
- Chronic hip pain
- Erectile dysfunction (approximately 80% of cases are due to musculoskeletal factors (http://malepelvicfloor.com/sd.html)
- Ongoing pain in your pelvic region, genitals, or rectum.
- Pain for women during intercourse.
- The feeling that you need to have several bowel movements during a short period of time
- The feeling that you cannot complete a bowel movement.
- Constipation or straining pain with bowel movements.
Sarah Smith is a personal trainer, level two Russian Kettlebell Instructor, postnatal fitness specialist and pelvic floor and gut health advocate working online and in Raleigh, North Carolina.
She specializes in helping women online and in-person feel strong, confident and capable in their bodies!
Sarah is a mom to three boys and one English Bulldog. She loves soil, coffee and not folding laundry.
Check her out on social media here or get on her email list!! for more content!