Written by my Fall 2020 Apprenticeship Participant, Samantha Wittkamper. Interested in joining my next Apprenticeship? Sign up for the waitlist here.
I was sitting at a table one evening with friends who were also mothers of multiple children. As we laughed and caught up on moments, we began talking about motherhood.
Conversations ranged from breastfeeding challenges, how to best organize car seats in the minivan for optimum space and function, and the realities of little children needing us to meet their 1,000 little needs a day.
The conversation ventured into physical pains and fatigue and in the conversation, I said, “pelvic organ prolapse.”
I felt their eyes stand still as they were thinking to themselves “why are we talking about internal organs?”
The words pelvic organ prolapse immediately convey negative thoughts. If I were to say “sleek toned abs,” or “lush thick hair,” no one would think twice.
Pelvic is immediately a word that is too intimate for open conversation. Organ, some kind of boring anatomy and lastly, prolapse, which literally means collapse.
Why is there shame associated with something so important and critical to how we move, breathe and function?
What’s normal for pelvic health?
I took the time after my prolapse diagnosis to find out what was normal about pelvic floor health and what was common.
And there is a BIG difference.
Leaking when you sneeze is common but not normal, constipation or pain during intercourse can be common, but NOT normal. No woman should have to live with the chronic urge to pee, always needing panty liners and perpetual pain! We need to stop standing for this “normal” and find optimal!
Why don’t we talk about pelvic health?
First there are reasons why women are so afraid of talking about their bodies. We aren’t informed enough and then we inform ourselves with talk from our girlfriends and hear the exact same stories and chalk it up to some female curse.
But the power to change and heal our body starts with information and that information then requires movement. The pelvic floor interconnects so many systems and supports your entire core from your mouth to your anus and it is a vital part to be acquainted with.
What is pelvic organ prolapse & what are the symptoms?
Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is something that 1/3 of all women will experience in their lifetime.
The pelvic floor connects and affects a myriad of systems to include intimacy, digestion, breathing and urinary/bowel habits.
Some women that have POP are often not aware they have such a condition or they are ashamed to talk about it and explain their symptoms. It is often missed and not diagnosed because there is no universal screening for POP during routine pelvic exams.
Symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse can include:
- Difficulty urinating
- Painful intercourse
- Pressure or bulging in the vagina
- Low back pain
Or nothing! Yes, that’s right, you can have pelvic organ prolapse and just not show any symptoms.
Pelvic organ prolapse and pregnancy
Often POP is associated with pregnancy due to the weight bearing of the baby on the pelvic area, but women who have never had children can also have pelvic organ prolapse. This can be due to constipation, chronic coughing, lifting heavy weights in training or for work.
Pregnancy is a tough phase as it involves another life inside your own. It is physically taxing even if you know “what to expect.” I certainly expected squishy baby cuddles, breastfeeding hormonal bliss and the tiniest cleverly designed baby outfits.
No one told me to be on alert to the changes in my body or the importance of alignment and breath as my load bearing weight shifted and increased.
What is the best way to prevent POP after baby and how does one heal from POP if diagnosed or suspicious of this post-partum?
It actually starts before, or during pregnancy!
- The pelvic floor is actually the bottom of the diaphragm.
The diaphragm and pelvic floor are interconnected and move up and down in concert with one another as we breathe.
Intentionally inhaling and relaxing the pelvic floor and then exhaling to release stale air can help reduce any added pressure placed on the pelvic floor via the organs. The tongue resting on the roof of the mouth also adds signaling to the autonomic nerves helping relax the pelvic floor with each breath.
This movement is crucial for the pelvic floor to run through its full range of motion because labor requires such an ebb and flow of intricate muscles communicating together.
- Get your digestion and your gut health optimal!
Gut health is a part of pelvic floor health. Just as a reminder from health class, you have a long intestinal framework squished into a tiny little space.
Any amount of constipation, bloating, gas, cramping is increased pressure and work on your pelvic floor that already has a growing baby decreasing all of its space. It is crucial to overall health and pregnancy health, as your baby eats everything you eat, to hone in on your diet and choose foods that support your digestive system.
Also, the ability of your pelvic floor muscles to relax communicates to your digestive system and your respiratory system you are in parasympathetic mode. Using the power of your mind and making correct food choices has a direct impact on systems that work automatically. This is a crucial retraining step we can take to set the stage for an optimal environment always, and certainly in pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a mystery, a masterpiece and a season of growth. Tell your body it is safe; tell your baby they are safe and give yourself the time to heal and remove any pressures that do not aid in that journey of restoration!
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Vaginal Prolapse. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/vaginal-prolapse
- Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support. (n.d.). Pelvic Organ Prolapse: Health, Hope, and healing. https://www.pelvicorganprolapsesupport.org/pelvic-organ-prolapse-help-and-hope
- Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. (2013, March). Pelvic Organ Prolapse.https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/gynaecology/pi-pelvic-organ-prolapse.pdf
- Smith, S. (2019, September 9). Did You Know That Your Tongue Habits Effect Your Pelvic Floor? Sarah Smith Strength. http://sarahsmithstrength.com/new-blog/2019/9/9/did-you-know-that-your-tongue-habits-effect-your-pelvic-floor?rq=diaphragm
Samantha Wittkamper was born and raised in upstate New York and went to East Carolina University where she graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree in Nursing. After ECU she spent four years in the Army Nurse Corps. Samantha married an infantry soldier and spent 8 years traveling to assignments with him where they had three children. They now reside in North Carolina. Her hobbies include gardening, reading and drinking Rasa coffee. You can check out her website here and find her on Instagram @samwittbalance.