As someone who works with new mothers and women with pelvic floor problems, and as a physio, I am always interested in how I can keep women moving, promote exercise and healthy levels of activity whilst limiting any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction. This can make my job quite challenging at times, as many ladies wish to do high intensity exercise to help with weight loss but may also be symptomatic during their active periods. I have also met women who spend long days on their feet and find that their pelvic floor can feel tired and heavy by the end of the day, fatigued by the demands of daily life and work just like any other area of the body. Accidental bladder and bowel leaks, pelvic pain and symptoms of prolapse are unfortunately more common than most women think, even in those who have not experienced pregnancy and childbirth, but thankfully normally respond very well to conservative treatment measures including pelvic health physio.
The causes of pelvic floor dysfunction are multifactorial. Pregnancy, childbirth, posture, breathing patterns, pelvic floor activity, hormones, condition of fascia (connective tissue), weight, stress, hydration, constipation and movement patterns are some of the contributors to the development of symptoms. As I wish to write in part about my own experience, I will focus more on pregnancy and childbirth in this blog.
It is a well known fact that pregnancy and birth (both vaginal and caesarean) can take their toll on the female pelvic floor. During pregnancy these important muscles carry an increasing amount of weight, including the growing baby, placenta and amniotic fluid. During vaginal childbirth they stretch, open and guide baby through the birth canal. Whilst not directly involved in a caesarean birth they lose support from surrounding tissues in the abdomen who help them to do their job well. There may have also been a trial of pushing before caesarean delivery. Either way, the effects of pregnancy and birth on the muscles and fascia of the pelvis mean that a woman’s body undergoes a huge transformation. It is understandable that after these events womens’ bodies need specialist care and attention, after all, if you sprain your ankle or damage your knee during sport, you will see a physio and go through rehab to get you back to your best. Pregnancy and birth should be no different.
My own recent birth was by caesarean section 5 short months ago, and whilst I found it to be a hugely positive experience, I am aware both as a physio and a mother the toll that childbirth takes on the body. I am still recovering from my pregnancy and birth and believe that this recovery process will continue for some time. If it takes 9+ months to grow and birth a baby, it takes at least that to rehab a womans’ body holistically afterwards. It is a point worth remembering – that magical 6 week mark after baby arrives does not really exist! It is best to return to exercise gradually, increasing your activity levels whilst listening to your body, ideally after a full pelvic health check with a physiotherapist who can help guide you towards your fitness goals in a way that won’t compromise your recovery.
EVB Sportswear are described as “a sports bra for your core”- and there is no better way to describe them. A high waist with a really supportive and compressive panel for your abdomen, pelvic floor and lower back muscles, designed by Irish engineer Yvonne Brady in Drogheda. They create a “hugging” effect for these muscles and unlike other brands give excellent support to the pelvic floor- not just pulling in your tummy which can cause a host of issues. My personal experience with EVB sportswear has been hugely positive since my daughter was born. I count myself fortunate to have had a straightforward recovery so far and the support from these garments has given me comfort and confidence from an early stage in my postnatal journey. During the first few weeks when there was still some residual discomfort around my scar I found the boxer briefs great for giving me abdominal support when I needed it. I was very keen to get out into the fresh air as I felt able and again felt the EVBs gave me great abdominal and pelvic floor support. In those early days the pelvic floor can tire quickly even after C-section, so it was great to have a garment that really improved my comfort levels as I know that a graded return to activity is key for successful recovery.
The pictures shown are of me at 10 days postnatal- breastfeeding, getting used to my body without a baby in my tummy, sleep deprived, hormonal and recovering from major surgery. You can see the typical new mother posture – head quite far forward, shoulders are rounded and upper back is rounded. Hips are pushing forward from the body with tummy out in front, bottom “tucked under” and over extending through my knees. I was doing some basic mobility moves to help keep my spine and hips mobile, some setting exercises for my tummy and shoulders and of course my pelvic floor exercises. I was doing some short walks and aiming to build on this on a regular basis, all depending on my energy levels on any given day.
The next picture is taken on the same day (with my lovely slippers). Here I am wearing a pair of EVB boxer briefs and the difference it has made to my posture is clear to see, especially my upper body and around my pelvis. My tummy is also supported, I found them to be very comfortable against my scar and although you can’t see from the picture, my pelvic floor feels supported. (Unfortunately they did not do anything for the ghostly grey face lol). I was just about to go out for a walk and the shorts were the perfect garment to support my core muscles when they were still so easily fatigued.
Fast forward a few months and following my postnatal physiotherapy check, I am now exercising as regularly as I can with a teething baby and easing myself back into some work hours. My exercise regime consists of walking, Pilates at home, and reformer sessions in the clinic whenever I get the chance. I’m aiming to start some gym sessions soon as well and am really enjoying using the barre in The Powerhouse. I never really enjoyed running however since becoming a mum I’ve been thinking of getting out on the roads. It’s a relatively accessible activity for new mums as we can be fairly time poor, it requires minimal equipment (a good sports bra, running shoes and EVBs recommended by this physio) and is free, so maybe a couch – 5k is in the pipeline! Wearing EVB capris in this picture.
I recommend EVB sportswear as they have evidence to prove their efficacy and clients have always found them very useful. A study by the RCSI found that wearing EVB shorts are “effective in reducing the amount of leakage in women with stress urinary incontinence during exercise.” The newly published Return to Running Postnatal guidelines note that there is anything from 1.6 – 2.5 times bodyweight going through the lower limb during impact and it is assumed that some, if not all of this is transmitted through the pelvic floor. If a new mother is running or undertaking any other high impact activity she needs a pelvic floor that is strong, co-ordinated and responsive to the demands put upon it to give her pelvic organs sufficient support. The guidelines recognise supportive sportswear may have a role in the management of pelvic floor dysfunction and postnatal return to exercise. These guidelines are a great resource for both health professionals and those looking to get back to their pre-pregnancy levels of activity and can be found here https://mailchi.mp/38feb9423b2d/returning-to-running-postnatal-guideline
In summary, professionally and personally, I find EVB sportswear to be a great asset to new mothers and those who are addressing pelvic floor symptoms with a comprehensive management plan. They will give the best results when fitted correctly (sizing guide available on the website) and in conjunction with assessment, treatment and rehab as appropriate. At The Powerhouse Newry we provide a service called ‘The Mummy MOT’ which is a comprehensive postnatal physiotherapy check for all mums and we also provide specialist treatment and rehab for a large range of pelvic floor problems. Our clinic is the only one in the Newry area to provide women’s health physio, physio led Pilates including specialist classes for pregnancy and post-partum, 1:1 postnatal rehab, barre and reformer sessions under one roof. We are striving to provide a service “to bump and beyond” and as part of this service are proud to recommend EVB sportswear. By using the code “orlaith19” you will get a 10% discount off leggings on the EVB website- www.evbsport.com
Return to Running Postnatal- guideline for medical, health and fitness professionals managing this population. Tom Goom, Grainne Donnelly and Emma Brockwell, March 2019
Reynolds, S; Boyd, M; A pilot study to investigate the effects of wearing support shorts during exercise on women with Stress Urinary Incontinence. Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.