After having children, women experience a lot of changes (hello new sleep schedule and goodbye personal space). We also feel and see changes with our bodies. Things can start to feel different and work differently “down there.” Many of us hear, “Oh, that’s just part of having kids,” or “That’s what happens when you get older,” but in many cases, what seems common is really a pelvic health issue that needs care. According to the American Urogynecologic Society, one in four women over 20 suffer from a pelvic floor disorder (PFD). So what’s not OK and when should you call a doctor? Dr. Kay Hoskey, urogynecologist, walks us through some of the signs that your “mom bod” might actually be a PFD that can be treated.
Sneezing and coughing comes with an outfit change
The most common symptom of a PFD is stress incontinence, which is when you leak urine while you exercise, laugh, sneeze, cough or during any other movement that puts pressure on your bladder. This is also one of the most easily ignored symptoms because of just how universal it seems among women. As the pelvic floor weakens due to any number of factors, the bladder can shift and its function is compromised.
READ MORE: Tips for treating urinary incontinence
You can’t go — or oops, you just went
Number two on our list is actually well, just that. The pelvic floor supports your rectal organs the same way it supports your bladder, and the same problems can occur with leakage, flatulence and even constipation. Your exact symptoms all depend on exactly how the structure of your pelvic floor has changed. Because this can be a hugely embarrassing symptom, many women suffer in silence.
You’re running to the bathroom — literally
Urge incontinence is when the need to urinate comes on very quickly giving you only a few seconds of warning, whether the bladder is full or not. This can also come with pelvic pressure or pain while urinating. Urge incontinence can be a challenge to your daily routine, family and social life with the feeling that you always have to be near a bathroom. Exercises, medication and surgery are all options for solving this issue.
You feel bulging or heaviness
One of the more serious and painful symptoms of a PFD is pelvic organ prolapse in which pelvic organs —such as the uterus, bladder and rectum — drop or fall out of position. Many women actually feel a falling out sensation, which can be frightening and debilitating. Prolapse can also be felt in the lower back and abdomen so keep an eye out for recurring pain in those areas as well.
Sex is painful
Do you cringe when you insert a tampon, get a gynecological exam or have sex? This is a sign of any number of pelvic floor disorders and you should discuss this with your health care provider. If you think of the pelvic area as a house, depending on if the floor, roof or walls fall and weaken; you could have varying issues and pain points.
PFDs are NOT a normal part of aging that you just have to live with. They’re medical conditions and they’re treatable. Treatments include bladder control training, lifestyle changes, pelvic muscle strengthening, medication, support devices or surgery. Your doctor will work with you on a personalized treatment plan to meet your needs, which often includes a combination of things.
Having children and getting older comes with a lot of change. Some of these changes are a proud reflection of the life you’ve lived. But when it comes to your pelvic health, no amount of pain, pressure, inconvenience and embarrassment is normal. Don’t let the unnecessary stigma of PFD symptoms prevent you from seeking effective treatment. You can hit reset on your pelvic health and find your way back to yourself.