Learning about Pelvic Organ Prolapse Following Childbirth
When you begin planning a family, people are quick to offer advice. Your doctor will set you up with prenatal vitamins, and instructions for what foods and activities to avoid. Your friends and relatives will give guidance on the best remedies for stretch marks, cures for colic, and which diapers to buy.
But it seems no one really talks about pelvic organ prolapse, a condition that affects 50 percent of all women who experience pregnancy and childbirth. Subsequently, many women do not recognize the very real risk of pelvic organ prolapse and fail to take the steps to strengthen the pelvic floor after childbirth to reduce their risk.
What You Should Know
Many women with pelvic organ prolapse do not experience symptoms. In fact, it is usually diagnosed in menopausal women, as symptoms become amplified with declining estrogen levels and weakening pelvic tissues.
Symptoms can include pain or pressure in the pelvic area, incontinence and discomfort during sexual intercourse. Some women experience frequent urinary tract infections and constipation, and can also develop a sense of bulging in the vaginal area or feel the pressure of sagging pelvic organs against the wall of the vagina.
Unfortunately, pelvic organ prolapse is sometimes treated with surgery using a transvaginal mesh implant. The Food and Drug Administration warns that these surgeries carry a high risk of serious complications, such as mesh erosion, organ perforation, pain and infection. Correcting these complications may require numerous revision surgeries.
It’s important for women to talk to their doctor about non-surgical measures before any surgery is considered. In addition, there are surgical options that do not use mesh.
What You Can Do
During pregnancy, the pelvic floor supports the weight of the baby. Having a strong pelvic floor can shorten labor and ease delivery. Women who implement exercises – like Kegels -- to strengthen their pelvic floor throughout their pregnancy are less likely to experience incontinence, which is fairly common during the third trimester.
The strain that pregnancy and childbirth place on the body is intense. It is no wonder then that although the body can return to its pre-baby size in weeks or months, pelvic muscles may need years to recover their pre-baby strength. It is this decreased pelvic floor strength that puts women at risk for pelvic organ prolapse.
As the pelvic floor heals following childbirth, it is critical to protect it from further injury. Avoid heavy lifting and arduous activities, and when your doctor says you can begin exercising, it is better to stick to low-impact sports like walking, yoga or Pilates. One of the best ways to evade symptoms is to practice pelvic floor-strengthening exercises before prolapse sets in.
Be proactive about strengthening your pelvic muscles, and add pelvic floor exercises to your daily routine. Not sure where to start? Consult a physical therapist who can help you construct a healthy and safe exercise plan to repair and strengthen your pelvic floor. Try other alternative treatments like massage therapy, and maintain a healthy diet.
It is never too early to focus on pelvic floor strength, and the good news is that it’s never too late to start either. Especially in mild to moderate cases, pelvic organ prolapse can be treated and even reversed using physical therapy rather than surgery.
Linda Grayling writes for Drugwatch.com. Linda has a number of professional interests, including keeping up with the latest developments in the medical field. Join the Drugwatch community on our Twitter page to find out more.