Wangechi Kariuki, a mother of two, was overjoyed when she delivered her second baby just over two years ago.
However, soon after delivering, Wangechi felt that something was not right; she could barely cough, laugh or sneeze without leaking a little.
When she went to the doctor, she was told that her pelvic floor muscles had been affected by childbirth and that she should exercise them to make them tight again. However try as she might, she could not stop the embarrassing little leak.
“I found it extremely difficult to do the pelvic floor exercises as prescribed by the doctor. My muscles were not responding as expected. I needed a solution that could help me get a strong pelvic floor,” she said.
Wangechi represents thousands of women who have trouble exercising their pelvic muscles, thereby having pelvic disorders that they are too embarrassed to admit to.
Many women leak urine when they jump, laugh, cough or sneeze. Some suffer from a lack of sensation and reduced sexual satisfaction while others go through even more traumatising experiences like vaginal and anal prolapses.
If you experience these conditions, chances are that your pelvic floor needs exercising and strengthening.
The pelvic floor refers to a group of muscles that form a hammock across the opening of a woman’s pelvis. It has several layers of muscle that, together with surrounding tissues, keep all of the pelvic organs in place and functional.
Organs supported by the pelvic floor include the rectum, uterus and bladder, all of whose functionality depend on the strength of the pelvic floor.
A pelvic floor disorder occurs when the pelvic muscles and surrounding connective tissues are weakened or injured.
According to Dickson Okumu Agutu chief physiotherapist at Kenyatta National Hospital, there are several reasons behind the weakening and injuring of the pelvic floor.
“The pelvic floor malfunction could be caused either by age, where the muscles weaken and lose their fiber type. Another reason could be parity, where a woman has given birth several times and also nerve injuries due to stretching of the muscles during childbirth,” he said.
When this happens, women have to contend with several embarrassing pelvic floor disorders — some of them too embarrassing to talk about.
One of the most severe disorders is the pelvic organ prolapse which occurs when the pelvic muscles and tissues become weak and can no longer hold the organs in place correctly.
In such cases, the uterus is pressed down on the birth canal, causing it to invert, or even to come out through the vaginal opening.
In vaginal prolapse, the top of the vagina loses support and can drop through the vaginal opening. Women with this disorder have a feeling of heaviness; like something is falling out of their body.
Others experience an aching bulge in the pelvis, while some get urinary tract infections. Another common disorder is urinary incontinence, where urine leaks out without the woman’s control.
Here, a woman’s urge to urinate becomes stronger and uncontrollable, she may experience frequent urination which can sometimes be unbearably painful. Anal incontinence is another problem.
This occurs when the rectum bulges in or out of the vagina, making it difficult to control the bowels. This can also occur when there is damage on the anal sphincter (the ring of muscles that keep the anal opening closed).
When this happens, women can barely control their bowel movements; a problem too embarrassing to many.
But probably the disorder that drives most women crazy is the lack of sensation and reduced sexual satisfaction. Women no longer feel ‘tight’, thereby causing them to shun the sexual act altogether.
Okumu said there are ‘pelvic floor exercises’ that a woman can do to ensure that all the organs supported by the pelvic floor are functional.
They consist of contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles.
“We teach women early in their pregnancies to start pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the muscles, and also help them have a comfortable delivery.”
When the pelvic floor muscles are exercised prior to delivery, they have the ability to stretch, and go back to their original form with ease.
The exercises come in handy during the second stage of labour.