Wondering if the postpartum changes in your body are normal? You aren’t alone. Many mom runners experience significant pelvic floor issues after having kids but, unfortunately, most aren’t aware that those issues can be resolved with the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist or other healthcare professional.
Sure, jokes are often made within mom circles about leaking urine and the like, but open and honest conversations regarding postpartum pelvic floor issues still aren’t normalized. Even worse, issues such as urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, bladder urgency and other common pelvic floor troubles are often absent in the postpartum conversations that healthcare providers have with their patients.
Unfortunately, this leaves many moms assuming that their pelvic floor issues are ‘just the way their bodies are now’. We’re here to tell you that you don’t have to spend the rest of your life choosing your running outfits in colors that will disguise urine leakage or base your outings around proximity to a bathroom because of bladder urgency.
The following information is designed to help you recognize common postpartum pelvic floor issues, learn more about the services of a pelvic floor physical therapist and also discover the importance of working with a running coach that’s certified in postpartum training.
Recognizing Postpartum Health Issues
As mentioned above and as you already know, the body changes in vast ways through pregnancy and childbirth. Through the healing process after childbirth, you may begin to notice that things with your body aren’t ‘as they used to be’ prior to your pregnancy. You may also begin to wonder if those things are just how your body will function now in the postpartum era. If something doesn’t seem right with your body, whether in your pelvic floor or elsewhere, discuss your concerns with your OB/GYN or primary healthcare doctor.
The pelvic floor can be stretched or damaged by stress on the pelvic girdle as well as on the pelvic floor muscles and connective tissues. In turn, this damage can lead to pain, discomfort and functional impairments.
Here are some of the common pelvic floor issues and functional impairments that moms experience:
- Urine Incontinence – Commonly known as urine leakage, urine incontinence is a term to describe not being able to control when you have to pee.
- Fecal Incontinence – Not being able to control the passage of gas or stool.
- Bladder Urgency – Feeling a sudden, strong need to pee even though the bladder may only contain a small amount of urine.
- Bladder Heaviness – The feeling of bladder pressure, bladder pain or pelvic pain. The pain can range from mild discomfort to severe pain.
Obviously, the above issues are difficult enough to manage in everyday mom life but, if not dealt with, can become increasingly heightened and ultimately unmanageable when you return to running. It’s also worth noting that the clock doesn’t stop on postpartum pelvic floor issues. Rather, if you’ve dealt with incontinence, urgency and other problems for years after having kids, it’s not too late to heal your body.
Learning from Other Runner Moms
Jokes about postpartum urine leakage are common, but open and honest conversations about postpartum pelvic floor health concerns are nowhere near normalized within runner mom circles or in the broader motherhood communities.
Luckily, many mom runners are starting to speak up about their postpartum pelvic floor challenges. Thanks to these brave women, other moms can listen to their stories and begin to understand that the issues they’re facing needn’t become lifelong struggles. Private Facebook groups for mom runners are great places to browse conversations on pelvic floor issues, learn about the experiences that other runner moms have had when working with pelvic floor physical therapists and also to ask questions.
A few guests on the Runner Moms podcast have bravely shared their journeys with postpartum incontinence and how they worked to heal their bodies. In episode three of the Runner Moms podcast, Coach Alison Marie Helms discussed the importance of acknowledging and healing postpartum challenges. She also discussed her postpartum journey, including the differences in her healing journey after each of her pregnancies. Running Coach Stephanie Harboe joined episode 10 of the podcast to share her mission of normalizing postpartum health conversations. She discussed her personal journey of healing her pelvic floor issues and how that journey inspired her mom to resolve incontinence issues that had persisted for decades.
Listen to these and other stories to become familiarized with the common postpartum challenges that mom runners face. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions within your social circles or reach out to moms who have shared their stories online. By connecting on these topics and sharing stories, the runner moms community can take the lead on normalizing conversations surrounding postpartum pelvic floor issues and prevent the next generation of moms from feeling isolated on these topics.
Training with a Certified Running Coach
The value of a certified running coach to guide you through the postpartum transition back to running can’t be overstated. Of course, the permission of returning to running must be granted by your healthcare provider but, after that clearance is given, a postnatal certified running coach can develop a tailored training plan based on your situation.
If you aren’t currently working with a running coach certified in postpartum training, search online for coaches in your area. Girls Gone Strong is a great directory for browsing certified coaches and learning more about their backgrounds. After you find a few prospective coaches, schedule introductory sessions to learn more about their qualifications, experience and approach to coaching. Select a coach that not only has the proper qualifications but that also seems like a good personality fit for you.
As you begin working with a coach, be open about the postpartum struggles and functional impairments that you’re facing. Although it may feel a bit awkward at first to talk about pelvic floor issues, your coach can only work with the information that you provide in developing your training plan. For example, it may be in your best interest to scale back your run training while undergoing pelvic floor physical therapy, but your coach won’t know to revise your training plan unless you’re transparent about the physical therapy process.
Working with a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist
If you are interested in connecting with a pelvic floor physical therapist to address your health concerns, a good starting point is your OB/GYN or primary care doctor. Your doctor can review the issues you’re having and initiate a referral to an experienced pelvic floor physical therapist. If starting the referral process through your doctor isn’t the best path for your situation, you can also search online for pelvic floor physical therapists in your area. While pelvic floor therapy is still an underserved field in many ways, many physical therapy clinics now have pelvic floor specialists on staff. Take care to review the experience, qualifications and certifications of any therapists that you find.
Pelvic floor physical therapists have different approaches to their practices, so there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ method that you can expect when meeting with a therapist. However, your first appointment will most likely include an intake process where the professional will ask questions about the issues that you’re experiencing and conduct initial testing. Bring along a list of questions that you’d like to ask the therapist as well as any other details that you want to discuss.
The professional will likely use the information that you provide as well as the results of any initial assessments to develop a tailored pelvic floor physical therapy plan for your specific needs. If you are also working with a running coach, discuss your pelvic floor physical therapy plan with your coach. That way, everyone will be on the same page and your running coach will have the information needed to restructure your training plan, if needed, while you complete the therapy process and heal your body.
As Running Coach Stephanie Harboe described in episode 10 of the Runner Moms podcast, postpartum is the rest of your life after having kids. Don’t disregard any health issues that come up after having a baby as ‘just how your body is now’. Instead, bring your concerns to a healthcare provider and learn if the services of a pelvic floor physical therapist may be of benefit. By taking this action now, you can heal your body sooner and avoid the lifelong struggles that other moms have silently shouldered.
Have you benefited from the services of a pelvic floor physical therapist or do you have additional advice for the Runner Moms community on this topic? We’d love to hear from you! Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.