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Physical problems

A lot of women have physical problems, either as a result of labour and birth, or because of the kind of work involved in caring for young children, or both. Problems like some sort of infection that keeps coming back, back pain, a leaky bladder and painful intercourse are much more common than people think. These sorts of problems can get you down, and some get worse if they’re not seen to.

Helping yourself

For some problems you can do a lot to help yourself. The muscles around your bladder, vagina and back passage (the perineum) may be weak and that could be part of the reason for the ‘falling out’ feeling or leaky bladder that many women describe. Pelvic floor exercises can help. A bad back can also be helped by exercise, and by learning to use your back carefully.

Pelvic floor exercise

The muscles of the pelvic floor form a hammock underneath the pelvis to support the bladder, womb and bowel. You use these muscles when you pass water, empty your bowels and when you make love. Often they’re stretched during pregnancy, labour and birth. If you can improve their strength and function you’re less likely to have a leaky bladder, and more likely to enjoy intercourse.

You can do this exercise either sitting or standing, when you’re washing up, queuing in the supermarket, watching television – anywhere. You ought to do it for the rest of your life. It’s an exercise that’s just as important for older women as younger.

  • Squeeze and draw in your back passage at the same time. Close up and draw in your vagina (front passage) upwards.
  • Hold on for about five seconds, then let go.
  • Do this exercise in sets of five, ten times a day. It helps to imagine you’re stopping a bowel movement, holding in a tampon, stopping yourself passing water. In fact, the best way to find the muscles is to try stopping and starting (or slowing down) the flow of urine while you’re on the toilet.

Curl ups

This exercise, illustrated on the right, firms up your stomach and closes the gap in the abdominal muscles that opens up during pregnancy.

  • Lie on the floor (rather than your bed) with your knees bent up high so your feet are flat on the floor.
  • Pull your tummy in and gradually lift your head and shoulders, reaching for your knees with your hands. Then lower back down very slowly.
  • Begin this exercise gently and build up.

Postnatal check 

Don’t be so busy looking after your baby that you forget to attend for your postnatal examination at around six to eight weeks. This is an opportunity for you to talk to your doctor about any health problems following delivery such as perineal pain or pain following episiotomy, backache, piles, incontinence, etc. It is also an opportunity for you to talk about how you are feeling, for example if you are feeling low or depressed, and also to talk about family planning if you wish.

To ease back problems

  • While feeding, always sit with your back well supported and straight. Use a pillow or cushion behind your waist.
  • Kneel or squat to do low-level jobs like bathing your baby or picking things up off the floor. Avoid bending your back. 
  • Make your knees work instead. Change nappies on a waist-level surface or while kneeling on the floor.
  • To lift weights like a carrycot or an older child, bend your knees, keep your back straight and hold the weight close to your body. Make your thigh muscles work as you lift.
  • Try to keep a straight back when you push a pram or buggy, or carry your baby in a sling.

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.