As a teenage girl, I would cringe if my mom talked about periods when my dad was within earshot. Clearly much has changed because as a grown woman, when I learned about the annual Kegels and Cocktails event hosted by fitness expert Samantha Montpetit-Huynh, certified Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist Julia Di Paolo and Kim Vopni, The Fitness Doula, I had to buy tickets. And drag along two of my close girlfriends who can yap about vaginas with the best of them.
When we arrived we were greeted by a cheerful woman at the door who was eager to make us feel welcome, “Let me get you some punch! With alcohol or without?” She sped away and I surveyed the crowded room noting several pregnant bellies and more than a few teeny infants. Our perky hostess returned seconds later balancing three fruity, pink punches expertly. “Here, have some pussy punch!”
And with those words, the night began.
To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had interviewed Samantha for an article I wrote last year for Viva Magazine and loved her energy. Immediately we bonded over our mutual hatred of “bump watches” and “post-baby body” stories that dominate the tabloid newsstands and breed unrealistic body expectations. I figured anything she was involved with, was something that I wanted to learn more about.
Boy, did I learn.
I walked into the event thinking, what are they going to tell me that I don’t already know? I do my kegels! I have three kids! I (and everyone on the 7th floor of Mount Sinai Hospital, and that stunned gift shop employee) know my vagina.
You know how Oprah talks about having an Ah-Ha! moment? Well, I had an Oh-Shit! moment.
Certified Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist Julia Di Paolo captivated everyone’s attention when she stood at the podium and made an impassioned plea for women to make pelvic wellness part of their overall healthcare. Di Paolo explained the importance of a well-functioning pelvic floor. She likens the pelvic floor muscles to a trampoline. A trampoline is taut and firm but it has flex, and will give but it will always return to its original form. Well-functioning pelvic floor muscles act the same. They have just the right amount of give (not too much or too little) and they retain their elasticity. If the muscles slacken too much and sag, they can’t effectively do their job, and internal organs like the uterus, rectum and bladder can shift and fall.
Then she dropped the bombs.
50% of women who’ve had children will have some prolapse. (Hagen & Stark, 2011)
Women who’ve had one vaginal delivery are at 4 times the risk of developing a prolapse and the risk increases 8.4 times with two or more vaginal deliveries. (Mantal et al. 1997)
But I don’t think I have a prolapse. Actually, I’m sure that I am fine; I generally have very good luck. I think this as I squiggle in my chair and straighten my posture acutely aware of my vagina.
Di Paolo clicks the mouse and the slide changes. There is audible murmuring from the room of women and my girlfriend who’s seated beside me lets out a deflated sigh.
Symptoms of a prolapse:
- Feeling pelvic pressure
- Feeling uncomfortable within the pelvic cavity
- Rectal pressure
- Feeling like your insides are falling out
- Incontinence or retention of urine
- Tampons do not stay in place
- Some women are asymptomatic
Di Paolo has made it her mission to empower women before, during and after pregnancy about the importance of a healthy pelvic floor. She maintains there are many ways to help prevent or reduce the severity of prolapse.
What to do?
- Learn to do kegels the right way (Note: I was doing them wrong and judging by the collective gasp in the room, I wasn’t the only one)
- Modify your workout routine since many popular exercises can actually exacerbate pelvic floor weakness and prolapse
- Stay hydrated
- Stop being so sedentary, get out and walk more!
- If you’re thinking of getting pregnant or are pregnant, see a pelvic floor physiotherapist before you give birth!
Most importantly book an appointment with a pelvic floor physiotherapist and learn about your body. Don’t assume that the damage is done or that you have to live with discomfort. Di Paolo says with treatment most of the time patients are able to restore their prolapse by one degree and learn how to prevent further damage. Bottom line: be informed, be proactive so that you are not dealing with issues years down the road.
To find a registered pelvic floor physiotherapist in Ontario click here. To contact Julia Di Paolo or a member of her team of Pelvic Floor Physiotherapists, visit her Women’s and Pelvic Health clinic PhysioExcellence located in Toronto, Ontario.