What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is located at the base of the female urogenital system. It’s designed to support the vagina, rectum, uterus, and bladder, helping to maintain urinary and fecal continence, and enabling strong, orgasmic response. “Think of the pelvic floor like a hammock, it keeps everything in, and where it should be,” says Heather Bartos, MD, FACOG, in Cross Roads, Texas. “It’s a very complex body of muscles. When it fails, (think too much tension like a neck sprain) or, becomes too lax, pelvic floor dysfunction can cause painful sex, or hernias.”
What happens to the pelvic floor during pregnancy?
The female body is designed to withstand the demands of pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean it snaps back effortlessly, as any new mom who has tried to lose the baby weight well knows. Pregnancy, and delivery, both take a toll on the pelvic floor. “During pregnancy, you have a growing uterus, and everything gets displaced. The pelvic floor muscles become stretched, and challenged,” says Lauren Streicher, MD and author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Heath, and Your Best Sex Ever. “Pushing, and labor, does much of the damage, but it’s a misconception that the pelvic floor is only affected by vaginal delivery. Even a pregnancy without labor, such as a scheduled Cesarean section, can cause problems.” Dr. Streicher says that pelvic floor weakness, while not painful, can cause rectal, or uterine prolapse, and incontinence of urine, and stool. It can also diminish orgasmic response, which relies on pelvic floor contractions, to feel powerful and, in extreme cases, can make sex painful.