You may recall, if you’ve given birth naturally, the nurses giving you an exercise sheet for pelvic floor exercises. Like me, you probably didn’t bother to do any of them. You will come to regret that. As I did!
Around the age of 45 you will notice a few, generalised, niggly health symptoms, nothing special, nothing worth bothering the doctor with. PMT happens a little more regularly. But that doesn’t set any alarm bells ringing, either. You’ve no idea that your hormonal status is changing and you are going into peri-menopause; that you’ll reach a tsunami of symptoms around the age of 50/52. Yep! It’s a roller-coaster ride you could not imagine would ever affect YOU.
To me, menopause is a misnomer because all it means is 12 months without menstruating. On the day after the twelfth month you are post-menopausal (although, if you have a bleed at random times during those 12 months, you have to set the clock back to zero and start the count all over again).
I experienced the embarrassment of stress incontinence during menopause. The funny part is, I thought the name referred to a response to stressful situations rather than the medical meaning, which is that stress is being put on your pelvic floor and it can’t hold in the urine as well as it once did. Crisis!
So there you are, standing at the front door of your house, fumbling with the keys to get in as quickly as possible, your legs squeezed together so tightly that once it’s open you can’t move… It may not be your front door, you may be standing at the photocopier (you will usually be in a standing position), or at the bus stop. “Help! where’s the nearest loo?”
Here’s a quick tip that really works – keep your nether regions clenched together but at the same time clench your toes. It makes walking difficult and it’s not so easy in high heels, but it works! The downside is, you may have problems explaining why you are walking like a penguin. But give it a try.
At Simply Hormones we discuss this area of health – and why not doing those pelvic floor exercise comes home to roost – whenever we are in front of a group of people. Yes, that’s men and women, because men need to do these exercises, too, even though they will probably not be affected until they are in their late sixties or seventies. We explain that with women the problem is due to their depleted estrogen, owing to the fact that the eggs are now nearly all gone (12 months without a period signals the end our our reproductive years). Where your body has been reliant on this hormone (among others) for the efficient functioning of your body for the last 40 or so years, you will become estrogen deficient, which means your muscles won’t be as strong, ESPECIALLY your pelvic floor muscles.
I was reminded of this when I was on holiday recently and chilling out with magazines on the sun bed by the pool. I was reading Good Housekeeping, that UK staple of good advice for all things, and I came across an article (a promotion by Tena Lady – good products, by the way – and I’m not talking about the Big Knickers!), including a small section called “Advice from Dr Hilary”. Here I learned a new fact: that 47 per cent or British women experience bladder weakness. Wow! I knew bladder weakness could affect women at various times during their lives, including childbirth, illness and, yes, menopause and beyond, but nearly half?
You know what this means, don’t you? You must do your pelvic floor muscles every single day, otherwise you will end up wearing those Big Knickers and thick incontinence pads. Do you really want to end up there? No, I thought not!
Here’s what you do: To identify your pelvic floor muscles, next time you go for a wee, stop the flow mid-stream. Now sit comfortably and squeeze those muscles, 10 to 15 times in a row. Now that you’ve identified your pelvic floor, you don’t have to be sitting on the toilet to do those exercises, you can do them anywhere, even at the bus stop or on a park bench (and nobody need know).
Each week, hold the contractions for a little longer and practise them more frequently. You should feel a big difference within a few months. Use it, or lose it, is the mantra we use at all our presentations.
With grateful thanks to Dr Hilary, Tena Lady and Good Housekeeping, who reminded me that that this blog was long overdue!