BREATHING: Pelvic Floor Series Part 4.
Why Does Breathing Matter?
Breathing matters. The way you breathe matters. More specifically, the way your body moves when you breathe matters. And the way you breathe particularly matters to your pelvic floor and core.
Ideally when you breathe in your respiratory diaphragm expands down and your ribs broaden out. Your waist expands to the sides and back, not just the front, and your pelvic floor muscles release, descend and lengthen long and wide. Then as you breathe out your diaphragm ascends back up following the air out of your lungs, your ribs narrow in, your waist contracts and your pelvic floor muscles are drawn in and up in response to the breath moving out.
In a healthy optimal breath pattern this all happens every breath you take, without you having to think about it.
It’s a full torso movement of expansion and then gathering, through each and every breath cycle as you breathe in and then as you breathe out.
But this pattern can be disturbed through injury, illness, stress, anxiety, pregnancy, and childbirth.
And then your body is likely to develop a very different breathing strategy that compensates for example, for tightness in the diaphragm, or lack of tone in the deep abdominals.
So what does breathing have to do with the pelvic floor?
In relation to your pelvic floor muscles, if your diaphragm doesn’t move and expand down when you breathe in, then there’s no pressure going down onto the pelvic floor muscles. And so then your pelvic floor doesn’t get the nudge she needs to release, relax and lengthen down.
Often I see people with patterns of breathing and core control quite different to the ideal situation described above. Sometimes people only breathe up in their chest. Their diaphragm doesn’t move down to draw the air in and so their breath in stays high in the chest contributing to tightness in the muscles around the neck and shoulders. This breath pattern is often associated with feelings of stress and anxiety and tightness in the pelvis floor.
Other times people are a bit collapsed and slouched in their chest and ribs. So when they breathe in they don’t get the widening movement of the ribs allowing for an expansive and three dimensional breath pattern. This can lead to a pattern of breathing more down into the belly which might cause abdominal muscles to become overstretched, weak, soft, and pooched. Because every breath in, is distending and over stretching the belly muscles which were already overstretched during pregnancy. This can contribute to tightness in the pelvic floor muscles because muscles work in teams, and if the deep abs aren’t working well, then the pelvic floor is likely to work harder to compensate.
In both of these breathing patterns, getting the diaphragm and ribs moving better will help you connect to your pelvic floor.
If your pelvic floor muscles don’t get the chance to release and relax, and instead they’re held tight all of the time, this creates tension and tightness and changes the way they’re able to activate. Because when you need your pelvic floor to support you, you need the muscles to be able to contract, shorten and lift. But if your pelvic floor muscles are already contracted, shortened and lifted because they never get the chance to release and relax, then there’s nowhere for them to contract to. Which means that when you need them to support your bladder when you cough, laugh, sneeze, run, or lift something heavy, they can’t contract further to prevent leaking, because they’re already working as much as they can.
A tight muscle does not necessarily equal a strong muscle. It just means it’s tight and can’t relax. Think of a trampoline, if the springs are tight and rigid then they can’t lengthen down. So there’s so ‘give’ as your child jumps down, or recoil to propel them higher as they jump back up. It’d be rigid, more like jumping on wood.
Your pelvic floor is the same, it needs to be able to release down, lengthen and broaden in order to be able to effectively contract and lift up.
At the end of Pregnancy, your baby presses right up underneath your diaphragm.
This prevents your diaphragm from moving as much as it would like. And over the last couple of months of pregnancy it can get stuck in a shortened positioned.
Also, sometimes during birth there might be a long pushing phase, wherein the mum pushes forcefully down for long contractions. This can create a back to front movement pattern where the body tries to find stability through bearing down into the pelvic floor and out into the low abdominals. And sometimes there is a cesarean section where the low abdominals are cut, or an episiotomy where the pelvic floor is cut.
Combine any of these things with the tight diaphragm, and the completely normal overstretched abdominals and pelvic floor after giving birth, and the breathing and core function for many post birth women is seriously compromised.
Every single birth leaves the physical body like a deflated balloon, lacking internal infrastructure. In each and every post birth body there will be compromised breathing and core function from pregnancy alone and then also from the birth.
This is why rest is so important. Vital. Not a luxury but a necessity. The tissues need time to heal and recover. And this is why birthing bodies respond really well to education about breathing, core function, and safe loading. Things that all need to come BEFORE developing strength, cardio, or returning to regular exercise.
After giving birth, your body will need a period of restorative and strategic rehabilitation.
Here’s a short list of things to consider AFTER giving birth, and BEFORE returning to everyday life activities, or your favourite sort of exercise.
- Get your diaphragm moving – like an umbrella.
- Get your ribs moving – like bucket handles.
- Get your PF moving – it needs to contract and relax like a trampoline.
- Get your low abs working – they need to hold the lower front belly strong so the breath expands to the sides and back, not just down to the front belly pooch.
- Coordinate it all in a three dimensional double balloon breath – one balloon in your chest, and one in your abdomen.
- Let it all coordinate itself – reflexively and in relation to the load you’re managing.
Want help learning how to do all this?
Click here to join the waitlist for my Motherbody Birth Recovery course coming soon.
This is Part Four in my Pelvic Floor blog series. Click below to read the others.
Click here for Part 1. All about the bones of the Pelvic Floor.
Click here for Part 2. All about the Pelvic Floor Muscles.
Click here for Part 3. All about the Pelvic Floor ligaments.
Want to learn more about post birth rest and recovery?
Click here to get my FREE guide, 17 easy ways to support pelvic floor and abdominal recovery after giving birth.
Diaphragm image from the Anatomy of Breathing book by Blandine Calais-Germain.