Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas this year is a good pelvic floor!

 

The silly season is upon us! And indulging in some festivity feasts is a favourite Christmas past-time of mine. Like many of us, I too might notice a couple of extra numbers on the scale after the holiday season, but in other health news: What is happening to our pelvic floor this Christmas? And how can we best care of our lady (and man) garden this year?

 

Obviously, the first thing I am going to talk about is the food and drink that we are bound to enjoy in perhaps a ‘not-so-moderate’ way this Christmas. There is an array of risks to our body that accompanies excessive alcohol, sugar and fat consumption (and that is super important), but today, I am going to zoom in on what is happening to our pelvic floor, bladder and bowel.
Ever noticed how your toileting habits change after a few champagnes? Excessive toileting, sudden urgency to wee, perhaps urine leakage when you cough or laugh? Some people call this ‘breaking the seal’, and believe me, I have sat down at many backyard B.B.Q’s debating with my friends about whether ‘breaking the seal’ actually exists. But actually, there are a lot of changes happening to our urinary system when we drink alcohol.

 

First of all, Alcohol is a bladder stimulant. When we drink alcohol, it encourages the muscle in the walls of our bladder to contract and spasm, increasing the pressure in our bladder and encouraging us to go to the toilet, even if there is not much urine stored in our bladder at the time. This may mean you are going to the toilet more frequently and urgently compared to normal.

Secondly, alcohol is a muscle relaxant. Thinking back to my previous blog, ‘The pelvic floor muscles 101’, our pelvic floor muscles and sphincters need to work to squeeze and compress the urethra (the front passage where urine exits our body), and to stop the flow of urine. They work hard to squeeze the urethra to stop bladder leakage episodes, particularly when we cough, sneeze, jump or laugh. Alcohol, being a relaxant, encourages these muscles to relax and sit back, which is obviously not ideal if we are experiencing urine leakage!

The 3rd thing to keep in mind is that alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it increases the volume of urine that we are producing.

 

Now if we put all 3 together, alcohol can increase how much urine we produce, encourage urine to come out of our bladders, and discourages our muscles from holding urine in. Needless to say, it is the perfect recipe for bladder troubles.

 

Another foodie issue to consider this Christmas is how much fibre you are eating and what your diet is doing to your bowel motions. Avoiding constipation is very important to protecting your pelvic floor muscles as it helps prevent excessive straining on the toilet and excessive pressure on the bladder. Foods that will make your bowel motions firmer, harder to pass and less frequent include:

  • bananas
  • tapioca
  • boiled rice (white)
  • peanut butter (smooth)
  • pasta (white)
  • potatoes
  • white bread (not high fibre)
  • cheese
  • milk arrowroot biscuits
  • yogurt
  • marshmallows (white)
  • pretzels

So go easy on the cheese platter and potato salad this year!

 

Now… Christmas is a great time to get out in the sunshine, play with the kids and try out the new trampoline that Santa just delivered. But! Excessive downward pressure from the tummy and high impact exercise can place a lot of strain on the pelvic floor muscles. Your pelvic floor muscles are like a trampoline themselves, extending from the pubic bone at the front to the tail bone at the back. If you place big pressures and heavy weights on our pelvic floor trampoline, it can become stretched and damaged, reducing it’s capacity to do it’s job, that is- ‘to hold urine in’. If you have some pelvic floor muscle weakness, have recently had a baby, have bladder or bowel difficulties, are menopausal or just unsure, it is best to avoid high impact activity, jumping, running and unfortunately, showing off your mad tricks on the new trampoline.

 

Christmas time means road-trip time for a lot of us, and how good is it when you can pack up the car, pack up the esky, windows down and hit the road for some much deserved relaxation, fun and adventure? Road trips can bring a lot of anxiety for some of us, particularly if you have difficulties holding your bladder or are anxious about where the next toilet stop is. It is important that if this is the case, that you don’t get into ‘bad bladder habits’ to get you through your road-trip.

 

‘Just in case’ wee’s are something that gets drilled into us as children. Mum says: “Go to the toilet now because we are not stopping for a while!”… but ‘just in case’ wee’s are a big ‘no no’! When we go to the toilet with very low bladder volumes, we can confuse the bladder into thinking that it was fuller than it was, and that it ‘needed’ to go to the toilet at that point in time. When this habit gets repeated the nerve signals between the bladder and the brain can become even more confused, leading to excessive toileting and sometimes, feelings of urgency when needing to go the toilet. The best thing you can do if you are worried, is to plan your trip well. Find out where the nearest public toilets are, try to structure your road-trip breaks around them and plan for appropriate times so that your bladder has a chance to fill properly. This can help reduce the anxiety of bladder weakness on long car trips.

 

Check out The National Public Toilet Map and trip planner!

www.toiletmap.gov.au

Toilet map

 

Of course I am not saying that you can’t indulge, have fun and enjoy the Christmas period (I know I will be!). But being pelvic floor safe, organised and savvy with the do’s and don’t’s of bladder and bowel health, may help relieve a lot of anxiety, improve the quality of your holiday and prevent trouble from occurring later on. If you are unsure of something, or think you need a bit more specific or individualised assessment or treatment, why not see a pelvic floor physiotherapist? The earlier you attend to bladder and bowel issues the better, and it is never too late!

 

Merry Christmas friends and family of Calm & Connection! I will see y’all next year!

 

Coming up…

Next year we are launching the new and improved Mindful Core Pilates. Come along and try a class and if you book in the month of December, you get 10% off the purchase price of your package. Hope to see you there! Until then…

 

Be kind to yourself,

Julia Berger
Physiotherapist