Being a mama in the age of the Google can be overwhelmingly scary.
Google “prolapsed pelvic organ” and you’re surrounded by terrifying images and horror stories on mommy forums that leave you with more questions and less hope.
Navigating life as a mama is hard enough. You don’t need your Google search results to scare the pants off you and leave you in tears.
Yes. Having a prolapse can leave you feeling worried and less than confident. But it doesn’t need to be scary. Your life isn’t over. Your running/lifting/enjoying all the things life doesn’t have to end.
There are some key strategies and tools you can use to feel strong and confident again.
And the first step to feeling more empowered is to know exactly what you’re dealing with. The second step is knowing how to help your body heal. So let’s dive in.
What Exactly Is a Prolapsed Pelvic Organ (POP)?
In the bottom of your pelvis are your pelvic floor muscles and tissues. They act like a hammock or a trampoline supporting your pelvic organs (like your bladder, uterus and rectum).
A prolapse happens when these muscles and tissues get damaged or become incredibly weak and can’t properly support one or more of your pelvic organs. Once that support is compromised the organs fall down farther in the pelvis than they’re supposed to sit.
There are a few different issues and events that can cause prolapse – like a long, hard pushing phase during labour.
But it’s important to know that this is not something you need to assume is your fault. It isn’t. You have enough guilt in your life, you don’t need to add “I did (or didn’t) do something and now I have a prolapse” to the list.
The best thing you can do is get help as early as possible. You want the best chance of getting as much function back to the muscles and tissues as possible. But it’s never too late and there are plenty of options to help your pelvic organs out – regardless how long ago you had your baby.
There are a few different types of prolapses.
The 3 most common prolapses are:
- Bladder (Cystocele)
- Uterus (Uterine)
- Rectum (Rectocele)
If you have one of these types, it simply means that your bladder, uterus, or rectum is drooping down instead of staying perched up where it’s meant to be.
It’s also possible to have more than one prolapsed organ. Both your bladder and uterus could be prolapsed, for example.
There are also different grades or classifications of prolapse:
- Grade 0 (no prolapse)
- Grade 1 (you might have some mild symptoms)
- Grade 2 (you could have some mild – moderate symptoms)
- Grade 3 (your symptoms could be quite intense at times)
- Grade 4 (the organ may actually be bulging out of your vaginal opening)
With every second sentence I type (Grade 4, I’m looking at you) I feel compelled to write “It’s okay! Please don’t stress! There’s hope!”
I know this can feel overwhelming and the opposite of fun, but stick with me. No matter how mild or severe your symptoms are, there’s absolutely hope. There always is.
Signs You Could Have It
It’s estimated that around 50% of women have some degree of prolapse after giving birth. But only 10-20% of women report symptoms of prolapse.
This is why prolapse can be tricky (and why I recommend every woman who has ever had a baby get a pelvic floor assessment). Many women have a POP and have no symptoms, or just assume the symptoms they’re experiencing are normal parts of having a baby.
If you do have symptoms, they may look something like this:
- Heavy feeling in your vagina
- Feeling like you need to pee but it won’t all come out
- Lump or bulge in your vagina or vaginal opening
- Feeling like something is falling down or dropping when you cough, sneeze or jump
- When you sit it feels like you’re sitting on something – like a small ball or an egg
- Issues with leaking or incontinence
- Having problems pooping (constipation) or feeling like you can’t fully empty your bowels
- Painful sex
- Not feeling much, or having less sensation when you do have sex
- Back or abdominal pain
- Having trouble keeping a tampon in
Remember – you can get all, some, or none of these symptoms. So if you’re not getting any of these symptoms – or you’re having other symptoms altogether – it’s still important you get checked out and looked after in case you do have a prolapse.
Can You (Safely) Exercise With Prolapse?
Yes. You can exercise with prolapse. Exercise can actually help prevent it from happening in the first place during those early postpartum months, and even help heal it, or minimize your symptoms if you’ve developed it (no matter how long ago you had your baby).
So what exactly is safe exercise for POP?
The answer is, it depends. (Which is not the answer you were hoping for, I know. But hang in there. I’ll get more specific in a bit 😉 ).
What kinds of exercises do you want to do?
Do your symptoms get worse? Better? No change?
How does your alignment look?
There are so many factors to consider and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all-mamas approach to exercising with prolapse. But that doesn’t mean I’m saying you can’t ever run, lift heavy, or do a box jump ever again.
There are plenty of ladies – like prenatal and postnatal fitness pro Haley Shevener – who have POP and enjoy an athletic level of fitness.
It simply depends on what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and how your body is responding.
The medical prescription most commonly given to women with prolapse is that they shouldn’t lift more than 5lbs. 5lbs! Most newborn babies weigh more than 5lbs! So that is not even close to realistic for many women.
And that’s the worst thing to hear when, pre-baby you loved heavy weight lifting, running, or just a more high intensity, high impact kind of workout.
Having POP doesn’t mean you can never lift heavy, join the rec. soccer team, or do more high intensity, high impact exercises ever again.
We just need to pay close attention to how your body responds and ensure your breathing and alignment and technique are spot-on so that you’re getting stronger, not contributing to the problem.
You’d be surprised how a simple tweak here and there can make a huge difference.
Bottom line: you can exercise with POP.
The key is to choose exercises that are right for your body, pay attention to your symptoms during and after exercise, and work with pros who know what they’re doing so they can help get you back doing what you love safely.
So How Bad Is It? Really?
There can be a lot of fear and confusion and overwhelm around the idea of a prolapse. Most of that stems from the fact that hardly anyone talks honestly about it in a practical way (beyond “Don’t lift heavy weights”), and the internet is full of horror stories.
The truth is that prolapse isn’t life threatening, but it can be life altering.
You might feel less confident about having sex, or doing certain exercises, or getting pregnant with another baby because you’re afraid it’ll make things worse.
But there are pros and tools and strategies you can use to help get your life back.
Here’s what I recommend you do:
Step 1: Book an appointment with a pelvic health physio
This is a critical first step because a pelvic floor physiotherapist or physical therapist can do an internal assessment to see what exactly is going on in there and give you the next best steps for your body.
No two cases of POP are the same so we want you to get what you specifically need.
Curious what exactly will happen during your appointment? It’s not as scary as it sounds. The lovely ladies at Bellies Inc. put together this great video to give you the low down on what will likely happen during your down low assessment:
Remember – you are in charge of your own health so find a great, qualified pro to help you out.
If you aren’t happy with the experience you’re getting, find someone else.
This is your body. Your life. You don’t have to just live with the discomfort and worry. Find someone who supports your goals and is willing to do whatever they can to help make that happen.
Step 2: Pay attention to what exercises and activities bring on symptoms
Does running make you feel heaviness in your vagina?
If you’re on your feet all day do you feel like you can’t control your bladder by 7pm?
When you do that deadlift with that weight does it feel like something is bulging out of your vagina?
Do your symptoms get worse when you’re ovulating or menstruating?
Paying attention to what’s going on in your body as you go about your day and your workout is crucial to better understanding the steps you can take to help feel stronger.
It may simply be a matter of trying different exercises, or different variations of an exercise, working on better breathing techniques, getting in better alignment, or engaging your core in a way that supports your pelvic organs (instead of putting more pressure on ’em).
Step 3: Build back some pelvic floor strength
It’s pretty obvious that if your pelvic floor is compromised, working on strengthening it can help alleviate some (and maybe even all) of your symptoms.
There really isn’t a set of “prolapse safe” exercises that you can do because it’s not just about what exercises you do, it’s also about how you do them.
So (at the risk of sounding like the world’s most broken record) pay attention to your breathing, your alignment and your technique. And be curious about how your body feels during and after a certain workout or exercise.
Check in with your physio or doctor to see what the best options are for you.
If you are exercising, remember to exhale and engage your core and pelvic floor as you do the hardest part of the exercise. I call this the BED Mantra. It can help your pelvic floor better support your organs during your workout.
Step 4: Explore the idea of a pessary
If you want to run, lift heavy, jump rope, and generally be more active but you’re worried those things can (or already are) making your prolapse symptoms worse, you can look into getting a pessary.
A pessary is a small device you put in your vagina to help support your pelvic organs. You can think of it like a sports bra for your pelvic organs.
Don’t worry, you won’t even be able to feel a properly fitted pessary.
For some women a pessary not only helps them feel physically able to do the workouts they want to be doing, it also helps them relax mentally. Having the extra support can help them ditch some worries about making things worse.
So if you find yourself clenching your vagina (consciously or unconsciously) during your workouts because you’re worried about making your prolapse worse, a pessary could be your new bestie.
If you’re curious, this is something you can chat about with your physiotherapist or doctor.
Quick tip: I have heard some doctors say that young moms don’t need pessaries. That they’re only for older ladies. This is absolutely untrue. Why wait when you can improve your quality of life now?
So if you get some pushback, find a healthcare provider who is more supportive of what you’re going through and the options that can help.
There’s Always Hope
Growing and birthing tiny humans is not an easy task.
Add to that the potential for issues like prolapse and you can end up feeling depressed, alone and wondering if you’ll ever feel like yourself again.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I hope that this post gave you some tools and strategies you feel confident running with (maybe even literally!) Because there’s always hope.
Prolapse can be a scary, overwhelming, “I have so many questions” thing. But it doesn’t have to be. You now have a better idea of who to turn to for support and the tools you need to feel stronger and more confident.
There’s no such thing as 10 Quick Steps to Healing Prolapse but you don’t need them.
Take the right small actions every day and you will see progress. It may be slow. It may look more like an up and down squiggle and less like a straight line. But it will still be progress.
You’ve got this, mama.
You deserve this.
P.S. Know of other moms who are dealing with prolapse? Send them this post and remind them that there’s always hope.