When the instructor at Tania Boler’s pregnancy class advised doing exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles it came as a surprise: ‘I was a women’s health researcher and I had always looked after my body, but I had never heard about this.’ For her French sister-in-law, however, the concept of exercising the sling-shaped muscles that run from the pubic bone to the base of your spine supporting the pelvic organs (bowel, bladder, uterus and vagina) was a normal, indeed essential, part of pregnancy care and rehabilitation after the birth. Tania, now 39, started investigating. ‘As the baby grows, mothers put on around 5kg [11lb] so the abdomen bears up to three times the weight it’s used to. That weakens the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, leaving the bladder and lower back with less support. This leads to physical problems such as incontinence, constipation, prolapse and sexual difficulties for the majority of new mums [see below]. But, sadly, one in two will suffer in silence.’
Tania took her pregnancy instructor’s advice but soon got bored and found that many women felt the same. Although there are gadgets such as different-sized cones to help exercise these muscles, none provided feedback, so it is easy to do the exercises incorrectly unless you are monitored by a physiotherapist.
Between the birth of Joshua, now five, and Scarlett, two, Tania worked with experts to develop Elvie, a neat oval-shaped device worn internally that connects with a mobile phone via an app to guide the user through targeted exercises and provide feedback on how well you are doing them. Sensors detect when the pelvic floor muscles are activated and reflect this on the screen as a moving gemstone. Contract the muscles and the gemstone moves up, relax them and it drops.
In 2014, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and Royal College of Midwives launched an initiative to ensure women are made aware of the importance of pelvic health. Elvie, which costs £149, is now recommended by physiotherapists and health professionals in the UK and US, and recently launched in John Lewis nationwide (www.johnlewis.com).
Of course, pregnancy is not the only cause of pelvic floor problems; others include impact sports and ageing. Elvie can be used by women of any age and is simple to deploy. One UK reviewer, DeeDee, 71, had had problems since her third child was born 41 years ago. ‘I’ve seen a gynaecologist and two physiotherapists, who have all helped a little bit, but four weeks after using my Elvie each day I feel as if my pelvic floor is back to what it was when I was 30.’
COMMON PREGNANCY PROBLEMS
• A poll of 1,900 women by Netmums showed that up to 80 per cent experienced some form of bladder problem during pregnancy and after the birth.
• In a group of 12,679 Norwegian women who were continent before pregnancy, 31 per cent reported urinary incontinence six months after delivery.
• About half of pregnant women are estimated to suffer lower back problems.
3 OF THE BEST REASONS TO GO OUTDOORS
Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life by Richard Louv. Louv coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’, explaining that the more technology we use the more nature we need. This new book details the benefits of a strong nature connection (from boosting mental acuity to combating depression) and gives 500 activities to get all ages back in touch with the outdoors. Atlantic Books/£12.99. To order a copy for £9.74 until 24 July, visit www.you-bookshop.co.uk*
Orla Kiely has teamed up with Halfords on a range of affordable camping kit, from picnic rugs to tents, including this two-person design, from £100, www.halfords.com. (Her cycling accessories are great too.)
The Fieldcandy SLPY (say it ‘sleepy’) is a brilliantly designed, Thermolite-filled sleeping bag that features a snug hood plus pockets for torch and toothbrush. Come daytime the ‘sleepy’ transforms into a bodywarmer. £119, in a range of bright colours/www.fieldcandy.com.