At the ripe old age of 27yrs, and as a single mother to my two children Millisent (7yr) and Gabriele (2yr), I have worked hard to get my body back into shape following childbirth. From cardio to weight training, running, boxing, yoga and carefully watching my diet, I try my best to stay fit and active. However, as every mother will know, it’s not just your body shape that changes following childbirth, as your insides have a rather tough time of it too, and the thought of a golf ball travelling down a straw makes me cross my legs for the wonder of childbirth. I proudly delivered both my babies naturally at 39wks to the tune of 7lb0.5oz and 8lbs8oz respectively. And after having my bundles of joy my midwife and doctor both popped over to advise me merrily to “always do your pelvic floor exercises Miss Kiss!” to which I smiled and nodded politely, completely oblivious to what on earth they were talking about before busying myself with the hustle and bustle of bringing up a family.
Fast forward seven and a half years from when I earned my mothership, and I now realise the true importance of my pelvic floor muscles. After childbirth the two biggest changes I’ve noticed in my lady garden is the difference in intercourse and my inability to maintain a full bladder. Unfortunately intercourse is not something most women like to talk about openly, and asking your partner “how does the strength of my vagina compare to your ex’s?” is perhaps a little distasteful at the best of times. But nonetheless morbid curiosity makes me question my rating on a scale of 1/10.
Before having children I’d say I was hyperthetically able to firmly grip a writing pencil from every angle without hands, and now after childbirth I can gently clasp a Crayola when I’m excited. Borderline too much information. I’m also less capable of holding volumes of liquid and find that I visit the toilet far more frequently, and a couple of times when I’m jumping, coughing or laughing too hard I’ve felt the need to suddenly rush to the toilet to prevent myself from having an accident, but fortunately I’ve always made it in time. This can also be known as stress incontinence, having a weak pelvic floor or poor bladder control and effects a massive one in three women. It can be caused by pregnancy and childbirth, the menopause, general ageing and is also hereditary, yet many are too embarrassed to do anything about it and resign it to fate, when it certainly doesn’t have to be. Although it is very mild for me and I’ve never had to wear panty liners or towels, I therefore wouldn’t class it as having a dramatic effect on my life, but there is certainly room for improvement in the pencil department. Just as I lift weights to build strength and muscles in my arms and legs, why not lift weights with your pelvic floor to regain control of those marvellous muscles and make intercourse far more enjoyable at the same time.
Upon researching pelvic floor muscle building devices I came across the Aquaflex Pelvic Floor Exercise System by Neen. The ingenious idea focuses upon inserting a weighted vaginal cone, a tampon-esque device, inside of you, to which your internal muscles have to clench in order to retain it. You can start with the device empty if needs be, adding more weight when you choose to as you gradually rebuild your strength. There are no batteries, cables, risk of electrocution or embarrassing accidents, as the weights help to strengthen the pelvic floor which is essentially a hammock to support the bladder, uterus and bowel within the body.
The device claims to reduce and cure all stress incontinence issues within just 12 weeks of use, and is used in the same way as a traditional tampon, with the cord remaining on the outside of the body and the cone sitting just below where a tampon would go so that you can touch the base of it with your finger. To start with, it’s advised that you keep your finger under the cone and try to tighten your muscles around it to hold it in place, if the correct muscles are stimulated the cone will be drawn inwards as you contract. However if you are using your stomach muscles the cone will be pushed outwards, so it’s important to be patient and practise isolating the muscles of the pelvic floor, something the majority of women do incorrectly.
There are two widths of cones included in the pack, one broad and one slim, along with four weights set at 5g, 10g and two 20g’s. To add weight to the cone you simply unscrew the casing and slip a weighted disk onto the inner tube, before screwing the casing back together and inserting the cone. It’s advised that you begin with the wider cone without the use of any weights to practise muscle training whilst standing up. Once you can retain the cone without any effort a weight can be added, and you can start adding weights until it becomes an effort to keep the cone in place for an indication of your starting weight. You then gradually look to increase the time of retaining the weighted cone for up to 20minutes each day, moving up in weight and duration as you progress.
As you become stronger you’ll no longer have to squeeze and lift the cone to keep it in place as the muscles will automatically retain it, using the cone daily to make slow and steady progress until you can hold all of the weights on the smallest cone. This can further be improved by jumping, exercising and running with the cone in place. After the initial 12 week training period, and once you are able to retain all the weights you needn’t use the cone daily, as you can check once a month after your period if you are still able to retain the cone to keep your pelvic floor muscles in check, using it again for a few days if needs be for maintenance. The cone can be washed with warm soapy water and is quick and convenient to clean, although it is not suitable for use during your period, intercourse, pregnancy or during a vaginal infection.
As the cone works best whilst standing, I’ve popped mine in for the first time today. Isolating the pelvic floor muscles was far harder than I thought it’d be, and it took me more than several minutes to clench and get the cone to rise up, as I realised what I thought was clenching was in fact pushing with my stomach muscles and the opposite of what I was trying to achieve. The way that I found my pelvic floor muscles was to drink a jug of water and sit on the toilet with a full bladder, as I went for a wee I kept stopping myself and starting and this gave me an almost rising upward sensation which stemmed the flow and indicated my pelvic floor was in use.
I started off with the most narrow cone to begin with using the 5g weight and building upwards. With each weight that I added I gave myself a mental high five in recognition of keeping it in place, before adding an extra weight at a time to establish my starting weight. In total I managed to add all of the weights on the smallest cone making 55g which is half the weight of an iphone and stood on the spot holding it in place for a few minutes. I never thought I’d be anywhere near that, as I guess we all have this self-destructive outlook of our own ability, and after having two children I was half expecting a road cone to slip out, sideways! So to hold the maximum weight first off is an amazing achievement, however when I walk the cone slips downwards and I have to stop and clench so it shows me that I have room for improvement, and with a little bit of practise and maintenance I can fine tune my pelvic floor muscles once again. My goal is to now use it everyday for as long as possible, progressing to walking and general activity, and finally, whether it’s possible or not, I’d love to be able to skip with the smallest cone in place on maximum weight.