To all my Second Wind peeps,
You haven’t seen me at the gym in a while, and I wanted to let you know why, because 1) I miss you and 2) I’d like to help prevent what happened to me from happening to others.
For those who don’t know, I had a baby in January. With my ob-gyn’s blessing I was back in the gym working out in February. Other than feeling uncomfortable when I ran, I was starting to feel like I was getting back in shape by May/June, and then, out of the blue, I was diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse (POP).
POP is a condition whereby the muscles of the pelvic floor, which normally act as a “hammock” for the pelvic organs, severely weaken, causing the organs to drop. Once the ligaments of the pelvic floor are stretched to a certain point, any exercise that involves lifting or impact needs to be avoided. In my case, I’ll likely never run, jump, or lift heavy weights again.
This condition affects nearly 1 in 4 women in some way, most often postpartum, and yet is it rarely discussed. It’s not even standard practice for ob/gyns to discuss the risk of prolapse with clients, or to check for weaknesses in the pelvic floor. My doctor told me everything looked great and that I was “cleared” to do whatever exercise felt okay. I followed these instructions, and spent the next 6 months doing exercises that felt perfectly fine, but were doing damage to my pelvic floor that is now beyond repair.
Her advice was probably acceptable for the average person, but insufficient for highly active women. If I’d known about this condition before or even immediately after my pregnancy, I would have trained MUCH differently, and I likely would have been able to prevent the prolapse from happening.
A couple of disclaimers before I go on:
1. I am in no way an expert in any of this. I am simply sharing what I have learned over the past few months from my own experience.
2. If you are pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant or were recently pregnant, this is not a
call to stop working out. As we’ve seen, most women do just fine continuing with their regular routine with a few modifications. But there are things that you can do pre and post partum to make sure that your pelvic floor is strong enough to endure high intensity exercise (and the physical strains of daily life) long term.
Lessons learned so far (I’m learning more every day):
1. Getting clearance from your ObGyn to exercise during/after pregnancy isn’t enough.
I highly recommend going to a pelvic floor specialist to make sure everything is strong, and where it’s supposed to be. Body Connect Health and Wellness is an excellent practice.
Know before going – if you really want your pelvic floor health to be evaluated and treated, they need to work internally (I’m talking about your vagina, people). Obviously they will not do an internal exam/therapy if you do not want them to, but the reason so many women don’t know about their pelvic floor health is because getting to those muscles is relatively invasive. The therapists at Body Connect do a wonderful job of making the experience as comfortable as possible.
2. “Listen to your body” isn’t helpful advice.
First of all, as CrossFitters, we have trained our brains to work through discomfort. It’s also pretty hard to listen out for a condition that you don’t even know exists, so I’m hoping to at least help with that here.
One symptom that I was aware of before getting pregnant was incontinence – this has become so common that it’s been accepted as normal – it’s not! If you experience incontinence when working out, go see a pelvic floor specialist. This was never an issue for me, which gave me confidence that I was fine. The only symptom I experienced was heaviness in my lower abdomen when I was running. I attributed it to having just had a baby and kept on doing what I could. I had no idea it was because my organs were falling out. There was never any worsening of symptoms. One day, the organs just dropped.
3. Get advice from a pelvic floor specialist before resuming exercise pre and post
You are, of course, free to make your own choices about what exercise you want to do during pregnancy, but I will now highly recommend that pregnant and postpartum athletes modify anything with impact (running, jump rope, box jumps, burpees) and heavy weights, even if these movement feel fine (again – they felt fine to me). This is most important after the first trimester, and I don’t even want to see you in class postpartum unless that baby is at least 6 weeks old. Talk to your coaches about modifications, and do
not do anything that feels remotely uncomfortable on your core or pelvis, even if it’s slight discomfort.
4. Men have pelvic floor issues too.
I’ve been more focused on researching pelvic floor issues in women, however I have learned about how so many men often suffer from chronic back pain as a result of a weak pelvic floor. For any guys interested in making sure they have a strong pelvic floor, Body Connect can be a good resource for you as well. A strong pelvic floor also helps with premature ejaculation (just sayin’).
There’s TONS of information out there about pelvic floor health. If you want to know more as it relates to CrossFit and exercise, especially for women, I invite you to check out www.briannabattles.com and www.juliewiebpt.com . Julie and Brianna have been pioneers in the efforts to educate coaches and athletes about pelvic floor health, and I’m taking two of Brianna’s online courses right now to help me better serve athletes pre and postpartum.
I’m not writing this to be dramatic, or because I want any attention for this – the last thing that I want for this is attention. I am embarrassed that it happened to me, especially as a coach, but think it’s important to share. Most women do not experience this to the degree that I have it, but if it does happen it is life changing, especially for those of us who are very active.
For the time being I’m only allowed to swim and bike, so you won’t see me in class unless I’m coaching. I’ll be taking an 8-week break from coaching beginning in mid-September, but I’ll be eager to be back working with you all (and hopefully even even working out with you some) after that. I’m not gone! I’ll visit with Henry in the meantime, and will see you in class as soon as I’m back!
Miss you guys!
To all my Second Wind peeps,