Expert Avenue: Postpartum Health
Postpartum Health and Dealing with Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Postpartum health is an issue that many women neglect. After all, with that tiny new baby to look after, it’s easy to forget that Mom needs some care as well. A woman’s body can take up to three years to fully recover from pregnancy and childbirth. Taking good care of oneself during that time is vital to long-term health and well-being, especially if a new mom has developed the early signs of pelvic organ prolapse. Early care and treatment may stop the disorder from progressing beyond those early symptoms or even help eliminate them.
Why Postpartum Health Matters
Women are typically warned against heavy lifting and other high-impact activities right after giving birth and advised to do Kegel exercises, but the reasons these things are so important are often not thoroughly explained. The pelvic floor, which is made up of muscles and connective tissue, plays an essential role in the support and function of pelvic organs, including the bladder and uterus. Childbirth can stretch or weaken the pelvic floor. Taking good care of yourself during the postpartum period is essential to the healing process.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) happens when the pelvic floor becomes too damaged to support the pelvic organs properly, allowing them to drop lower than normal in the pelvis and put pressure on the vagina. Childbirth is the primary risk factor for POP, which occurs in about half of women who have given birth. Other factors that can increase POP risk include obesity, smoking, heavy lifting and chronic constipation. For most women, the condition will be mild, causing no problems or very minor ones. In mild to moderate cases, non-invasive treatments can often minimize or resolve symptoms. In a small percentage of women, POP can produce severe, life-changing symptoms that require surgical intervention.
Women affected by pelvic organ prolapse may experience pain or pressure in the pelvic area or lower back, vaginal bleeding and painful sexual intercourse. Urinary problems can occur, such as incontinence, urinary retention or frequent urinary tract infections. Bowel function can be affected, resulting in issues like chronic constipation or fecal incontinence. A bulge may develop in the vaginal area, or, in severe prolapse, organs may protrude from the body.
Dealing with Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Physical therapy can be very effective in resolving or managing mild to moderate POP symptoms. Therapists generally use pelvic floor exercise to strengthen weakened muscles. Biofeedback is frequently used to monitor muscle strength and performance, and resistance is often incorporated in the form of specialized weights. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes as well, like losing weight or quitting smoking, and a pessary may be prescribed — which is a medical device placed in the vagina to support prolapsed organs.
When non-invasive treatments fail, surgery may be recommended. However, it is important to be informed about all available surgical options. Procedures that use vaginal mesh implants to repair POP have come under fire in recent years, with thousands of women experiencing very serious complications, including erosion of the mesh, perforation of organs, mesh contraction and infection. POP can be treated without these implants, so be sure to discuss non-mesh repair options with your doctor. Several women have filed vaginal mesh lawsuits because of how severely the mesh has affected them.
Elizabeth Carrollton writes about defective medical devices and dangerous drugs for Drugwatch.com.