We need to talk about your postpartum pelvic health

pelvis of woman in postpartum diaper holding baby postpartum pelvic health
Anastasia Khandozhenko/Stocksy

Think back to your most recent experience with pre- and postnatal healthcare—do you remember anyone taking the time to evaluate your “pelvic health”? We’re guessing the answer is no. Pelvic health refers generally to your bladder, bowel and sexual function, and also includes pain conditions that present in and around the pelvis. For most birthing people, these topics are barely touched on by their OB-GYN.

According to the 2024 Origin Pelvic Health Study, a survey conducted by major market research firm Ipsos and made possible through funding from Rise Together ventures, 75% of U.S. women between the ages of 19 and 58 have dealt with two or more pelvic health symptoms, yet 96% had not received a related medical diagnosis.

If you’re postpartum, it’s even more likely that you have several pelvic health symptoms—and that they get in the way of your day-to-day happiness. According to the Origin study, about 8 in 10 women with pelvic health symptoms who gave birth within the past 5 years say that these symptoms negatively impact their lives.

Postpartum pelvic health symptoms are highly common, study finds

Other key study findings among U.S. women ages 18 to 59 who have had a baby within the past year:

Bladder symptoms

  • 67% report bladder leaks when they cough, sneeze or exercise

  • 51% report feeling like they had to pee again right away (incomplete voiding)

  • 47% report feeling like they could barely hold their pee

  • 43% report peeing more than once every two hours

Bowel symptoms

  • 50% report feeling like they can’t fully empty their stool

  • 48% report straining to have a bowel movement

  • 32% report pain with having a bowel movement

Prolapse symptoms

  • 24% report a feeling of heaviness in the pelvis

  • 14% report feeling that something was falling out of their vagina

Sexual symptoms

  • 47% report inability to orgasm

  • 37% report unsatisfying orgasm

  • 32% report pain with sex

  • 23% report delayed orgasm

What these symptoms have to do with your pelvic floor

More often than not, the symptoms listed above are directly related to what’s going on with your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is a multi-layered network of muscles, ligaments and connective tissue that forms a hammock at the base of your pelvis.

Your pelvic floor is responsible for all of the following and more:

  • Helping to support the weight of your pelvic organs (including your uterus)

  • Holding in and (when you’re ready) releasing urine & feces

  • Allowing for pain-free sexual penetration and satisfying orgasm

  • Increasing blood circulation throughout your pelvis

  • Contributing to core strength, stability and pain-free movement

Pregnancy alone—with its hormonal changes, skeletal shifts and massive increase in abdominal weight and pressure—tends to push the pelvic floor muscles to their limit and beyond. Add the strain and intense healing involved in a vaginal birth or major abdominal surgery (aka a C-section), and it makes perfect sense that pelvic health symptoms are so common postpartum.

Postpartum women aren’t receiving essential pelvic health care

In many countries, with France being the most well known, postpartum patients are automatically evaluated for pelvic floor dysfunction and referred to a pelvic floor physical therapist for rehabilitation. In the US, women are typically sent home from the hospital with little to no information about healing their pelvic floor.

According to the Origin Study, 86% of women who had giving birth within the past 5 years said they received no guidance on how to heal their pelvic floor after childbirth, 83% said they received no guidance on how to heal their abdominals after pregnancy and childbirth, 71% said they received no guidance on how to exercise safely after childbirth.

What’s more, 44% of women who had a baby in the past 5 years say providers did not help them understand what is or isn’t normal in terms of their pelvic health systems. And 23% said they felt “not at all supported” by their medical providers during their postpartum recovery.

Perhaps the most shocking stat to come out of the study is that 1 in 6 women who had given birth in the past 5 years said that their interactions with the healthcare system during their most recent delivery made them less likely to have another child.

How to take care of your pelvic health in postpartum and beyond

Whether you gave birth 5 weeks, 5 months or 5 years ago, it’s not too late to check in on your pelvic health and get the care you need for pain and symptoms, like bladder leaks, trouble fully emptying your bladder or bowels, frequent urination, chronic constipation, low back and tailbone pain or pain with sex.

“These symptoms are extremely common, but they are not normal,” says Liz Miracle, PT, WCS, Head of Clinical Quality & Education at Origin. “Just because you’ve had a baby does not mean you have to endure a lifetime of uncomfortable or painful symptoms.”

Even though pelvic floor physical therapy is a first-line, evidence based treatment for postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction, it’s not well utilized. According to the Origin study, 92% of women who had given birth within the past 5 years had not seen a pelvic floor PT to support their most recent postpartum recovery.

The upshot is that your doctor is unlikely to refer you to a pelvic floor PT unless you ask, which is worth doing. Working one-on-one with a pelvic expert who can provide you with a personalized treatment plan will get the best results. Origin offers a pelvic floor quiz to help figure out your issue and a free 10-minute consultation to start an action plan and get your questions answered.

If you don’t have access to medical care, there are other options. Some pelvic floor PTs offer less expensive online courses that can get you on your way. But your most important first step? Recognizing that you deserve care—and that options to help you live pain-free are out there.

A version of this story was originally published on May 26, 2024. It has been updated.