Well hello there and welcome to my blog about pregnancy-related products!
As a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist, I am often asked about various tools and supplies that can provide aid and support to new mums during pregnancy or in the early postpartum period. This got me thinking that it might be a good idea to discuss some of these products in a more global format.
Allow me to start by saying that I am in no way endorsing or discouraging any of the products that are discussed here. I have no affiliation with any of the companies that offer these products, and I have no intention of swaying your decision regarding whether or not to make a purchase. This is simply an informative blog about some of the more common products known to new mums and what our current research says about them. May I also say that although there are a TON of products available, i.e., belly rubs, nipple creams, breast pumps, carriers, etc., this blog will only address a few pelvic floor-related products about which I am often asked. So let’s begin…
The Maternity Belt
The Maternity Belt is designed to wrap around and gently compress the pelvic girdle, while also providing support to a new mum’s growing belly during pregnancy. Most mums will ask about this product during the third trimester, as the belly gets heavier and as baby moves downward into the pelvis. Sometimes these bodily changes can strain postural alignment and create pain in the low back and pelvic regions.
My first instinct when treating pain and malalignment is to try specific exercises that improve position and function, instead of relying solely on external tools to do so. Most often, these exercises are enough to correct pelvic girdle / low back pain and mum does not need to purchase a Maternity Belt. Occasionally, however, a mum will grow a larger-than-average baby, relative to her body size, and the pressure placed on the low back and pelvis is too much for exercises alone to be effective. In this case, I will provide mum with a Maternity Belt so she can maintain comfort during the remaining weeks of her pregnancy… because why be more uncomfortable than you need to be?
Once the pain has subsided and/or the baby has been delivered, I often suggest corrective exercises that teach mum to how to use her own musculoskeletal system, instead of a belt, to maintain pelvic alignment and functional control.
The EPI-NO stands for “no episiotomy”, and is a tool that can be used to help stretch the vaginal pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy, and help strengthen them in the postpartum period. Regular practice with the EPI-NO can begin at 37 weeks of pregnancy and can be used in lieu of perineal massage.
The EPI-NO is an inflatable balloon catheter attached to a pump and gauge. During pregnancy, it is used by inserting a deflated and lubricated balloon into the vagina and gradually filling it to the point of feeling a stretch. Over time, the catheter can be inflated to greater and greater sizes (depending on comfort level), up to a 10-cm diameter, which is the average circumference of a baby’s head.
After delivery, the EPI-NO can be used as a biofeedback tool to help retrain the pelvic floor muscles to properly contract and restore optimal functioning. Please note that it should not be used at all if you have placenta previa or have been told by your doctor or midwife to avoid intercourse during pregnancy.
My personal thoughts on the EPI-NO are that it can be a great tool to help with pelvic floor preparation and rehabilitation – but it is certainly not mandatory. There is mixed research as to whether it is useful and the jury is still out on whether it can definitively prevent the need for an episiotomy during labour. I often tell patients that it can be an expensive but valuable tool, so they should consider their personal goals, options, and finances prior to purchase.
The Ab-Wrap / Ab-Tank
The Ab-Wrap or Ab-Tank is a specialized belly wrap that is placed around the torso after delivery to facilitate healing of the rectus diastasis (aka DRA or “Mummy Tummy”). For those of you who are unfamiliar with DRA, check out my blog “Understanding ‘Mummy Tummy'” for more information.
The wrap is designed to heal a diastasis and help restore alignment of the six-pack abdominal muscles during the postpartum period. It can be purchased during pregnancy and applied immediately after delivery to take advantage of the most critical healing time for the diastasis. The Ab-Wrap or Ab-Tank is meant to support the pelvic and abdominal regions; and is not meant to “flatten the abs” or retrain the tummy. It is also not meant to be used in lieu of doing the appropriate pelvic floor rehabilitation exercises.
Belly wrapping for recovering new mums dates back many decades. I believe the Ab-Wrap or Ab-Tank can be a highly valuable tool in this matter, however, only when used in addition to performing your prescribed pelvic floor exercises. The goal is to retrain the deep core from the inside out, while maintaining good pelvic and abdominal alignment. The wrap is not designed to replace your deep core or make your body reliant on its support.
Clinically, I have found mixed reviews with this product, some mums find it very helpful in the first 8 weeks postpartum, while others find the wrap itself to be cumbersome and/or uncomfortable. Please do some research prior to purchasing this product and make sure that you don’t skimp on the exercises because of it!
The Vaginal Cone / Weight
The Vaginal Cone is a weighted object that is placed inside the vagina to help make pelvic floor contraction exercises easier and more effective. It is most often used during later postpartum periods to improve reduced sexual sensitivity, aid in the rehabilitation of a mild prolapse, and treat stress urinary incontinence.
The cone is thought to improve strength training by encouraging the pelvic floor muscles to contract reflexively or voluntarily when it feels like the cone is slipping out of the vagina. Ideally, its weight is supposed to provide a cue or stimulus, to make women contract the pelvic floor with greater force.
The Vaginal Cone can be a very helpful tool in the elimination of stress urinary incontinence, however, each woman is different in her specific needs. The research shows that each woman requires and/or responds uniquely to different stimuli during pelvic floor muscle training – there is more than one way to achieve optimal pelvic floor and deep core functioning.
In my practice, I have seen The Vaginal Cone be quite helpful for some new mums, and not so helpful for others. It depends on the specific cuing needs of the individual, as well as, how willing that individual may be to practice using the cones on a regular basis at home.
A Final Thought
So there you have it, a brief overview of some of the more common products that you may encounter in your pregnancy-related Google searches. Please note that although each of these products may offer some benefit, they may not be beneficial for everyone. They are also not to be used in lieu of your daily exercises, so spend wisely and know your options. I will also say that none of these products are mandatory for having a healthy and happy pregnancy – they may only supplement one’s pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery.
If you have any questions about your specific needs, or about any other products not mentioned in this blog, please do not hesitate to give us a call here at Lumira Wellness: (289) 427-0240 … we are more than happy to help! Until next time!
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