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Narrative review of pelvic floor muscle training for childbearing women—why, when, what, and how

Abstract

Introduction and hypothesis

Urinary incontinence (UI) is prevalent during pregnancy and postpartum. UI in pregnancy strongly predicts UI postpartum and later in life. UI reduces women’s wellbeing and quality of life and presents a significant burden to healthcare resource.

Methods

A narrative review summarizing quantitative and qualitative evidence about pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) for prevention and treatment of UI for childbearing women.

Results

There are clinically important reductions in the risk of developing UI in pregnancy and after delivery for pregnant women who start PFMT during pregnancy, and PFMT offers additional benefits preventing prolapse and improving sexual function. If women develop UI during pregnancy or postpartum then PFMT is an appropriate first-line treatment. For novice exercisers, a programme comprising eight contractions, with 8-s holds, three times a day, 3 days a week, for at least 3 months is a reasonable minimum and ‘generic’ prescription. All women need clear accurate verbal instruction in how to do PFMT. Incontinent women, and women who cannot do a correct contraction, require referral for pelvic floor rehabilitation. Behavioural support from maternity care providers (MCPs)—increasing women’s opportunity, capability, and motivation for PFMT—is as important as the exercise prescription.

Conclusion

PFMT is effective to prevent and treat UI in childbearing women. All pregnant and postpartum women, at every contact with a MCP, should be asked if they are continent. Continent women need exercise prescription and behavioural support to do PFMT to prevent UI. Incontinent women require appropriate referral for diagnosis or treatment.

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Funding

Support for the authors was provided via internal funding from the University of Otago, New Zealand.

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Correspondence to E. Jean C. Hay-Smith.

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Woodley, S.J., Hay-Smith, E.J.C. Narrative review of pelvic floor muscle training for childbearing women—why, when, what, and how. Int Urogynecol J 32, 1977–1988 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00192-021-04804-z

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Keywords

  • Behavioural support
  • Exercise
  • Pelvic floor
  • Pregnant women
  • Postpartum
  • Urinary incontinence