written by Natalie Pattillo

Body Banter

Changing Herstory On Pelvic Health

Raise your hand if your mom, grandma, or caretaker always told you to use the restroom before leaving the house? Does "Honey, even if you don't feel like you need to, try and go just in case" sound familiar? As a grown up human, have you told your kiddos (or nieces/friends' kids) the same? Me too👋🏾!

But, Lindsey, our beloved resident pelvic floor guru, says that being conditioned to go "just in case" during your childhood can unintentionally cause stress around using the bathroom. Ever wonder why you're rushing to the closest restroom only 20 minutes after peeing? It's not because your bladder is full again (well, unless you chugged a brew or two...cheers! 🍺). Typically, your bladder should be able to accommodate about 16 oz of liquid before you feel the urge. Sooo, if you consistently went just in case (before your bladder reached capacity) at an early age, you might've taught your body and brain to trigger that you need to pee before your bladder is actually full. Sort of like if you always filled up your car's gas tank when it got down to half full, and then your car started turning on it's low gas light at half a tank instead of close to empty. 

Lindsey says that anxiety around potty training or bedwetting (totally normal to happen until a child is 8, btw) can cause kids to believe that their bodies can't be trusted. Kids internalize shame around peeing accidents (or sometimes pooping), which causes them to think they are incapable of making it to the restroom in time. They feel as though they're forever doomed to wet the bed during a friend's slumber party. That is no fun 😞. As you grow up, that lack of trust between your brain and your body can exacerbate urge or stress incontinence.

Also, studies show that the language and attitudes we use to talk about our body parts and natural functions like peeing, pooping, and periods can impact how we feel and think about our bodies. If a child (or even an adult) feels like they can't use medically-accurate vocabulary to discuss bodily functions, then they are less likely to feel comfortable about their bodies. We can't expect to understand the intricacies of these parts and what they do if we just call that entire below-the-belt region "your private part." And this folks, is how shame and taboo around leaking starts. Pediatricians say that teaching kids terms like "vagina", "penis," or "pelvic health" informs them on how to ask important questions about every body part and bodily function. Teaching them to use the right terminology at an early age can also help them understand about consent and privacy. 

But, we can't really blame ourselves or our dear parents or caretakers for not teaching us. Why? Because pelvic floor therapy is a fairly new health arena. It only started in 1995! That's...*uses calculator to double check math*...only 22 years ago! We're just now benefitting from research that informs us about our pelvic floors and how those parts can relate to our dreaded dribble dilemmas. The beauty in all of this is that we can teach our children while learning as adults!

So to get schooled, we also chatted with Missy Lavender, founder Women's Health Foundation, a national pelvic health & wellness non-profit. Missy and Jeni Donatelli Ihm authored Below Your Belt, a pelvic health handbook that teaches women and girls about what goes on "down there" in addition to menstruation. In essence, the book gives parents the tools to teach themselves (me included!) and their kids simultaneously. That's a pretty worthwhile 2-for-1 special if you ask me!

Readers as young as 8 can learn about the parts (and correct terminology) for the pelvic region (bones, muscles, and organs) along with the relationship it has with our digestive, reproductive, and urinary systems. For instance, they'll learn healthy practices like eating plenty of fiber to avoid constipation, wiping properly after peeing/pooping (front to back, ladies!) to prevent UTIs, fully eliminating their bladders, and exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles. With this book and open conversations with our kids (and ourselves...yes, that inner dialogue can be one helluva beast), we can rewrite how future generations learn about their bodies. I think I've said this before but for emphasis sake, I'll say it again...disembodiment is disempowerment, y'all. We gotta know how amazing our body is before we can fully trust it. Amirite?!

*~How did your parents or caretakers teach you about natural bodily functions?~*