The pelvic floor is formed by several soft tissues that fill the outlet of the pelvis. The most important of these is a strong sheet of muscles, slung like a hammock from the walls of the pelvis.
Through these muscles pass the urethra, the vagina and the anal canal. There are 2 layers to the pelvic floor muscles, the superficial layer and the deep layer.
What does the pelvic floor do?
The pelvic floor muscles support the weight of the intestines, your uterus and unborn baby. They control urination, bowel movements and affect sensations during sexual intercourse. These muscles soften and weaken to a degree during pregnancy, due to the progesterone hormone, helping this area stretch for birth. However, when extra pressure is put onto the pelvic floor during pregnancy (say when you cough, laugh or sneeze), urine may be passed involuntarily because of a more relaxed pelvic floor.
What is the role of the pelvic floor during labour and birth?
During labour and birth the pelvic floor muscles guide the baby through the vagina to help them to be born. This natural process can further weaken the pelvic floor, although women who have had a Caesarean can also experience a weakened pelvic floor due to carrying the pregnancy. This is why pelvic floor exercises are important for all women throughout their lives, especially during and after pregnancy. You may wish to read pelvic floor exercises.
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Last revised: Monday, 5 May 2014
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.