Heba Shaheed is the co-founder of The Pelvic Expert, where she provides online exercise, nutrition and pelvic floor physiotherapy programs for mothers, pregnant women, and women with pelvic pain and endometriosis. Heba has over 7 years experience in women's health physiotherapy, nutrition and exercise.
Question: What do you hope to achieve this Women's Health Week?
Heba Shaheed: I would love to raise awareness about women's health and pelvic health issues. Issues like period pain, incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and sexual pain affect so many women, and have been swept under the rug for far too long. I would like to provide support to women who are affected by these issues and empower them with knowledge that they can overcome them and live healthier lives.
Question: What symptoms are associated with a weak pelvic floor?
Heba Shaheed: Women who have weak pelvic floor muscles will tend to experience issues such as bladder or bowel incontinence. This could be leaking with coughing, sneezing, laughing, jumping, running or exercise. Women with pelvic organ prolapse, back pain and abdominal separation are also likely to have pelvic floor weakness.
There is also the issue of tense pelvic floor muscles which is the cause of painful sex and tense pelvic floor muscles are also common in women with period pain and endometriosis, as well as some women with back pain and chronic pelvic pain. Chronic constipation can also be a sign of a tense pelvic floor.
Question: Who most often experiences pelvic floor issues?
Heba Shaheed: Pelvic floor weakness issues like incontinence and prolapse generally affects women who have given birth or women who have gone through menopause.
Pelvic floor tightness can affect any woman, but is more common in women who experience period pain, chronic constipation and painful sex.
Question: How can we improve our pelvic floor?
Heba Shaheed: Pelvic floor exercises are important for any woman with pelvic floor issues. If her issue is a weak pelvic floor, then squeezing and lifting her pelvic floor muscles (kegels, as well as with exercise) is important.
If her issue is a tense pelvic floor, pelvic floor relaxation exercises (or reverse kegels) are important. I highly recommend that women get in touch with a women's health physiotherapist to assess their pelvic floor and provide recommendations for the best exercises for her.
Question: How can we avoid pelvic floor issues all together?
Heba Shaheed: This is difficult to answer, because our modern lifestyles and motherhood can trigger pelvic floor issues.
Being mindful of your pelvic floor muscles and doing the right exercises for you is important.
Reducing stress and not clenching the pelvic floor all the time.
Being prepared for birth and seeing a women's health physiotherapist as soon as possible after 6 weeks post-birth will help prevent pelvic floor issues later on in life.
Question: What does a women need to know, about her body, after having a baby?
Heba Shaheed: Your body will change, there's no doubt about that. By the end of pregnancy, almost every mum will have some degree of abdominal separation, and about 40% of these don't heal spontaneously after birth. Don't expect your baby belly to disappear right away; it can take up to 24 months for healing to occur.
About 30-50% of mums will have pelvic organ prolapse and experience urinary incontinence, and about 13% will experience faecal incontinence. It's important to consult with a women's health physiotherapist and retrain your core and pelvic floor muscles after birth. These issues can be resolved and women do not have to put up with them.
Question: What advice do you have for new mums who are experiencing painful sex?
Heba Shaheed: Because of the changing hormones and tearing, many mums will experience painful sex, so it is important to do scar tissue massage (regardless of vaginal birth or c-section birth) from 6 weeks post-birth, as well as use lots of lubricant during sex.
If you're breastfeeding, your lactation hormone will inhibit estrogen, making yourvulvovaginal area dryer. If intercourse is too painful, remember that there are other forms of love-making that don't involve penetration, and can be more pleasurable in this time.
Question: What inspired the beginning of The Pelvic Expert?
Heba Shaheed: I've suffered from pelvic health issues for most of my life, and was really frustrated by the lack of education and support available to me. I found the solutions to my issues in women's health physiotherapy and nutrition.
I wanted to create a platform for other women suffering from pelvic health issues that provided accessible and affordable solutions, as well as a community of women's health professionals and women with similar issues.
I loved working 1-1 with women and I've been able to empower thousands of women to overcome their issues through my physical practice in Sydney CBD. Now with an online practice, I hope to reach millions of women globally, especially those in remote locations without access to high quality healthcare.
Question: What types of issues do your patients deal with?
Heba Shaheed: They deal with the physical pelvic floor issues, menstrual issues, bladder and bowel issues including:
Period pain and endometriosis
Pelvic organ prolapse
Diastasis rectus abdominis or abdominal separation
But more so they have to deal with the frustration of not having access to solutions and support.
Question: What message would you like to send, this Womens' Health Week?
Heba Shaheed: Women's health issues are common. But they are NOT normal. You don't have to put up with these issues. And they are not in your head. You just need to find someone who will listen and coach you through your recovery. If you have pelvic health issues, reach out to us at The Pelvic Expert.
In honour of Women's Health Week on September 4-8, I will be hosting a FREE Pelvic Floor Fitness Challenge exclusively for Mums.
I would love for this challenge to be shared with this article to reach as many mums as possible so that they can learn how to work their pelvic floor correctly, guided by women's health physiotherapists. thepelvicexpert.com/challenge
Interview by Brooke Hunter