When you read the word, ‘menopause’, did you feel the need to groan?
In case there is any confusion, ‘menopause’ describes the changes and side-effects that happen when women stop menstruating. We only have a finite number of eggs stored in our ovaries and when we run out, the systems responsible for releasing an egg and going through a menstrual cycle are no longer necessary.
The fact that the word ‘pause’ features in this word seems slightly ironic, because although our menstrual cycles pause (for good!), life can feel far more hectic - at least at first. The good news is that despite popular opinion, menopause isn’t all bad. We'll get to that soon – but let's explore the oft considered niggly side of menopause first.
Generally, there are three stages of menopause:
This stage generally happens several years before your menstrual cycle stops completely, and the side effects can give you clues that the body is preparing for menopause. It’s a transitional time, generally lasting between 2-5 years, when your body slows down the production of estrogen and progesterone (the female sex and reproductive hormones). It’s likely that you will still get your period during this time though they may become more intermittent. This is the phase that is most often associated with the ‘symptoms’ of menopause.
Typically, perimenopause begins between the ages of 45-55 although genetics, certain surgeries that impact the ovaries and chemotherapies can play a part in the process beginning earlier than this.
Symptoms can include but are not limited to:
- Hot flashes (a sudden heat sensation that can affect the speed of the heart and redness of the skin)
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Disturbed sleep
- Decreased libido
- A drop in self-confidence
- Bladder leakage
That list is enough to have us screaming in unison, 'let's just get our periods forever!' - but bear with, because, it DOES get better.
When you haven’t experienced a menstrual period in over a year, you can be relatively certain that you’ve ‘reached’ menopause. At this stage, the ovaries no longer release eggs (as they now don’t exist) and the production of estrogen and progesterone has decreased.
The average age women hit menopause in the USA is 51 years.
Postmenopause happens during the years after hitting menopause and although they don’t disappear completely, some of the menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings can subside significantly. This stage is when the good stuff (finally!) starts to emerge.
Let’s explore a few of the things you can look forward to when you are free to sit back and relish in your postmenopausal bliss:
- Sex without worrying about pregnancy
Now THIS is something we can get on board with! Regardless of what protection you use, most women report that sex is far more enjoyable when there is no worry about falling pregnant – so what better excuse than menopause to leave inhibitions at the (closed) door?
- Fewer headaches
Menopausal headaches getting you down? No more! Fluctuations in the hormones responsible for our menstrual cycles are not as severe – so those pesky migraines and headaches just before you get your period are kicked to the curb, freeing you up to focus on other things (see above).
- No PMS
- Menopausal energy and vitality
It's reported that during menopause, many women see an opportunity for growth, reassessment and a shift in priorities for the better – and why should your experience be any different? It's a blimmin' milestone – and you deserve to move on to the next stage with positivity and excitement. It's a great chance to take stock, to see where your time is best spent, to focus on your health, what you enjoy and the people you want to surround yourself with the most.
Is it coincidental that midlife is a time when women are inclined to take more chances in career, experience improved relationships and start their own business? We think not.
However, because of the fact we have a body and we are not in total control of what it does, even during postmenopause we can still be affected by the decreased amount of estrogen in our systems, meaning that side effects like bladder leakage can persist - but fear not, this needn't be a handbrake! Read on.
Why does low estrogen affect bladder control?
Before we talk about this, it’s important to talk about the pelvic floor. Located between the hips, your pelvic floor is an area made up of muscles and tissues, which act as a hammock to support the uterus, the bladder, the small intestine and the rectum. The strength of these muscles declines as a natural part of aging, pregnancy and childbirth.
Estrogen helps to ensure that the pelvic floor area is elastic and supple. During menopause as estrogen drops, these tissues become thinner and elasticity around the pelvic floor area is compromised. This can mean that key areas that control urination (such as the bladder and the urethra) can weaken (or is it wee-kin?), making bladder leaks more likely.
How can I get my pelvic floor strength back?
The good news is that there are ways to build strength in your pelvic floor region and gain better control over your bladder. Some easy exercises you can incorporate into your daily routine are called ‘kegel’ exercises. To get started:
- Locate your pelvic floor muscles by trying to stop urinating mid-stream. Make sure you don’t tense the muscles in your buttocks, thighs, or abdomen, and try not to hold your breath
- Contract your pelvic floor muscles for five seconds, then fully relax for a count of three. Repeat this combination ten times, and complete this set three times per day
- At first, it might be easier if you do these exercises lying down in the comfort of your own home – but when you upgrade to a kegel-exercise-pro, you can do these contractions standing
- Bonus tip - track your daily progress in a diary to keep motivated
Although but one of the possible side effects of menopause, bladder leakage can make socializing and staying active at any life stage extremely unappealing. Throughout the menopause cycle and beyond, keeping on top of your wellbeing by staying fit and having support from family and friends are extremely important aspects of maintaining your sanity – so we don’t want bladder leakage to hold you back.
Grab a pair of Confitex underwear while you’re working to regain pelvic floor strength or heading out with the girls, so you feel comfortable that while you’re out there getting on with it, your leaks are supported. During this time of change and fresh opportunities – every bit of confidence helps.