During pregnancy, you may give a lot of attention to your growing belly, sore back, and swollen ankles – but how often do you think about your pelvic floor? Your pelvic floor is a network of muscles that support the pelvic organs including the bladder, intestines and uterus (and also regulates waste removal through urine and feces).
There are several reasons why you would want to exercise your pelvic floor muscles. For one thing, during labor, the pelvic floor and the abdominal muscles work together in order to help birth the baby. Having a stronger pelvic floor can make the birthing process easier and help prevent vaginal tearing. Tearing can happen when you push as the baby is crowning. This creates a lot of stress on the tissues, causing a tear. If you are able to control the muscles and let the contractions naturally push the baby out, the skin will gradually stretch, reducing any tissue tears, ultimately helping you to have a quicker recovery.
Also, as your pregnancy progresses, the uterus continues to grow leaving less room for other organs like the bladder. To prevent urine leakage women need to be able to control their pelvic floor muscles. Incontinence can be an issue postpartum; and it can be an embarrassing to devastating condition caused by pelvic floor dysfunction.
Now that you are an expert on the pelvic floor and what it means to you, how do you learn control and build strength? First, you need to locate those muscles, which can be difficult because they are most often used involuntarily. In order to “find” the right muscles, think of what you do to stop peeing mid-flow or when you try to hold in some gas. The muscles you feel squeeze are your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles work synergistically with our core and even gluteal muscles. Here are a couple of exercises to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles:
- Kegels are the most traditional pelvic floor exercise. Basically, these are repetitions of squeezing and releasing the pelvic floor muscles. The great thing about Kegels is you can do them anywhere at any time and nobody will know you are doing them. Try to do 10 repetitions multiple times throughout the day – the more the better! Reverse Kegels are the same concept of squeeze and release, only the emphasis is on a slow and controlled release. For these exercises, hold the Kegel and slowly release over 3-5 seconds.
- You can pair Kegels with abdominal exercises, too. Do a Kegel squeeze and then gradually draw in the belly or tighten your core muscles while holding the Kegel. Just think Squeeze – Lift – Hold. Exercises like these can be held for 10 seconds to 30 seconds – just don’t forget to breathe!
Try to do these exercises in many different positions including standing, sitting, lying on your back (not during pregnancy), and in a hands and knees position. Varying the duration and intensity will also improve overall results. This means holding for as long as you can, squeezing as quickly as you can, or releasing for as long as you can.
In addition to avoiding incontinence and tearing, women are often concerned, but don’t always feel comfortable talking about, how the area will heal and if sex will be as good after having a child. However, if you are able to strengthen and control this network of muscles, all of these problems are less likely to occur. For additional support, consider a consult with a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health and the pelvic floor.
This Blog post was originally written by Erica for Isis Parenting in 2012. Click here to see the original post and many more great things still left from Isis Parenting.