Pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy are vital for female health. These are more commonly known as Kegels or pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT). You probably associate them with moms or older ladies. They are a great way to strengthen the muscles in your vagina. Let’s dive in and discover just why you need to start going your Kegels today.
What is the Pelvic Floor?
Think of the pelvic floor as a hammock of muscles between your tail bone and your pubic bone. They hold all of your pelvic organs in place e.g. vagina, uterus, bowels and bladder. A normal pelvic floor allows you to control these organs such as peeing, pooing and passing wind.
If you’ve ever stopped yourself peeing mid flow or held in wind then you’ve used your pelvic floor muscles.
Pelvic Floor in Pregnancy
Pregnancy affects the pelvic floor in a lot of different ways. Let’s look at how pregnancy can cause the pelvic floor muscles to weaken.
- Weight – Your pelvic floor has to cope with the weight of a growing baby. With the average baby weighting around 7lbs or more, that’s a lot of stain on a small area.
- Labor – The pushing and exertion of labor can cause you to lose sensation in the pelvic floor for a few days.
- Damage – Tearing or cuts are common in labor. Most of these will occur on the pelvic floor muscles. Any tear that needs stitches will leave weakens scar tissues on the pelvic floor.
This is the damage you cause with each pregnancy. Now times that by how many children you plan to have and you can see how you are affected over time. You should start practicing pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible. Whether you are pregnant or trying to conceive or postpartum your body will benefit.
Benefits of Pelvic Floor Exercises during Pregnancy
You may be wondering just what benefit doing pelvic floor exercises will have to you. You’ll see from these benefits that a weak pelvic floor can have a pretty big impact of your life.
Avoid Urinary Incontinence
Have you ever heard of moms who pee when they sneeze, laugh or go on a trampoline? That because they have a weak pelvic floor. The stress of these activities causes an unintentional leak of urine. Strengthening the pelvic floor supports the area around the bladder.
A weak pelvic floor can result in a loss of sensitivity during sex. IT may also prevent women form being able to orgasm. Tightening the pelvic floor will increase sensation and result in stronger orgasms for you.
Without the support from your pelvic floor muscles your cervix can start to bulge out of your vagina. This often happens to women who have had a long, difficult labor or lots of vaginal deliveries. Some women don’t need treatment, however if it becomes problematic you may require a ring pessary or surgery.
Learning to control your pelvic floor muscles can assist your labor. Strong pelvic floor muscles control the delivery so babies so not delivery quickly putting you are greater risk of tearing. Your pelvic floor will help to turn your baby’s head in your pelvis to get them into the best position for being born.
How to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
These are the most common exercise physiotherapists use to strengthen your pelvic floor.
Basic Pelvic floor contraction
Get yourself into a comfortable position either standing, sitting or lying. Your knee should be slightly apart. Pretend you are trying to stop yourself from passing wind. You will feel a ‘squeeze and lifting’ sensation in the lower half of your body. Relax the muscles back to normal.
It important to target the right muscles. Otherwise you may not make any improvement or worsen your symptoms. Make sure you are not:
- Clenching your butt
- Squeezing your legs together
- Holding your breath
Remember quality of pelvic floor exercises is better than quantity. To check if you are doing them right you can try these methods:
- Use a mirror – Look at your vagina in the mirror as you do the exercise. You should see your perineum (flat area between your vagina and anus) moving away from the mirror.
- Touch the perineum – Reach down and touch the perineum as your do your exercises. You should feel the squeeze and lift motion on your hand.
- Squeeze your finger – With clean hands insert the tip of a finger or thumb into the vagina. So a pelvic floor contraction. You should feel your vagina tightening around your finger.
- Squeeze your partner – During sex you can contact your pelvic floor. Your partner should feel your vagina tightening.
Pelvic Floor Exercise Routine
It’s important to alternate the type of pelvic contraction. This helps to give your pelvic floor a range of motion and strengthens specific muscles.
This technique gets you to do quick rhythmic squeezes lasting up to one second each. Repeat the exercise until your pelvic floor gets tired. Aim to do this three times a day. Note how many repetitions you can do and aim to improve this over time.
Start with a basic pelvic floor contraction and hold it for up to 10 seconds. Let your muscles relax for around 4 seconds. Repeat the exercise until you muscles get tired. Do this 3 times a day and aim to improve the repetitions and length of time you hold the contraction for.
When to do them
Aim to do your pelvic floor exercise at least three times a day. It can be difficult to remember to do them when you first start. Try setting an alarm on your phone to remind you. There are also apps available to remind you to do your pelvic floors.
We highly recommend doing perineal massage in pregnancy. This helps to stretch out the skin on the perineum. The massage also improves circulation to the area. This helps to prevent tears and episiotomy during labor.
If you had a normal delivery you can start your Kegels as soon as the sensation returns. For instrumental or C-sections births you need to wait until your catheter is out. You may also want to wait until your urine output has returned to normal to prevent worsening any post-delivery problems.
You will need to continue doing your pelvic floor exercises daily for the rest of your life. If you stop doing them your pelvic floor may weaken again. Starting your pelvic floor exercises early will prevent problems which worsen with age and menopause.
Pelvic Floor Trainers
You should always start out by using basic pelvic floor exercises. They are free and effective with proper technique. There are devices available to aid your pelvic floor exercise. These should not be used as a replacement for regular pelvic floor exercise. They are more suitable for use after you’ve had baby but wait until you are at least 6 weeks postpartum. Discuss with your health care provider if they think these devices are OK for you to use during pregnancy.
This type of device uses an electric pulse to tighten the pelvic floor muscles for you. It’s like a slender tone for your vagina. A small probe device is place inside the vagina for around 20 minutes per session. The device will pulse and tighten the vagina.
The advantage of this device is that it can help women with very weak pelvic floor muscles. It can also you get started if you have poor sensation and can’t locate the correct muscles.
The drawback is that manual exercises as much more effective. IF you are committed to 20 minutes a day for your pelvic floor, that time is best used doing contractions. Use our tips above to check you are targeting the correct muscles with your contractions, and do them regularly. It’s the only way they will work for you.
Bio Feedback (Perinometer)
This device work by detecting the strength of your pelvic floor. A senor is place into the vagina and feedback your contractions to a small screen. The device tell you the strength of your contractions. There are usually in pre-set programs which prompt you to squeeze or release.
These machine will only work well if you do your Kegels correctly. They are best used by those who are intermediate or experienced with pelvic floor exercises. Weak pelvic floor muscles tend not to register well on these devices. We highly recommend one of these devices for daily use as part of your long term pelvic floor maintenance.
Vaginal Cones (Weights)
These are a fairly inexpensive device and easy to maintain. We highly recommend vaginal cones for those who have mastered the contraction. They are great for building up extra strength and giving the pelvic floor more resistance.