You are pregnant and looking forward to the delivery of your baby. This is a good time to help get your pelvic floor in shape for childbirth and afterwards.
Yes, you have a pelvic floor. This is the term for the muscles and connective tissue that are just underneath your pelvis. These muscles (the levator ani and coccygeus muscles, for those of you who love anatomy) support the organs of your abdomen, including your bladder and uterus, and help keep them in their proper positions. Your pelvic floor also maintains both urinary continence and intestinal continence, which are important jobs.
The muscles of your pelvic floor will be put through a real workout during your delivery. For many women, giving birth can weaken the muscles of their pelvic floor, leaving them with some urinary incontinence, which is the technical term for not being able to control their bladders, or in a worse scenario, fecal incontinence, which is not being able to control their bowels. Read more about it here.
There are several possible causes for weakened pelvic floor muscles, including abdominal surgery, straining due to chronic constipation, chronic severe cough, and obesity, and it can happen in men, too. But the most common causes in women are pregnancy and childbirth.
The good news is that these muscles work better if you exercise them regularly. The muscles of your pelvic floor can be strengthened by doing what are called Kegel exercises or Kegels.
Kegel (pronounced KAY-gle) exercises are named for Dr. Arnold Kegel, an obstetrician who realized that strengthening the pelvic muscles helped in treating urinary incontinence after childbirth.
How to Kegel
Kegels exercises are simple, but you have to make sure you are exercising the right muscles. Here is how to identify these muscles: The next time you sit on the toilet to pee, stop your urination in mid-flow. The muscles you tighten or contract when you stop your stream of urine are the right muscles. Try not to tighten the muscles in your abdomen, thighs, or buttocks when you do this. Feel what you are doing so that you can do it again when you are not peeing.
Once you have identified the right muscles, you can start doing Kegels. Contract these muscles and hold that contraction for 10 seconds, then release it. Do this tightening and release 10 times. Repeat this 3 to 5 times a day. Don’t hold your breath, just breathe normally as you do the set of repetitions.
You may find it easier to do Kegels while you are lying down for the first few times. Once you get the hang of Kegels, you can do them at anytime and anywhere. Unlike crunches or push-ups, no one can tell you are doing Kegel exercises!
If you don’t think you are doing Kegels correctly, talk to your obstetrician or midwife.
You can start doing Kegel exercises during your pregnancy, and keep doing them for the rest of your life. These exercises can help prevent urinary incontinence that can occur later in life.
And there is a happy bonus to having a pelvic floor that is in good shape. Many women have reported that doing Kegel exercises frequently helps their sexual response and enhances sex for them.