Expecting a baby, or just given birth? Regardless of your age, pregnant and postpartum women should do pelvic floor exercises to prevent long-term complications with their pelvic floor.
Two common problems that people experience after giving birth are incontinence and pelvic prolapse. Urinary incontinence is commonly known as a weak or “leaky” bladder and can be quite embarrassing. Pelvic prolapse is described as feeling like something is falling out of your vagina. The technical explanation is when 1 or more of the organs in the pelvis slip down from their normal position and bulge into the vagina.
The reason that this can happen is that your pelvic muscles — the muscles that keep your urethra closed — come under a great strain during pregnant and childbirth. If you deliver naturally, through the vagina, there is a higher chance of problems. Your pelvic floor muscles, fascia, and nerves are stretched (and can lead to tears, which is another high-risk factor for incontinence). You should still do pelvic floor exercises if you have a cesarean though, as your muscles will have stretched and weakened.
“By one estimate, 35 percent of new mothers experience urinary incontinence following childbirth, and 20 percent of first-time moms experience severe pelvic floor muscle injury after a normal pregnancy and delivery.” Lifespan (2022).
Although pelvic floor exercises aren’t a surefire solution against these conditions, doing them before and after you give birth can help prevent, or make better, physical problems.
Strengthening your pelvic floor before childbirth will help the body cope with the growing weight of your child. Regular exercise will encourage the muscles to mend easier after you’ve given birth.
Doing pelvic floor exercises after childbirth will help prevent, or make better, stress incontinence. Pelvic floor muscles don’t get stronger by themselves, so it’s crucial that you take active steps to strengthen them.
It is never too soon to start pelvic floor exercises — you should begin before you’re even pregnant if you can! In the same sense, you can begin (or continue!) pelvic floor exercises as soon as you’ve given birth — as long as it isn’t painful.
What Are Pelvic Floor Exercises?
Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles around your bladder, vagina and bum.
You can do these exercises lying down, sitting, or standing up, and with or without the help of a Pelvic Floor Training Kit.
Many women opt for a pelvic floor trainer because it is easy to use. They are designed to help you to engage the correct muscle for enhanced performance and therefore promotes quicker and better results.
A progressive weight program, in particular, encourages you to improve pelvic floor strength from beginner to advanced weights and track your progress as you go.
What Do Pelvic Floor Exercises Look Like?
The simplest pelvic exercises ask you to imagine that you are holding your urine in for at least 10 seconds. Then slowly relax your pelvic floor for 5 seconds and repeat this process at least 10 times.
You can also attempt the Knack Technique — otherwise known as “bracing yourself”. You squeeze up and hold before you cough, sneeze, laugh or lift (or anything else that makes you leak urine).
More advanced pelvic floor exercises might have you squat, in yoga positions (e.g. the cat-cow or butterfly stretch) or on an exercise ball while you “squeeze” and hold your pelvic muscles.
You might also want to attempt Fast Kegels. Practice the squeeze and lift motion for 1 second each, and then repeat 10 times. These are safe for pregnant women, as long as care is taken.
Make It Your Routine
It can be difficult to remember to do your pelvic floor exercises. To help remind you, try to incorporate them into your routine or link them to something you do often— e.g. when you brush your teeth, boil the kettle, or eat your dinner.
We’d also recommend that you join a community of like-minded women through a Pelvic Floor Challenge or Pelvic Floor Muscles Workout Programme, which will encourage you to remember your Kegels.
Other Ways to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
As well as pelvic floor exercises, there are other things you can do to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. This includes,
- Don’t go for ‘just in case’ toilet trips! This trains your bladder to want to empty more often.
- Always completely empty your bladder when you do go to the toilet.
- Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water.
- Don’t lift heavy loads often.
- Have sex! Orgasms can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, and vice versa. The pelvic floor is tightened throughout the pre-orgasm phase of sex, and the orgasm occurs when the pelvic floor relaxes after that phase.
If you can’t sneeze, laugh, or cough without leaking wee, or you want to help prevent this before or after you give birth, make sure to commit to your pelvic floor exercises this week!
Read also related article: 6 Newborn Exercises With Your Baby