Pelvic Floor Exercises during Pregnancy
What is The Pelvic Floor?
Both women and men have a pelvic floor, but it plays an extra roll for women. It is the connective tissue, muscles, ligaments and nerves that support the bladder, rectum, uterus, and vagina. The muscles of the pelvic floor stretch from the pubic bone to the backbone. The pelvic floor is especially important during pregnancy. This is because it supports your growing uterus.
Specific Functions of The Pelvic Floor
A common complaint among pregnant women is accidentally leaking urine when coughing or sneezing. You may also find it more difficult to hold in your urine. Not being able to control urination is called urinary incontinence. The reason this happens is because the strain on the pelvic floor from the growing uterus weakens the pelvic floor, giving you less control over your bladder.
In addition to helping to control urination, the pelvic floor also aids in controlling the bowel.A weakened pelvic floor can lead to bowel incontinence. Bowel incontinence, also known as fecal incontinence, is the inability to control the bowel. This can lead to embarrassing accidents and is also the reason that many pregnant women have trouble controlling flatulence.
Support of the Vagina
The pelvic floor also plays a vital role in supporting the vagina. When the pelvic floor is weakened by pregnancy or otherwise, it can cause pelvic organ prolapse. This is when the organs in the pelvis – such as the bladder, uterus, and rectum – drop out of place. When this happens, they tend to push against the walls of the vagina. This can result in vaginal pain and a bulge in the vagina. It can also cause reduced vaginal sensitivity and negatively impact your sex life.
How Pregnancy Affects the Pelvic Floor
There are different things that can put strain on the pelvic floor with one of the worst being pregnancy. During pregnancy, your uterus grows a substantial amount and weighs much more than prior to pregnancy. This extra weight puts strain on your muscles and can weaken or damage the pelvic floor. During pregnancy, constipation can also be a common occurrence, and can put even more strain on the pelvic floor.
Protecting Your Pelvic Floor Throughout Pregnancy
A Healthy Pregnancy Diet Can Help Protect Your Pelvic Floor
Fortunately, there are ways that you can help to prevent weakening and damage to your pelvic floor during pregnancy. One way to do this is to ensure you have a healthy pregnancy diet. You should be doing this regardless to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby, but it also can benefit your pelvic floor. The reason being is that a healthy and balanced diet throughout your pregnancy can help reduce the chance of constipation. Specifically ensure good water and fiber intake to avoid constipation. Chronic constipation during pregnancy can put unnecessary strain on your pelvic floor causing weakening and/or damage.
Pelvic Floor Exercises Protect Your Pelvic Floor During Pregnancy
The best way to protect your pelvic floor during pregnancy is to regularly do pelvic floor exercises. These are exercises where you practice tightening and relaxing the muscles in your pelvic floor. It might be difficult at first to locate these muscles as you usually use them without conscious effort to do so. Performing pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy helps to build the muscle strength of the pelvic floor and can prevent weakening and damage which cause a variety of problems. There are three different areas you want to focus on when performing pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy.
Urethra – The urethra is the tubular structure that carries urine from the bladder out of the body. In women, the urethra is located between the clitoris and the vagina. To locate the muscles here, imagine that you are urinating and try to stop your stream of urine. You should not do this while actually urinating.
Vagina – The muscles in the vagina can be located by placing a finger or two into the vagina and attempting to squeeze them.
Make sure your hands are very clean before you do this to help prevent infection, especially during pregnancy.
Anus– The muscles of the anus can easily be located by pretending like you are trying to hold in flatulence.
When to Perform Pelvic Floor Exercises During Pregnancy
Performing pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy is very simple and can be done at almost any time.With some pelvic floor exercises, the people around you won’t even be able to tell that you are doing them, so you can really do them anywhere and anytime. You could even do them in the grocery store or the doctor’s office.
How to Perform Pelvic Floor Exercises During Pregnancy
Kegels are the pelvic floor exercises that you can do anywhere and anytime because nobody will even know that you’re doing them! This is because there is no certain position needed; you can do them standing, sitting, or even laying down. To perform Kegels, simply tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor. As you do this, you should feel the muscles of your anus and your vagina lift up inside of you. Hold them as tight as you can for a moment before releasing and fully relaxing the areas. It’s important that you make sure that you are only tightening the muscles of your pelvic floor while you do these. Don’t tighten your abdomen, thighs, or buttocks. There are two different ways to work your pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy with Kegels.
Slow Kegels – You should hold the muscles tightened as long as you can for up to 10 seconds. It’s okay if you can’t hold them for the full 10 seconds at first, just work your way up to 10 seconds. After fully relaxing, take a few seconds to rest and then tighten the muscles again, and then relax again. Do this about 10 times to perform one set of Kegels. It’s a good idea to perform several sets of Kegels each time you exercise your pelvic floor during pregnancy.
Fast Kegels – For fast Kegels, tighten the muscles as much as you can and then immediately relax followed by immediately tightening back up. Make sure you are relaxing completely before you start tightening the muscles again. The full relaxation of the muscles between each tightening is just as important as the tightening itself. You can do this 10 times per set, and perform several sets at once with small resting sessions in-between each set.
This exercise is great to do during pregnancy because it not only strengthens the pelvic floor, but also works the rest of your core as well. To do this exercise, lay down on your back with your feet flat on the ground and the same width apart as your hips. Keep your shoulders and arms on the ground as you lift your hips into the air. Then, make small circles with your hips to form the number eight. Finally, lower your hips slowly back to the ground and repeat. You can do a couple to a few sets of about eight repetitions.
Here’s another exercise to help strengthen your pelvic floor during pregnancy. To do leg lifts, start out on your back with your legs completely straight out and your hands tucked under your butt. Lift your legs approximately half a meter into the air and pause. Then move them all the way up until they are forming a right angle with your hips. Pause again before slowly lowering your legs back to the ground. You can do a couple to a few sets of about ten repetitions with these.
Okay, so squats don’t exactly “strengthen” your pelvic floor, but don’t write them off yet! They are extremely beneficial to your pelvic floor during pregnancy and help to avoid pelvic floor disorders such as incontinence and prolapse. The reason squats are so good for your pelvic floor is that they strengthen the glutes. This in turn helps to keep the bones in the pelvis aligned and pulls back the sacrum (bone right above your tailbone) which stretches the pelvic floor muscles to the right level of tension. This allows them to function much better, as well as can make delivery easier. Plus, it gives you a nice butt!Ensure proper squat position by standing with your feet wider than your hips. Squat down, bending your knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Return to original position and repeat several sets of about twelve squats.
How Often to Perform Pelvic Floor Exercises During Pregnancy
The different types of pelvic floor exercises that you do during your pregnancy should be performed with varying frequencies. Kegels are most beneficial when performed multiple times each day of your pregnancy. When you first start learning how to do Kegels, you may want to do them up to six times a day until you get used to them. After you know how to do them well, doing them about three times a day would be ideal. Other pelvic floor exercises, you may only want to do once a day, such as leg lifts, circle eights, and squats. Just remember to never push yourself too hard, especially during pregnancy. It’s always a good idea to discuss all forms of exercise with your pregnancy health care provider.
Remembering to Exercise Your Pelvic Floor
One thing that many pregnant women seem to struggle with is memory! It can certainly be difficult to remember to do things like exercising your pelvic floor. An easy way to help you remember to do your pelvic floor exercises is to do them at the same time as something else that you do multiple times throughout the day. This especially goes for your Kegels that should ideally be performed several times each day of your pregnancy. You could do them after each trip to the toilet, every time you have a meal, or each time you wash your hands.
Pelvic Floor Exercises Beyond Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a great time to start doing pelvic floor exercises, but it is not the only time to do them. It’s a great idea to continue exercising your pelvic floor beyond your pregnancy. Even after pregnancy, pelvic floor exercises have great benefits to your sexual health, core strength, stability and they reduce risk of incontinence.