They sound almost too ridiculous to be true but Kegel exercises are simply essential during and post pregnancy to keep pelvic floor muscles in good working order.
Pregnancy is an exciting time but the pressure on the bladder can cause involuntarily leaking, and this is why many women turn to Hartmann’s incontinence products. The good news is that with a few exercises on a regular basis, you can strengthen these muscles and either help slow or prevent small escapes or urine altogether.
An advisory note
Clearly, before you start any exercise regime or try anything new such as Kegel exercises, you should first talk with your midwife or doctor as to whether these types of exercises are suitable for you. Take care and if you have not done these kinds of exercises before, start gently and slowly.
A Kegel – what is it?
Pelvic floor muscles hang like a sling between your hips, supporting your bladder, uterus and other organs. They control the flow of urine and also cause the vagina and anal sphincter to contract. Named after the gynaecologist Arnold Kegel, the aim of the exercises is to contract the pelvic floor muscles for a short period of time. By completing a few sets of these exercises every day, the strength of your pelvic floor muscles should improve.
The great news is there is no need to buy expensive gym membership – these exercises can be done whilst waiting at a red light, in a queue at the supermarket or as you watch your favourite soap in an evening.
The pelvic floor muscles come under increasing strain as the baby piles on the pounds. Also, they will need to make way for the baby during birth too. All in all, the pelvic floor muscles can be pressured in many different ways, as well as torn or damaged.
If this does happen, you will not look different nor will the muscles bleed, but you may notice that when you cough, sneeze, laugh, run, jump and so on that there may be an involuntary leak of urine.
Performing Kegel exercise during and post pregnancy can help to maintain the structure of these muscles. In fact, research has suggested that doing Kegels regularly during pregnancy and after the birth can help to reduce the possibility of complications.
There is also more research that has shown that women who regularly exercise this way also have shorter active phases of labour. It is also thought that Kegel exercises can also boost your sex life, leading to better orgasms.
Finding your pelvic floor muscles
In effect, you are looking for the muscles that contract in order to stop the flow of urine. It is a sensation more than anything else, thus the next time you go to the loo, stop urinating mid-flow.
You may have come across advice that suggest this is a good exercise to do. Studies, however, have shown this not to be the case. Frequently stopping the flow of urine can lead to urinary infections and so on.
Once you have located the pelvic floor muscles, you are good to go!
Start exercising, slowly and gently
The pelvic floor muscles are just like other major muscle groups in the body. When you first start exercising and using them, it can feel tough.
Phase one of Kegels is that you start to tighten your pelvic floor muscles for about five seconds, then relax for five seconds. Do four or five sets in a row, a few times a day.
Many women find that to help them remember to do these exercises, that they do them when they are doing regular activities such as waiting at a red light, or washing up etc.
Once your muscles start to get used to being contracted and relaxed on a regular basis, you will find that the exercises become easier. Start holding the muscles tight for longer – see if you can extend the time to 10 seconds for each muscles contraction.
Slowly increase the number of repetitions too. The goal is to do three sets of 20 Kegels a day.
When to start
It is never too early to start Kegels. In fact, the earlier in the pregnancy you start, the better the outcome according to research.
Likewise, you can re-start your Kegel routine as soon after birth as you like. This helps healing, as well as improving muscles tone. Many women wonder if these exercises are doing any good immediately after birth, as the perineum can be numb for a week or two – but keeping going with the exercises! Even though you cannot feel them, they are working!
Kegels do work and, as you would expect in our technological age, there is a smart phone app to help you remember to do these important exercises.