What are pelvic floor muscles?
A sheet of muscles extends from the pubic bone at the front of the pelvic area to the base of the spine at the back. Known as the pelvic floor, these muscles support the uterus, vagina, bladder and bowel, and are involved in maintaining bowel and bladder control.
Why are strong pelvic muscles important?
Pregnancy causes immense changes in the body, and the pelvic floor experiences increased pressure, both during pregnancy and at the time of childbirth (causing them to stretch and get damaged). Further, pregnancy hormones aid childbirth by softening these muscles and ligaments of the area.
One of the common effects of a weakened pelvic floor muscle in pregnant women and new mothers is urinary stress incontinence or involuntary leaking of urine. Regular pelvic floor exercises can help strengthen the muscles of the region.
Exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles
There are different ways of exercising the pelvic floor muscle, but the general process is as follows:
- The first step lies in identifying the pelvic floor muscle. Attempting to stop oneself from passing urine or wind can help with this. The muscles that enable that are the pelvic floor muscles.
- In a sitting position (or lying down), keeping the knees and feet a little apart, the pelvic muscles should be given a squeeze. This contracts and lifts them upwards.
- The contraction should be held tightly for as long as it is comfortable, followed by a release.
- The contraction and release actions must be repeated few more times before one feels them getting fatigued.
When to exercise
During pregnancy, the pelvic floor muscles can be exercised thrice a day. These can be done anywhere – in the loo or while watching TV, but the main part is remembering to do the exercise. Some women find it easier to track their regimen through phone or tablet apps for the purpose.
- After vaginal delivery
Pelvic floor exercises can hasten the healing process and reduce swelling after a delivery, as soon as 24 hours after having the baby. Women can start with short gentle squeezes and increase the intensity, number and hold duration, as they get comfortable with the exercise. It is good to practise the exercise around five times a day. Women who had stitches after delivery may find it comfortable to exercise while lying down and gradually working their way to sitting through them.
- After caesarean delivery
The pelvic floor exercise can be done once the woman starts to pass urine normally without the use of catheter.
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“Kegel exercises: A how-to guide for women,” MayoClinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/womens-health/in-depth/kegel-exercises/art-20045283
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“Pelvic floor exercises during and after pregnanc,” NCT.org.uk, https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/pelvic-floor-exercises-during-and-after-pregnancy
“Pelvic floor exercises during and after pregnancy: a systematic review of their role in preventing pelvic floor dysfunction,” J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2003 Jun;25(6):487-98, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12806450
“Pelvic Floor (Kegel) Exercises During and After Pregnancy,” WebMD.com, https://www.webmd.com/baby/pelvic-floor-kegel-exercises-during-and-after-pregnancy
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