How to I keep my pelvic floor strong?
Keeping pelvic floor muscles strong during pregnancy is essential for several reasons, and it can help prevent various health issues.
- Support for the Growing Baby: As the baby grows, there is increased pressure on the pelvic floor. Strong muscles provide better support for the uterus, which can help prevent issues like uterine prolapse.
- Preventing Urinary Incontinence: Pregnancy hormones and the weight of the growing baby can weaken the pelvic floor, leading to urinary incontinence (leaking urine). Strong pelvic floor muscles can help prevent or alleviate this common issue.
- Reducing Risk of Prolapse: Pelvic organ prolapse, where organs like the bladder, uterus, or rectum can drop into the vaginal canal, is more common during and after pregnancy. Strengthening the pelvic floor can reduce the risk of prolapse.
- Aiding in Labour and Delivery: Strong pelvic floor muscles can assist in labour and delivery by providing better support for the baby’s descent and promoting efficient contractions.
What can I do?
- Pelvic Floor Exercises (Kegels): These exercises involve contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. See our visualisations on the next lesson and the instructions further down the page.
- Antenatal Classes: In the UK, many antenatal classes offer guidance on pelvic floor exercises as part of their curriculum. Attending such classes can provide you with proper instruction and support.
- Consulting a Midwife or Physiotherapist: If you’re unsure about performing pelvic floor exercises correctly or have specific concerns, you can consult a midwife or physiotherapist who specialises in women’s health. They can provide personalized guidance and exercises.
- Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Excess body weight can put additional strain on the pelvic floor. Eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular, safe exercise during pregnancy can help maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoiding Constipation: Constipation can strain the pelvic floor muscles. Staying hydrated, eating fiber-rich foods, and maintaining regular bowel habits can help prevent constipation.
- Rest and Recovery: Adequate rest and relaxation are essential during pregnancy. Overexertion and excessive lifting can strain the pelvic floor, so it’s important to listen to your body and seek help with heavy tasks.
Lifting and engaging the pelvic floor muscles rather than squeezing them is often emphasized because it promotes proper muscle function and alignment. The terms “lift” and “engage” are commonly used in pelvic floor rehabilitation to describe the action of these muscles. Here’s why lifting or engaging the pelvic floor muscles is important:
- Alignment and Support: The pelvic floor muscles play a crucial role in supporting the pelvic organs (bladder, uterus, and rectum) and maintaining their proper alignment. When you lift or engage these muscles, they work in harmony to support these organs and prevent issues like prolapse (organs descending into the vaginal canal).
- Optimal Muscle Function: The pelvic floor muscles are not just one set of muscles but a group of muscles that form a supportive hammock-like structure. Lifting or engaging these muscles activates them from the bottom up, allowing them to function optimally and work together effectively.
- Avoiding Excessive Tension: Squeezing the pelvic floor muscles too tightly can lead to excessive tension, which can be counterproductive. This tension may cause muscle fatigue or pain and interfere with normal muscle function. Lifting or engaging the muscles helps maintain a balance between muscle tone and relaxation.
- Improving Coordination: Lifting or engaging the pelvic floor muscles promotes better coordination with other muscle groups, such as the deep abdominal muscles and diaphragm. This coordination is essential for core stability and overall pelvic health.
- Enhancing Blood Flow: Proper engagement of the pelvic floor muscles can enhance blood circulation in the pelvic region. This can be particularly beneficial during pregnancy and postpartum recovery, as it supports tissue healing and recovery.
- Reducing Strain: Squeezing the pelvic floor muscles forcefully can create unnecessary strain, especially in individuals with pelvic pain or dysfunction. Lifting or engaging the muscles encourages a more gentle and functional contraction, reducing the risk of exacerbating existing issues.
It’s crucial to start pelvic floor exercises early in pregnancy and continue them regularly throughout pregnancy and postpartum. However, always consult with your healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance, as individual circumstances may vary.