Pregnancy and childbirth bring many changes to a woman’s body — some more welcome than others. One stressful and embarrassing change for many women is bladder leakage (incontinence).
It can happen when you laugh, cough, or sneeze, or on the way to the bathroom — and it’s more common than you might think. Incontinence is sometimes due to weakened pelvic floor muscles. Fortunately, pelvic floor exercises can strengthen muscles and prevent urine leakage.
Strengthening your pelvic floor during or after pregnancy has other benefits. This article outlines information and tips on pelvic floor exercises for pregnancy and why you can benefit from doing them.
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Your Pelvic Floor and Pregnancy
Your pelvic floor muscles run along the bottom of your pelvis. They act to support your pelvic organs, which include the:
When you’re pregnant, the weight of your growing baby puts extra stress on your pelvic floor muscles. It’s not uncommon for those muscles to stretch and weaken during pregnancy. Trauma during childbirth also can damage pelvic floor muscles. In either case, you can develop bladder or bowel incontinence.
In severe cases, women can develop pelvic organ prolapse from a weak pelvic floor. That means the muscles no longer support your pelvic organs, which can drop down into the pelvis and vagina. If you have pelvic organ prolapse, you might experience:
- Pelvic pressure or fullness.
- A feeling that something is bulging out of your vagina.
- Leakage of urine.
- Difficulty completely emptying your bladder.
- Issues during bowel movements.
- Difficulty inserting or retaining tampons.
Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles may help improve incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Another benefit of improving pelvic floor strength during pregnancy is that it may make your delivery a bit faster and easier.
Having stronger pelvic floor muscles allows you better control for pushing during delivery. But you also need to be able to fully release and relax the pelvic floor to make room for the baby to move through. If you have a tight pelvic floor, ask your doctor about ways to overcome it.
Pelvic Floor Exercises for Pregnancy
Pelvic floor exercises, also called Kegel exercises, are easy to do and don’t require special equipment. You can do them anytime or anywhere, and no one will know you’re doing them. They’re safe for pregnant women and recommended by obstetricians and gynecologists.
To do Kegel exercises:
- Learn to control your pelvic floor muscles the next time you urinate. First, start to urinate, and then stop the flow. This contraction pulls the vagina and rectum up and back. The muscles you use to stop the flow of urine are your pelvic floor muscles.
- When you’re sitting, standing, or lying down, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. Hold for three seconds, then make sure to fully relax for three seconds.
- Do 10 to 15 contractions three times a day.
- Increase your hold by one second each week. Work your way up to 10-second holds.
Once you learn how to do them, you shouldn’t do Kegels while you’re urinating because they can hurt your bladder. When you’re doing Kegel exercises, make sure you breathe normally. And make sure you don’t tighten your thigh, stomach, or buttock muscles.
Videos and apps can help you learn how to do Kegels effectively. Ask your doctor if you aren’t sure how to do them or whether you’re doing them correctly. If you have incontinence or prolapse, visit a pelvic physical therapist. They can help treat these conditions and teach you to properly engage and relax your pelvic floor muscles.
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Benefits for Pregnancy and Beyond
The leading cause of pelvic support problems is pregnancy and childbirth. But your pelvic floor muscles also weaken with age. To have to prevent or minimize pelvic support problems, start regular Kegel exercises sooner rather than later.
If you develop incontinence or other pelvic support problems after pregnancy, it’s vital to talk to your doctor. One treatment option is biofeedback therapy, which they can recommend to improve your comfort and quality of life.
For the latest in care and treatment for pelvic floor-related problems after childbirth, urogynecology specialists at Magee Postpartum Pelvic Floor Healing Clinic can develop a personalized plan to help you and your pelvic floor get back to normal again.
To make an appointment, or for more information, call 412-641-6262.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Pelvic Support Problems. Link.
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About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long-renowned for its services to women and babies but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Our patient-first approach ensures you and your loved ones get the care you need. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and our NICU is one of the largest in the country. Our network of care – from imaging centers to hospital services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, giving you a chance to get the expert care you need close to home. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes UPMC Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.