Did you know one in three women who have had a baby will experience urinary incontinence? While it’s nothing to be ashamed of, there are some simple exercises that you can do to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and prevent the problem.
Pregnancy, stress incontinence, and the pelvic floor
The pelvic floor is a sling of muscles and connective tissue extending from the pubic bone, at the front, to the tail bone, at the back. The pelvic floor muscles support the pelvic organs and prevent the uncontrollable loss of urine, feces, and gas. During pregnancy, the pelvic floor stretches and weakens in response to the weight of your growing baby and the pregnancy hormone Relaxin.
A weakened pelvic floor may be associated with incontinence especially when you sneeze, cough, run, jump, or lift heavy objects.
Giving birth can further weaken the pelvic floor. The good news is that you can do something about it – Solidea believes that women deserve to feel good about themselves during and after their pregnancy. Doing pelvic floor muscle exercises, also called Kegels, can help you prevent urinary incontinence.
When to start doing pelvic floor exercises
Unless otherwise advised by a healthcare professional you can safely exercise your pelvic floor muscles throughout your pregnancy. They are quick and safe exercises that you can do anywhere.
Even if you are well into your pregnancy, or have given birth, don’t worry – it’s never too late to start.
It is recommended that you continue these exercises as you get older. Aging comes with hormonal changes that can also weaken the pelvic floor.
How to do pelvic floor exercises
The Pelvic floor muscles are a small but very important group of muscles, particularly in women. They lie deep inside the pelvis and act to support the pelvic organs and control continence. To find your pelvic floor muscles lie down on your back (with your knees bent and feet on the floor) or on your side. Relax your stomach, thigh and buttock muscles. Visualise the sling of muscles extending from the tail bone at the back, between your legs to the pubic bone at the front of your pelvis.
Working your pelvic floor is easy – just squeeze and lift the sling of muscles by imagining you are stopping yourself from passing wind or closing around the openings in between your legs.
Another trick is to stop or slow the stream of urine when emptying your bladder. It is important that you don’t regularly use this technique as it is important to empty the bladder when going to the toilet to avoid urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Once you’ve identified the right muscle group, you can start doing your pelvic floor exercises.
- Squeeze around your back passage and your vagina, like you are trying to stop yourself passing wind or urine and lift the pelvic floor up.
- Feel a sense of lift each time you squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. Hold the muscle tight and count to 8, then let go and relax. You should have a definite feeling of letting go;
- If you can’t lift and hold for eight seconds, hold for as long as you are able. Gradually work your way up to eight seconds as you get stronger.
- Repeat this squeeze and lift 8 to 12 times, resting for about 5 seconds in between each lift.
- Do 3 sets of 8 to 12 squeezes, with a rest in between. Repeat this program each day.
As your pelvic floor muscles get stronger you can make the exercises more challenging by increasing the hold time of each exercise and/or performing these exercises in sitting, standing and on activities such as lifting and walking. Always stop exercising when the muscle fatigues.
Use ‘the knack’ by squeezing your pelvic floor muscles each time before you cough, sneeze or lift anything.
To ensure that you are doing the exercises correctly, remember to:
- Squeeze and lift, don’t brace or bear down
- Keep breathing normally while squeezing your pelvic floor muscles
- Keep your buttocks, thighs, and stomach relaxed
If you are unable to identify your pelvic floor muscles with the squeeze and lift technique, or if you are leaking urine, it may be a sign that your pelvic floor is weak. In this case, it would be best to consult with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist.