Pelvic floor exercises


Pregnant woman looking quizzically at bowling ballThe pelvic floor is the set of muscles at the base of your pelvis that supports your uterus, bladder and bowel - effectively keeping them all in place. These sling-like muscles also have a big role to play during sex - a weakened pelvic floor can affect your ability to have an orgasm.

Your pelvic floor goes through a tremendous strain in pregnancy. The added weight of your growing baby puts more and more pressure on it, making it harder and harder for it to do its job. The muscles can become stretched and weak because of the continual weight.

Childbirth then compounds this and, unfortunately, can do some damage - nearly a third of women develop some level of stress incontinence after they have given birth.

As many a Mumsnetter will testify, stress incontinence happens when your pelvic area is put under stress, such as when you sneeze, laugh, cough, run (and let's not even think about trampolining).

To give your pelvic floor muscles a fighting chance of being able to do their job after the stresses and strains of pregnancy and labour, try to get into the habit of doing some strengthening pelvic floor exercises whenever you get a chance. 

When should I start doing pelvic floor exercises?

Now! Every woman, pregnant or not, can benefit from exercising their pelvic floor muscles. Keeping your pelvic floor fit and healthy can help you have a satisfying sex life and can ward off problems in the future that can be exacerbated by pregnancy and childbirth, weight gain or ageing.

It can also help you when giving birth as strong pelvic muscles can help you during the second stage of labour when you need to push your baby out. They can also help you heal if you experience a perineal tear during birth.  

What are pelvic floor exercises?

If you have done pilates and yoga, you will probably be familiar with your pelvic floor muscles. For those of you who are not quite sure where they are, they are the muscles you use when you try not to urinate, so when you next have a wee try and stop mid-flow and there you have it - your pelvic floor muscles in action. 

How to do pelvic floor exercises

  1. Imagine that you're trying to stop the flow of urine when you are urinating by tightening your muscles from the front of your pelvis and round towards your bottom. It might help to imagine that you are drawing something up and into your vagina, pulling the muscles upwards.
  2. Keep the muscles tightened for the count of 10, then let them go and relax. Do this five times.
  3. Make sure that you are breathing normally and avoid tightening your legs, stomach or bottom. Just concentrate on the pelvic floor muscles.
  4. When you are used to this, try tightening and relaxing the muscles in succession, without holding the tension. Do this 10 to 15 times.
  5. A variation is to imagine the pelvic floor muscles as a lift, gradually squeezing them tighter as though they are rising from floor to floor.
     

How often should I exercise my pelvic floor?

As pelvic floor exercises can be done while you're going about your business without anyone noticing, try to do them as often as you can. Don't overdo it though and make sure you know how to relax the muscles as well as tighten them as this can help during the second stage of labour where relaxing the muscles around your vagina may help you to avoid damaging your perineum.

Every woman should aim to make pelvic floor exercises a regular activity to maintain a healthy and fully functioning pelvic area. Try to associate them with something else you do every day, such as during your regular commute, listening to The Archers or watching your favourite soap. This way, you're more likely to remember to do them. 

What will happen if I don't exercise my pelvic floor muscles?

Jessica Ennis exerciseVideo: Olympic gold-medallist Jessica Ennis guides us through some simple exercises, and shares her top tips for keeping fit throughout pregnancy.

As well as helping to avoid the functional problems you may encounter during and after pregnancy and childbirth - stress incontinence, a reduced sensitivity during sex etc - there are long-term benefits to exercising your pelvic floor regularly, as it can also help to prevent uterine and vaginal prolapse. 

Guest post: Elaine Miller explains why it's so important to remove the taboo around stress incontinence, and to do our pelvic floor exercises. Read it here

What Mumsnetters say about pelvic floor exercises

  • Pelvic floor exercises make a noticeable difference to the enjoyability of sex, frankly, so I consider that a pretty good payoff! Octaviapink
  • All women should do pelvic floor exercises every day for the rest of their lives - and that's really no big deal - just do them while on Mumsnet or while you're sat in the car at traffic lights. A weak pelvic floor can result not only in incontinence but also in a prolapsed uterus. I've worked with elderly women and this is a huge problem. If you've seen a prolapsed uterus, you will always make sure you do your pelvic floor exercises. belgo
  • I didn't do pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy. Trampolines now fill me with fear and when I sneeze I automatically cross my legs. GilbonzoTheSecretPsych0Duck
  • Stopping peeing midflow can be a useful way of checking your pelvic floor muscle are getting stronger but shouldn't be used as muscle training as you can give yourself a urine infection. platesmasher 

Image: Shutterstock

Last updated: 22-May-2014 at 9:31 AM