Also during pregnancy, hormones soften all the ligaments and muscles of the pelvic outlet so that the baby's head can be pushed out during birth. Even women who have a caesarean section to deliver their baby may have a weakened pelvic floor simply due to the strain and weight of the pregnancy.
Urinary stress incontinence is common during pregnancy and after childbirth. More than half of women having their first baby and 1 in 3 women who have already had a baby experience some amount of leaking of urine. It is important to do pelvic floor exercises to strengthen these muscles. These exercises should become part of your daily routine, not just while you are pregnant but throughout your life.
Pelvic floor muscles
The pelvic floor is made up of a layer of muscles stretching like a tight hammock from the pubic bone in the front, to the base of the spine. Your pelvic floor supports your bladder, vagina, uterus and bowel and is very important for bladder and bowel control. Your pelvic floor muscles also play an important role in sexual pleasure.
Exercising pelvic floor muscles
Pelvic floor exercises may be taught in a number of different ways. Here is one way:
STEP 1 – Sit forwards on your chair and place your feet and knees shoulder width apart. Relax your stomach, chest and leg muscles. Breathe normally.
STEP 2 – Close your eyes and imagine that you want to stop yourself passing wind or urine. The muscles that you use to do this are the pelvic floor muscles.
STEP 3 – Now squeeze or contract these muscles tightly around your back and front passages and slowly lift your pelvic floor using these muscles. Imagine your muscles are lifts and squeeze upwards. Hold the contraction as firmly as you can for as long as you are comfortable, then release.
STEP 4 – Repeat this squeeze and lift movement as many times as you can before the muscles tire.
How often should you do pelvic floor exercises?
Try to do pelvic floor exercises several times each day. If you have discomfort from overworking the muscles when you first start, then reduce the number of exercises you are doing and gradually increase them after the discomfort stops.
Pelvic floor exercise can be done sitting, standing or lying down. See if you can remember to do your pelvic floor exercises at these times:
- each time you finish going to the toilet
- each time you put the kettle on
- each time you answer the phone
- driving in the car – when you stop at red lights
- when watching television
When do you use your pelvic floor muscles?
Now that you know how to exercise your pelvic floor muscles, it is important for you to know when to use them.
To prevent little leaks of urine, squeeze and lift up your pelvic floor muscles each time before you:
- cough or sneeze
- lift, push or pull