Kegels: Exercises During and After Pregnancy
Pelvic floor exercises can lead to a shorter labour and a faster post-birth recovery
Passing your baby through your pelvis and into the world is demanding not only on you, but also on your pelvic muscles — which have to stretch to proportions previously unimaginable. So even if you’ve never thought much about them (or maybe never even realised you had any), you’ll want to pay attention to your pelvic muscles during and after pregnancy. And not only do they play an important role in delivery, but they keep your urine from leaking when you cough or laugh (a skill set you’re only likely to notice when it’s gone).
Fortunately, there’s one exercise that experts agree can help prevent problems with your pelvic muscles after birth and even make your labour go a little smoother: Kegels. If you do only one exercise during pregnancy, make it this one.
What is a Kegel?
Your pelvic-floor muscles act as a sling for the bladder, uterus and rectum. One of the most important long-term health recommendations for healing and recovering after birth is to do Kegel exercises. Kegels help keep your pelvic-floor muscles strong during pregnancy, help get them back in shape after delivery and possibly prevent urinary incontinence.
How to do a Kegel:
Start with an empty bladder. Imagine that you’re trying to stop yourself from passing gas and trying to stop the flow of urine midstream at the same time. The feeling is one of “squeeze and lift” – a closing and drawing up of the front and back passages. Squeeze and hold those same muscles for 10 seconds and then slowly release. Squeeze again and release quickly. Do 20 10-second holds 5 times a day.
If you haven’t been doing Kegels, start by holding each contraction for a few seconds before releasing, and relax for a few seconds after each one. As your muscles get stronger, you’ll want to work up to holding each Kegel for ten seconds, then relaxing for ten seconds after each one. If you’re suffering from urinary incontinence, try to hold a Kegel while you sneeze, cough, or lift something. You may find that it helps keep you from leaking.
When should I start and stop doing kegels?
It’s never too early to start doing Kegels — but the earlier you practice them the greater the benefits.
Don’t stop doing Kegels! Following birth you have to continue the exercise to maintain your strength and ward off incontinence as you age. So make doing Kegels a lifelong habit.
After you’ve delivered, you can restart your Kegel routine immediately. Make it a habit to do them regularly (while, say, you’re feeding your baby) to stimulate circulation, promote healing and improve muscle tone. Don’t worry if you can’t feel yourself doing them initially — the perineum will be numb after birth, but feeling will return gradually over the next few weeks. In the meantime the work is being done even if you can’t feel it.
You can ‘learn how’ and practice your kegels as part of preparing your mind and body for birth by attending our weekly pregnancy yoga & Hypnobirthing classes.
Jayne Micallef | Pregnancy Yoga & Hypnobirthing | joyfulbodyyoga.com