The vast majority of women are completely unaware of their pelvic floor muscles, until they get pregnant. Unless they have tried the fitness regime pilates – in which core muscles and engagement of the pelvic floor is the basis for all strengthening of the body – they probably couldn't even point to where they are! And yet, these muscles are important not only for giving you the right support when you are pregnant, but also through birth and long-term to avoid you suffering from 'stress incontinence' and proper back support. Awareness of exercise in pregnancy is important, but your pelvis floor exercises are vital!
What are the pelvic floor muscles?
Your pelvis floor has the band of muscle which is slung across at the base of your pelvis, acting like a support for the back and pelvic area. Because we have such mobility in this area, the muscle needs to be flexible, but also, because we use the middle of our bodies to do so much – moving, lifting and so on – it is important that this muscle area is strong and in good condition.
These muscles also help control your bladder control and bowel control.
Why are pelvic floor muscles important?
If your core muscles and pelvic floor are in good shape, you will find your back is less likely to suffer aches and pains, you have more strength and balance to lift things properly, and you won't feel so achy standing on your feet for long periods. Additionally, as they help control the bowel and bladder, a toned pelvic floor will ensure you are less like to suffer 'stress incontinence' now or in the future as your ageing body changes.
Stress incontinence is when you pass a little urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh or perhaps even jump or stride. It can occur during pregnancy, and is quite common after pregnancy, when the weight of carrying around your bump, and the process of labour have stretched your pelvic floor muscles.
What can be done to tone pelvic floor muscles?
By doing small, muscle-tensing motions several times a day, you can help to keep your muscles toned. You should find that your midwife will help explain how to do these at your ante-natal classes, and she will then check you are doing them when she makes her home visits after the birth.
The exercise involves tightening your muscles, as if you were stopping yourself from weeing, mid-flow. (Incidentally, you should never actually stem your urine flow whilst really weeing!) You need to make sure you are tensing the muscle from the inside rather than simply pulling your buttocks together.
You can do these exercises by pulling up, squeezing tight and holding for ten seconds, relaxing and then repeating, five to ten times, as many times as day as you can. Or by doing fast pull-ups ten at a time in rapid succession.
Many women find that they only do them when they remember, but you could try putting a little red sticker on the fridge door, on something in your bedroom, and maybe on your diary cover, just to remind you that when you see that sticker, you need to do your exercises. Happily, the exercises are discreet and you can do them anywhere! Even on the bus…
If you want to tell if you are doing the exercises properly, wash your hands then insert a finger into your vagina and do the exercise. You should feel a good squeeze around your finger. If it feels a little weak, don't worry, just keep up the exercises and you should notice a real difference quite soon.
When should you do these exercises?
If you are already pregnant, you can start doing these exercises now to get your body into shape. Don't overdo them, but do try to remember to do them a few times a day. Once you have had your baby, you should be doing these regularly, and, even if you do not have any birth problems which have caused excessive strain, it is good to keep these exercises up as the years go by, into older age. If you have not kept them up but are now wishing you had, don't worry, just start doing them regularly and they will make a difference, even if your baby is now a toddler!
If you have stress incontinence
If you are worried that having your baby has left you unable to control your bladder or bowels fully, do go and see your GP. It is very common and nothing to worry about, and exercises can often make a world of difference in a short space of time.
There are some pelvic floor exercisers on the market, which help by stimulating the muscles through small (safe) electrical pulses.