Pelvic floor or kegels is a term that seems to continuously pop up, we know we’re told we need to be training these VIP muscles particularly during pregnancy but why? If you’ve never really understood the importance of pelvic floor training or why these muscles are so damn important, here’s everything you need to know about keeping them strong for now and in the future.
What are pelvic floor muscles?
OK, so let’s get back to basics. Your pelvic floor muscles are the ones that surround your important pelvic organs, that’s your womb, bowels and bladder. They stretch from back to front, all the way from the coccyx to pubic bone.
There’s that famous scene in Sex and the City when Charlotte asks what a kegel muscle is, to which Miranda replies, “It helps you stay tight, down there.”. She wasn’t wrong, but it’s not just about keeping tight, having strong pelvic floor muscles supports your body function through peeing, sex, exercise and, of course, childbirth.
How do pelvic floor muscles change during and after pregnancy?
The reason pregnant women are told to pay attention to their pelvic floor during pregnancy is because their bodies are going through so many changes which sees the pelvic floor muscles loosen due to hormonal changes. The weight gain in pregnancy also puts extra pressure on the muscles and with a growing baby pressing on your bladder, it’s not unusual to notice leaks when you laugh, cough, sneeze and exercise.
Post-pregnancy, things don’t suddenly slip back to normal and if you’ve delivered a baby naturally, stretched muscles mean your pelvic floor could be left pretty damaged. Weaker pelvic floor muscles can also cause less sensation when you’re having sex as well as a prolapse, a term described when one or more of the organs can press against the vaginal walls causing a bulge.
THIS is the reason we all need to get used to regular pelvic floor exercises which help to strengthen these muscles and in turn give you greater control over any accidents. Having strong pelvic floor muscles can also help you ease your baby out during labour. Get why they’re so important now?
What are pelvic floor exercises and how do I do them?
Pelvic floor exercises, also known as kegel exercises, are performed to strengthen those important pelvic floor muscles. Engaging said muscles lifts the internal organs, tightening the sphincter muscles which in turn tightens the opening of the vagina, anus and urethra.
First, you need to locate them so you know exactly what to be ‘lifting.’ The best way to do this is to imagine stopping a wee midflow and holding in wind at the same time, tightening and lifting.
The great thing about pelvic floor exercises is that it’s invisible – no one will know you’re doing it meaning you can do them as much as you need to, whenever you need to (just remember not to raise your eyebrows or hold your breath each time you do it.)
Here are some exercises to try to get your pelvic floor best prepared for pregnancy.
The pelvic floor muscle contraction
This is the name of the squeeze and lift we just mentioned, involving closing and drawing up the back and front passages. To do this, lie, sit or stand with your knees slightly apart, tighten up your back passage as though you’re trying to stop yourself passing wind and then tighten the muscles that you would use to stop yourself passing urine. It’s best not to squeeze your legs together, clench your buttocks or hold your breath when doing this,
Quick and slow contractions
It’s good practice to work on both slow and quick exercises.
For slow contractions squeeze and lift your pelvic floor muscles, aiming to hold for around 10 seconds (try and build up to this time if you can’t manage this right away), then relax for four seconds, repeating up to 10 times.
For quick contractions, you’re doing this quickly, tightening up the muscles for a two seconds then releasing again for four seconds, repeating up to 10 times.
How often should I do pelvic floor exercises when pregnant?
Once you get used to doing pelvic floor exercises, there’s no limit on how many times you can do them. You could aim to do first thing when you wake up and last time at night, soon aiming for 4-5 times a day.
Perhaps try tying pelvic floor training into a task you already do everyday, whether that’s when you brush your teeth, make a cup of tea or make the bed.
What are the best Pelvic floor training apps?
This NHS-approved app was designed by physiotherapists specialising in pelvic health and lets you create customised pelvic floor exercise plans, with visual and audio prompts and tracking so you know how many you’ve completed. The design is also super discreet so you can do it anywhere.
This is a great app for anyone who needs some simple nudging to get those muscles moving. The free version of the app helps you focus on the two different parts of your kegels — squeeze and rest with a timer.
We love this simple pelvic floor exercise app which lets you set a daily reminder to do your exercises (you can update to the pro version which lets you add more than one alarm). There’s a mix of slow and quick contractions and a visual timer so you know long to to be holding.
This free app by by lights by TENA is a similar exercise concept to the others, with a screen changing colour up and down to show you how long to hold and relax for. You can set reminders too which is super handy.