The pelvic floor supports the bladder, bowel and uterus, as well as aids bowel and bladder control. Working on your pelvic floor during pregnancy can help with labour and reduce or prevent incontinence after birth.
Many women who are pregnant or have given birth, experience the first signs of their pelvic floor weakening. “This may include: urinary leaking, urinary urgency, difficulty controlling wind, pain in the low back or pelvis, or a feeling of heaviness in the vagina,” says Lyz Evans, a Womens Health and Continence Physiotherapist and Director of Women In Focus Physiotherapy and Health. But keeping your pelvic floor in tip top shape during your pregnancy can help control any accidents, ease your baby out during labour and reduce or prevent incontinence after birth.
Ideally, like starting any new exercise program, your pelvic floor should be assessed by a women’s health physiotherapist. This is because, while it’s the same muscle in everyone, every woman’s pelvic floor is different.
“If a woman has done a lot of “tightening” style exercise such as ballet, gymnastics, or Pilates, we often find these women are very connected to their pelvic floor and, in most cases, should be using pregnancy as a time to teach their pelvic floor how to relax and soften, not tighten,” says Evans. “In comparison, a woman who has hasn’t focused as heavily on deep core connection in her life, will often have a pelvic floor that’s weaker that will benefit from strengthening.”
Keeping your pelvic floor in tip top shape during your pregnancy can help control any accidents, ease your baby out during labour and reduce or prevent incontinence after birth.
But, given many women are unaware of the importance of working their pelvic floor, Evans recommends two simple exercises you can do during pregnancy:
1.Connection through full range
This exercise is helpful regardless of whether you need to strengthen or release as it focuses on a achieving a functional pelvic floor that can fully contract and fully relax.
- Start by closing and lifting within the vagina - like you’re trying to gentle slow the flow of urine down. The focus should be a feeling of tightness in your vagina like you are trying to slow the urine flow down then, when you relax, imagine the urine rushing out.
- Be sure to continue to breathe, and maintain the contraction for about 3- 8 seconds. Now, completely relax the pelvic floor so it softens for the same amount of time or slightly longer than what you held it for.
- Repeat this 5– 10 times.
2.Power lifts at speed
This type of movement is required by the pelvic floor in every day life, such as when sneezing, lifting, coughing. If your pelvic floor can’t activate quickly with power, then this is when women are more likely to leak. This type of exercise will challenge both the weak pelvic floor and the tight one.
- Start by pulling the pelvic floor on as strong and fast as you can like you are trying to stop the urine flow in a millisecond, then let go. Repeat as many in a row as you can in 15 seconds, then rest for 15 -20 seconds.
- Repeat a second round, this time pretending to do a small cough at the same time you lift.
The focus should be a feeling of tightness in your vagina like you are trying to slow the urine flow down then, when you relax, imagine the urine rushing out.
Pelvic floor exercises in pregnancy are important because women who do them are less likely to experience urinary leaking during the second and third trimester, and after the baby is born. “One of the other important reasons to exercise the pelvic floor in pregnancy is to do with connection. The pelvic floor only activates when a nerve “talks” to it and the more a nerve talks to a muscle, the stronger and faster this muscle responds, a bit like having a muscle on speed dial - as opposed to having to look through your phone contacts to find a number and then make a call,” says Evans. “So, if a woman has been exercising her pelvic floor during pregnancy, then following the birth of the baby this “well-rehearsed” nerve pathway is likely to result in a quicker and faster recovery of the pelvic floor.”
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