Written by Michelle Hall, Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapist at LifeCare Cockburn
You’re told to do your Kegel exercises to prepare your body for having a baby; but what does that really mean? How do you know whether you’re doing them properly? It’s one of those things that can be embarrassing to talk about, and yet a conversation and training session with the right person can be extremely beneficial for your long-term health.
What happens to my pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy?
One of the main reasons we encourage women to have their pelvic floor checked during pregnancy is to determine what type of pelvic floor they have and best prepare their pelvic floor for childbirth. A weak pelvic floor will require a different type of exercise program to an overactive or hypertonic pelvic floor.
Typically, pregnancy hormones cause a ‘softening’ of the ligaments and muscles, which can lead to reduced joint support. This, along with changing posture and the extra weight of a growing baby, can weaken your pelvic floor muscles.
When these muscles weaken during pregnancy, it can often lead to incontinence (accidental leaks of urine when you exercise, laugh, lift, cough or sneeze). It can also lead to lower back pain or pelvic organ prolapse symptoms such as an ache or heaviness, or a lump or bulge inside your vagina that occurs when your bladder, bowel and uterus aren’t receiving enough support.
How can physiotherapy help?
Research shows us that women who do their pelvic floor exercises, “kegels”, during pregnancy have a quicker recovery of their pelvic floor after childbirth, with a reduced risk of bladder and bowel problems. By seeing a Women’s Health Physiotherapist during your pregnancy, you can make sure you are exercising your pelvic floor correctly with pregnancy appropriate exercises. Believe it or not, studies have shown that 50% of women do not do these correctly.
After giving birth, as a busy mum, it sounds onerous to have to make time to do pelvic exercises. The good news is ‘Kegels’, also known as pelvic floor muscle exercises, generally can be done in minutes and you don’t have to go to a gym to do them.
It is highly recommended that every woman has a postnatal assessment with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist around 6-8 weeks post birth to gradually regain strength in the abdominals, trunk and pelvic regions.
Many women are keen to return to sport and recreational activities after having a child, and that requires a strong pelvic floor. So, if you’re planning to get active and hit the gym or are prone to sneezes from hay fever in the spring, make your pelvic floor a strong and resilient friend.
Learn how to exercise your pelvic floor muscles correctly and safely before, during and after your pregnancy by asking to speak with one of our trained Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapists at LifeCare.
Morkved S, Bo K. Effect of pelvic floor muscle training during pregnancy and after childbirth on prevention and treatment of urinary incontinence: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med 2014;48:299–310.
Neumann PB, et al (2005) Physiotherapy for female stress urinary incontinence: a multicentre observational study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Volume 45, Issue 3, pages 226–232
Continence Foundation of Australia. https://www.continence.org.au/