Throughout that ‘magical’ 9 months, we pregnant women are surrounded by midwives, doctors and well-meaning (and maybe with a vested interest?!) partners entreating us to “keep doing the pelvic floor exercises”. But unless you’re very lucky, you’re not likely to get more info on HOW exactly to do them than a thin leaflet shoved into your hands, and often it can be an embarrassing question to ask.
To that end, early this year I qualified as an Exercise in Pregnancy specialist, and I thought it might be helpful, all giggles aside, to have a ‘how to’ written down somewhere, for pregnant women to refer to if they want or need to. So, here you go!
Finding your Pelvic Floor Muscles:
Firstly you need to identify your pelvic floor muscles. They form a kind of sling that covers your undercarriage area, and have three openings for uretha, vagina and anus.
To figure out where yours is and what it feels like, start by squeezing your back passage as if you’re trying not to pass wind (we’ve all been there!). Relax gently. (IMPORTANT – always release your PF muscles gently, don’t ever push out or bear down when doing these exercises!). Practice quickly squeezing and gently releasing these muscles on their own.
Next think about your front passage. Squeeze the muscles around your urethra, as if you’re trying to stop the flow of wee, midstream. If it helps, next time you go to the loo stop and start the flow while you’re weeing, that’ll help you to figure out which muscles you’re using. Practice quickly squeezing and gently releasing these muscles on their own, on and off the loo!
Finally, think about the muscles around your vagina. Squeeze your vagina tight and pull gently up. It can feel to some women like mimicking the contractions of orgasm. Practice quickly squeezing and gently releasing these muscles on their own. You can practice this one while having sex too, which is particularly effective (and fun!).
So, now you know where or what your PF muscles are, here are the exercises!
Ideally, you need to be doing 2 types of PF exercises regularly – fast and slow. The fast ones are the most helpful for sudden or ‘stress’ incontinence, so when you cough or sneeze or laugh, and help your PF to control those split second moments of weakness (!). The slower ones generally strengthen your PF and will help you to keep good tone. They can speed up labour and make you more resilient down there and guard against prolapse. Plus, they can help to reduce PGP or SPD pain by providing more support to your uterus and taking some pressure off the pelvis. This is anecdotal, though, not proven; but worth a try, right!?
Thinking about all three areas of your PF, squeeze all three areas in and up quickly, and then release gently. Do ten, rest for 30 seconds, do ten more.
Again, thinking about all three areas of your PF, squeeze all three areas in and up slowly, and keep pulling up for a count of 6. Continue to breathe easily throughout – don’t hold your breath!! Release gently. Do ten.
You can do these anywhere and any time (once you get your eyebrows under control – mine went mad when I first started doing them, wiggling all over the place!), but if you can (without looking suspicious!) try and sit up on your sit bones, leaning ever so slightly forward, with your back straight and shoulders relaxed back and down, as though you’re suspended by a string from the crown of your head. Gently contract your tummy muscles (not too hard, just ‘engaged’) and breathe normally.
As these get easier and easier, try elevating these into so called ‘super-mums’:
On all fours, wrists beneath shoulders, knees beneath hips, and with your spine in neutral (eg, not sagging down or curving up) and your abdominal muscles engaged (lightly squeezing baby and bellybutton towards your spine) stretch your right arm way out in front of you, keeping your fingers resting lightly on the floor, and your left leg way out behind you, keeping your toes resting lightly on the floor. Hold this extension, and do 10 reps of fast PF exercises. Bring your right hand and left foot back to the starting place. Repeat on other arm/leg. Do a set of 10 fast reps on each side, then a set of 10 slow reps on each side, and then another set of 10 fast reps on each side.
Again, you can progress these in difficulty over time… When you’re ready to move on, start by reaching forward with your fingers, and stretching out through your heel, toes pointed down towards the floor foot lifting your hand and foot an inch or two off the ground. Over time, lift your hand and foot higher until eventually you can do these exercises with your opposite arm and leg stretched right out in a straight line from fingers to heels (keep your leg long and reach out behind you through your heel, toes pointing down to the floor).
Hope that makes sense, and maybe helps someone – happy squeezing!!