For many women, the pelvic floor is a common term, especially for those who partake of pilates or yoga classes. For those who are new to the term, your pelvic floor muscles support your bladder, bowels and uterus. Pregnancy and childbirth can weaken these muscles, but exercises can rebuild their strength.
The strength of these muscles is also directly tied to your control of urinating, bowel movements and passing gas. However, you can maintain or improve their strength and prevent or reduce the adverse side effects of weakened muscles.
Looking Further into What Your Pelvic Floor Is
The pelvic floor is a funnel-shaped muscular structure that separates your pelvic cavity and your lesser perineum. The lesser perineum includes your genitals and anus. The organs that lie on the floor muscles are supported by them.
The floor muscles have a few gaps that allow you to urinate and defecate. Sphincter muscles wrap tightly around the holes to keep their passages shut. The sphincter muscles allow you to have control over your urine, feces and gas.
Weak floor muscles can lead to a leaky bladder, called stress incontinence. This is most common when you cough, sneeze, lift or exercise. You may also notice trouble waiting to urinate, also known as “holding it.” It’s very common and nothing to be ashamed of.
Even though the floor muscles cannot be seen, they can be controlled and trained like how you’d train other muscles of your body.
What About Pregnancy and Childbirth?
Training these muscles is important before, during and after pregnancy. Being pregnant and giving birth stretch the muscles that keep your bladder closed. All pregnant women should do training exercises to avoid or reduce stress incontinence. This is true regardless of your age and even if you’re not currently experiencing stress incontinence.
Weakened muscles don’t just affect the bladder. Weak muscles can lead you to have trouble controlling when you pass gas or have a bowel movement. It’s possible for the uterus, bladder or bowel to sag and push against your vaginal walls (prolapse) if the supporting muscles are weak. Also, consider that with weakened muscles your vagina may be less sensitive and sex less satisfying.
Training Your Muscles
Strong muscles will help your body better cope with the added weight from your growing baby. Muscles that are strong before childbirth will mend quicker, too. Training these muscles can prevent weakness or increase the strength of the floor muscles. Strong muscles can prevent the development of incontinence or prolapse.
Specialized exercises like Kegels or something as simple as regular walking can improve the strength of these muscles. Squeezing your pelvic muscles is an easy and discreet way to strengthen them. It should feel like you’re trying to stop yourself from going pee, but it’s not advised to try the exercise while urinating. If you do, it can eventually cause infections or train your bladder not to empty all the way.
When doing the exercises, squeeze the muscles and hold for 10 seconds. Release for 10 seconds. Then repeat.
The muscles will not strengthen on their own, but there are a few things you can do to help prevent weakening them.
- Avoid constipation, as this can contribute to weakening muscles.
- Always empty your bladder completely, but don’t go to the bathroom “just in case”
because it will train your bladder to go more often.
- Don’t do bouncing exercises or do any frequent heavy lifting.
Remember that keeping these muscles strong can prevent or reduce stress incontinence, improve your sex life and help quicken healing after childbirth. However, it’s always okay to consult with your midwife or doctor if you have concerns. They can help guide you and might even suggest physical therapy.