Should women reduce pelvic floor exercise in pregnancy?
Is it true that women should reduce their pelvic floor exercise towards the end of pregnancy?
I was asked this question about pelvic floor exercise recently and I decided to reply with a blog response. Because, not only is the answer fairly involved, but I also think it’s important to share the many different ways you can take care of your pelvic floor health.
First, let’s talk about the correct way to ‘kegel’
Focus on your breath:
Pelvic floor exercises, also known as kegels, can be an important tool when done correctly. When I teach pelvic floor contraction in the pre and postnatal period, I focus very much on your breathing. During a kegel exercise, you should have equal focus on the release and the contraction of your pelvic floor, and the way you breathe whilst doing this exercise can make both movements more effective.
When you inhale, your pelvic floor should move down and ‘bloom’.
When you exhale, your pelvic floor should lift back up and naturally contract.
Exhale as you contract the muscles. Inhale as you release them.
If done incorrectly, these exercises could cause your pelvic floor to tighten and draw your tailbone towards your pubic bone, something which definitely won’t help while you are trying to get a baby through there! So, please remember to breathe, focus and take your time.
Use your torso:
You should also work on ensuring that, as you inhale, you are using your entire torso. Your breath should move between your sit bones, hip bones and the bottom of your ribcage. Then, as you exhale, you should first allow the natural recoil to happen and then, towards the end of the exhale, gently contract your pelvic floor.
This feeling is not a ‘lift and squeeze’ motion, it’s a gentle connection between the sit bones as you switch on the muscle without over-tightening or tensing it.
More ways to work these muscles
It is important to understand that kegel exercises aren’t the only way to look after your pelvic floor. The following factors can also play a big part in the aiding the smooth contraction and release of these important birthing muscles.
Your pelvic floor needs to have a good amount of mobility to function effectively and allow your baby to move through more easily. A well-functioning pelvic floor is able to release as effectively as it contracts.
When it comes to looking at how your pelvic floor is functioning, you also need to consider your posture. Ensure that your pelvis stacks over your ankles, your ribcage stacks over your pelvis and your head stacks over your ribcage. This alignment will impact how well your pelvic floor supports you day to day.
A well-functioning pelvic floor also needs to be moved! And there are many ways to work these muscles. In fact, going for a walk can be just as good for your pelvic floor as doing typical pelvic floor exercise like kegels.
To strengthen any muscle, you need to add weight and movement, which you can do with exercises such as squats, with coordinated breathing, and inner thigh strengthening, with coordinated breathing. But remember, you can’t strengthen a tight muscle, with these exercises you should, once again, focus as much on releasing the muscle as contracting it.
Encourage pelvic floor release
There are several exercises that can help you to smoothly release your pelvic floor:
Open like a flower:
As you inhale, visualise your pelvic floor opening like a flower.
On all fours, rock forwards and backwards, rotating the femur internally as you inhale
On all fours, exhale to draw your tailbone to your pubic bone and your pubic bone to your chest. Then, inhale to release back to a flat back and feel the space between the sit bones.
You can roll on a tennis ball, or similar, to massage your glut muscles. The gluts – your bum muscles! – are connected to the pelvic floor via connective tissue called the fascial lines, and when we release the gluts, the pelvic floor releases too.
Stay active for labour and beyond.
When preparing for birth, your awareness of how to release your pelvic floor can certainly help during labour. But, not only that, it is also super important to prepare for the postnatal period and keep a level of strength in your pelvic floor, to do that, you need to stay as active as possible.