There are many reasons to keep your pelvic floor area toned during pregnancy. Unfortunately there are lots of different exercises out there and not much info on why it is important to do them.
The obvious reason is to avoid incontinence post-birth, but this is only part of the story.
Your pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles that sit inside your pelvis and act as a “hammock” supporting your uterus (and baby during pregnancy), but also all your abdominal organs below your thoracic diaphragm. They are not one blanket but comprised of different muscle groups that allow three openings for the passing of urine (via urethra), faeces (via anus) and baby (via Vagina). You release these three things but controlling your pelvic floor.
This group of muscles are also involved in helping the spine to stay aligned – something that can compromised in pregnancy due to the weight of the baby pulling your spine into a stronger curve. Pelvic floor is also influential in sex – not just the ability to tighten and release, but also in the sensitivity of the area. Combined with the control over your ability to wee, poo and have a baby, it is really a no brainer to keep them in good shape.
How do I find my pelvic floor?
The first step is pelvic floor awareness – if you have never thought about your pelvic floor this can be somewhat tricky. The first step is just to tighten all your muscles as if you were stopping yourself from going to the loo. And release. If you struggle with this then next time you are actually going to the loo, try to stop the flow briefly just to understand which muscles to focus on. (NB, it is not advisable to do pelvic floor exercise whilst actually going to the loo due to the risk of not letting it all out – the last thing you want in your pregnancy is a bladder infection!)
The Basic Clench
Once you get that, the next step is to try to discern the three different parts of the pelvic floor. This can be done in any position but probably easiest to start seated or standing.
1) Clench your anus for a few seconds and try to focus on the vagina and urethra openings and think about relaxing them. The release.
2) Clench your urethra for a few seconds, and again try to relax the other openings. Then release.
3) Clench your perineum (the bit in the middle). This is arguably the hardest bit to do as we are not used to clenching this. Think about sex perhaps? Then release.
If you feel there is no difference between each one, don’t worry this is quite normal. Just keep practising and try to move your awareness around.
And now we can add in breathing. The practice of breathing can really help with the pelvic floor exercises.
Try to inhale as you clench, and exhale as your release.
You can do this simple clench sequence every day and repeat it 5 times, trying to match the movement to the breath. Avoid holding at the top of the inhale or at the bottom of the exhale, just keep a nice easy flow going.
This can then be taken through into labour and birth as muscle memory so as you breathe out during labour, your body will automatically release the pelvic floor and help baby come into the world.
Interestingly once you have had your baby, the post-natal breathing technique for pelvic floor is the opposite – exhale to clench, and inhale to release.
Yoga and the Pelvic Floor
The practice of yoga can also help with toning the pelvic floor. Apart from doing exercise in class, we can also give focus to the pelvic floor in many different poses adding an extra element to our practice, and helping to tone the muscles in different positions (useful if you end up having your baby standing up with one foot on the wall for example!). But also just getting into the yoga poses themselves can naturally stretch the pelvic floor. Squats, lunge positions such as Warrier and even just tucking your pelvis under can all help to keep your pelvic floor in shape. (If you have never done yoga before I would advise attending a class to ensure you get the positions right).
Ultimately the most important thing is to do it frequently and regularly. Even if you can’t feel any difference to start with, like anything you will build up strength and flexibility over time. You can start your pelvic floor muscles at any time during or even before your pregnancy. Even if you have already had your baby (perhaps even some time ago) you cans still benefit from toning your pelvic floor – it is never too late!
3 Top Tips for Toning your Pelvic Floor in Pregnancy
So, the key things to remember are:
1) Clench, but more importantly, release.
2) Inhale with the clench, and exhale to release.
3) Focus on the three different parts of the pelvic floor (but doing any clenching is better than none, so don’t get hung up on this if you find it hard!
Birthzang teaches Pregnancy Yoga with Active Birth at Hamilton Road Children’s Centre in East Reading.