Your pelvic floor has an important role to play during pregnancy, birth and post-birth. A strong pelvic floor can support your baby and your bladder in pregnancy, help rotate your baby’s head during labour, and help prevent prolapse and stress incontinence once your baby is born. So if you’re starting to get Active for 2 by exercising in pregnancy, it’s well worth including pelvic floor exercises in your routine.
What is my pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a set of muscles attached to the base of your spine at the
They also form the base of your core – the group of muscles which run from your pelvis to your diaphragm and are responsible for stability when exercising.
How to locate your pelvic floor
An easy way to locate your pelvic floor is by trying to stop mid-flow when you’re having a wee. The internal muscles you lift and
Your pelvic floor in pregnancy and birth
Your pelvic floor plays a particularly important role during pregnancy and labour2.
Primarily, it supports the weight of your growing baby; the heavier your baby gets, the more these muscles feel the strain. Along with the challenge of supporting such a heavy load, your pelvic floor is also affected by increased levels of relaxin – a pregnancy hormone that softens the muscles and ligaments of your pelvis in preparation for childbirth. As the hormone makes them less effective at holding your bladder, it’s no wonder that some expectant mums experience the odd leak when they cough, sneeze or exercise.
Later on, when labour begins, your pelvic floor helps to rotate your baby’s head into the ideal position, ready for birth. As your womb contracts to push your baby down, the gentle resistance from your stretchy pelvic floor below encourages your baby’s chin to tuck and their head to turn. Once they are in this position, it is easier for their head to pass under the pubic bone, ready for crowning3.
With regular, simple exercises, you can strengthen your pelvic floor
muscles and reduce the likelihood of certain problems later on.
After nine months of supporting your baby, and the necessary stretching required to let your baby through the birth canal during labour, your pelvic floor may be understandably weaker after birth. Around 40
However, the good news is that pregnant women undertaking pelvic floor muscle training have been found to have a lower incidence of urinary incontinence6 after birth.
How to strengthen your pelvic floor
With regular, simple exercises, you can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and reduce the likelihood of certain problems later on7.
The most effective way to improve both the strength and stamina of your pelvic floor muscles is to combine both short and long squeezes.
How to do pelvic floor
- First, lift up and squeeze your back passage as if you’re trying to hold in a bowel movement. Then lift up and hold the muscles of your vagina and bladder, as you would if you were holding in urine.
- For short squeezes, hold for a second or two, then release. Rest for one or two seconds before squeezing back and front again.
- For long squeezes, hold for at least four seconds, then release. Rest for a few seconds, then repeat. Over time, try to work up to holding the squeeze for 10 seconds.
- Do as many pelvic squeezes as you can, long and short, before your muscles get tired. Aim to repeat your exercises three times a day.
You can perform pelvic floor, or ‘Kegel’ exercises sitting, standing or lying down, although if you’re sitting you may find it less tempting to squeeze your buttocks. Go for quality rather than quantity – doing it correctly is more important than doing it repeatedly – and check that you’re not simply squeezing your buttocks, or holding your breath. The squeeze should be internal, and your breathing should remain normal.
Tips to help you remember
Think of activities you perform regularly and repeatedly throughout your day and practise your pelvic floor exercises at the same time. It might be cleaning your teeth, having a shower, waiting for the kettle to boil, or after every toilet break. It can also be helpful to leave reminders on sticky notes around the house.
If you can get yourself into a routine of regularly strengthening your pelvic floor muscles now, you may well avoid problems after birth.
We’re now seeing evidence that exercising in pregnancy may be one of the best things you can do for your baby’s future health. Pregnancy exercise can have a huge impact on your personal experience of pregnancy, too. Provided you follow the expert guidelines, it’s safe for most women to continue and even start exercising in pregnancy. Just make sure you check with your midwife or doctor first, in case there are any specific medical reasons why you should avoid being physically active in pregnancy.
- Practise locating your pelvic floor muscles
- Place reminders around your home in locations where you’re likely to have time to do the exercises
- Read more about the benefits of exercise in pregnancy
- Visit our Active for 2 coach pages to get a running, swimming, yoga and strength training programme tailored to your trimester.
1. NHS Choices. What are pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises)? [Online]. Available at:http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1063.aspx?categoryid=52 [Accessed: December 2016].
2. Ashton-Miller J, Delancey J. Functional anatomy of the female pelvic floor. Ann NY Acad Sci 2007;1101(1):266-96.
3. Herbert J. Pregnancy and childbirth: the effects on pelvic floor muscles. Nursing Times 2009;105(7):38-41.
4. Sangsawang B, Sangsawang N. Stress urinary incontinence in pregnant women: a review of prevalence, pathophysiology, and treatment. Int Urogynecol J 2013;24(6):901-12.
5. McKinnie V et al. The effect of pregnancy and mode of delivery on the prevalence of urinary and fecal incontinence. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2005;193(2):512-7.
6. Boyle R et al. Pelvic floor muscle training for prevention and treatment of urinary and faecal incontinence in antenatal and postnatal women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012;10:CD.
7. Boyle R et al. Pelvic floor muscle training for prevention and treatment of urinary and faecal incontinence in antenatal and postnatal women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012;10:CD007471.
Last reviewed: 9th December 2016
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