Why Kegel Exercises Are Great During and After Pregnancy
You've heard Kegels mentioned from time to time, but just what are these exercises, and what do they do? These invisible exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that help support your bladder, uterus, and rectum, and they are great to do both during and after pregnancy. Read on to learn about the benefits of Kegel exercises and how you can add them to your daily routine.
What Is Kegel Exercise?
Kegel exercise is a form of pelvic floor exercise that involves squeezing and relaxing muscles in the pelvic and genital areas. These muscles support the pelvic organs, including the bladder, uterus, small intestine, and rectum. Regular Kegel exercise during pregnancy and after you’ve given birth can help improve and maintain your bladder and bowel control by increasing the strength, endurance, and correct function of these important muscles. Kegels can be beneficial throughout life, and you might want to begin doing them during pregnancy or after your baby is born, when pelvic floor muscles often need to be strengthened.
The good news is that you don’t need to join a gym to train these muscles. Kegels can be done discreetly as a part of your daily routine.
Benefits of Kegel Exercises for Women
The benefits of doing Kegel exercises — especially during pregnancy and after giving birth — include:
Improved bladder control. Many women experience leaking urine during pregnancy or after having given birth. The risk increases with a vaginal delivery, as well as with having had a greater number of children. Kegels can help prevent or treat conditions like urinary incontinence — when you feel the strong urge to pee and pass urine before you can get to the bathroom, or stress incontinence, which involves leaking a few drops of urine when you cough, laugh, or sneeze.
Strengthening pelvic organ support. Vaginal childbirth is one potential cause of pelvic organ prolapse (when the uterus, urethra, and/or bowel sag down into the vagina). This is because pregnancy and vaginal childbirth can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, so they don't provide enough support for the pelvic organs. As part of a treatment plan, your doctor may recommend Kegels.
Reduced risk of fecal incontinence. This is a condition that causes you to leak stool before you make it to the bathroom. Kegels can help strengthen the rectal muscles to help prevent this.
Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy also helps you develop the ability to relax and control these muscles in preparation for labor and birth. In the postpartum period, Kegels can help heal perineal tissues, which are stretched during vaginal birth.
How to Do Kegel Exercises
Kegel exercises are easy to do. It’s all about squeezing and relaxing the same muscles you would use to stop a stream of urine. Here’s how to do Kegels:
Find the right muscles. To do this, you can insert a clean finger into your vagina and squeeze the muscles you would use to hold in gas. If you feel a tightening around your finger, you’re doing it right. You can also imagine you are trying to stop passing gas or trying to stop the flow of urine to locate the right muscles. If you’re still unsure, your healthcare provider can help you locate the right muscles.
Get comfortable. At first, you may find it easiest to practice lying down. Later on, you'll be able to do them lying down, standing, or even while sitting.
Squeeze the pelvic floor muscles, relax, and repeat. Here are a few different Kegel exercise routines to try:
Long hold. Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and hold for several seconds. Then relax for a few seconds and repeat. Initially, you may only be able to hold for one or two seconds, but over a few weeks, you'll gradually be able to increase the hold time by a second or two until you can hold for 10 seconds. You can try to do this 10 times in a row, but if this is too hard, start by doing fewer repetitions. As you practice, you might feel the contraction letting go, and that's OK. Just focus on retightening the muscles. Over time, you'll notice the contraction itself becoming stronger, too.
Contract and release. Quickly tighten and relax the pelvic floor muscles several times in a row.
Hold for three, relax for three. Hold the squeeze for three seconds, relax for three seconds, and repeat.
Increase the intensity as your muscles get stronger. It's best to start small and gradually increase the number of repetitions, the duration of each squeeze, and the frequency of daily practice sessions as the muscles get stronger. Read more about when and how often to do Kegels in the next section.
As with all types of exercise, you will need to stick with Kegels and do them correctly to see the best results. Typically, women report noticing better bladder and bowel control after about 6 to 12 weeks. For continued results, make Kegels a permanent part of your daily routine.
When to Do Kegels and How Often
If you are pregnant or have just had a baby, it's best to ask your provider before starting. During pregnancy, you may want to start in the second trimester, which starts at around 14 weeks pregnant. This is when many moms-to-be experience a much-needed energy boost. After your baby is born, you may be able to start doing Kegels within a few days of an uncomplicated vaginal birth — just make sure you feel ready. If you had complications during vaginal birth or had a c-section, wait until the doctor gives you the all clear.
There is no set rule on how often to do Kegels. Some experts recommend doing Kegels at least twice a week, while others recommend doing them daily. There are many options in terms of how many Kegels to do and how often. For example, your healthcare provider may suggest doing 10 sets of Kegels three times per day; doing 50 squeezes throughout the day; or practicing twice a day before increasing to three times a day. With a little practice, you'll be able to do them while you're relaxing on the couch, waiting in line at the store, or even lying in bed. You can also contract your pelvic floor muscles before and during any situation where you might leak urine, such as when you sneeze or laugh.
Tips for Doing Kegel Exercise
To get the most out of doing your Kegels, keep these tips in mind:
Don't do Kegels while peeing, as this may prevent your bladder from fully emptying.
Don't strain or hold your breath, and keep your abdominal, buttock, and thigh muscles relaxed.
Don't overdo it. After starting to do these exercises, it can be normal to feel some soreness around the pelvic area, but if you feel pain, stop and talk to your doctor.
Doing these exercises regularly is important. If you find yourself forgetting, there are apps you can download that remind you to do your Kegels and guide you through different training sessions.
Some women find contracting the pelvic floor impossible to start with, or they find it tricky to locate the right muscles. Your healthcare provider may recommend biofeedback training, which helps check which muscles are being contracted, or electrical stimulation, which uses painless electric currents to contract the correct muscles.
Kegels are your little secret — no one will ever know when you're working hard on your pelvic floor muscles. But, it can also be great for your overall physical and mental health to do other forms of pregnancy exercise, like prenatal yoga. Anything you do to keep moving and stay fit will help you prepare for motherhood!
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