Kegel (Pelvic Floor) Exercises during Pregnancy
The pelvic floor comprises of a sling of muscles, tissues, and ligaments stretching from the pubic bone in front to the rear end of the spine in back. It functions like a hammock, supporting vital organs like the bladder, uterus, and intestines as well as helping in controlling bowel and bladder movements [1, 3].
What are Kegels
Earning its name after gynecologist Andrew Kegel, who, in the 1940s, stressed upon it to help women cope with bladder problems during and post-pregnancy , the Kegel exercise aids in strengthening and toning the pelvic floor muscles .
Why are Kegels important during pregnancy
Kegels are extremely good during pregnancy because it works to maintain a healthy pelvic floor in the following ways:
- Benefits by toning and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, reducing the risk of a prolapse [3, 15, 16].
- Facilitates in proper bladder and bowel movements, thus minimizing possibilities of hemorrhoids and providing relief from constipation [3, 9, 14].
- Lessens instances of urinary incontinence or leakage (common during all trimesters of pregnancy) when laughing, sneezing, coughing or carrying something heavy .
- Helps better support the increasing weight of the growing baby .
- Proves beneficial in the ninth month as it relaxes the pelvic floor, shortening the second phase of labor as you are attempting to push the baby out, also minimizing the chances of requiring an episiotomy (surgical cut to help childbirth) [2,4,7].
How to do Kegel exercises during pregnancy
- Make sure you have located the pelvic floor muscle that can also be done by inserting your finger into the vagina and try squeezing the surrounding muscles [8, 9]. However, this is not recommended if you often experience bleeding or are advised not to have sex during pregnancy .
- Now contract the pelvic floor muscle, hold for 4-5 seconds, and relax; repeat 8-10 times, and gradually increase the holding time to reach a 10-second mark .
- Try doing two sets thrice a day [8, 10].
While doing a Kegel, imagine as if you are pausing your urine flow, or preventing the passing of gas.
Things to keep in mind while doing Kegel exercises for pregnancy
- Always keep your bladder empty before doing it .
- While exercising your pelvic floor, avoid pulling your stomach in, pausing your breath, moving your legs, or squeezing your buttock and abdominal muscles [1, 5, 10]. The only area you should be working is the pelvic muscle.
- Do not attempt it while urinating as it might make the muscles weak putting you at the risk of urinary infection .
- If you already have urinary incontinence, attempt to squeeze your pelvic floor muscles the moment you cough or sneeze as this might help in preventing a urine leakage .
- Refrain from overdoing it as then you may have to strain while urinating or during bowel movements .
Are Kegel weights and balls safe while pregnant
Kegel weights or balls, also known as pleasure balls, do the work of Kegel exercise as they are said to strengthen the vaginal muscles, improve bladder control as well as increase sex drive . However, attempting to insert it into your vagina may not be a proper thing to do when pregnant or during nursing as there are risks of bacterial infections . Hence, a doctor’s advice is always needed if you intend to use Kegel balls when pregnant.
Women are even said to use electrical stimulation as an alternative to pelvic floor exercise, though its application during pregnancy may not be safe enough .
Video: Kegels or pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy
Post-pregnancy pelvic floor exercise: Is it safe
It is advisable to continue Kegels even post pregnancy as it helps in toning the pelvic floor muscles, lessening swelling as well as accelerating the healing process .
If you did not have much hassle during your pregnancy, you might resume Kegels a day after delivery. Initially, you can do it while lying down if your stitches hurt as you sit up. Begin with gentle squeezes for a short span (four to five times in a day) which should increase in duration and intensity as you recuperate.
In case you have had a C-section, ventouse or forceps delivery, do the exercise only after the catheter has been removed and the urine flow is normal .
You may not feel anything when you do it post childbirth, since the perineum stays numb for a while, with the sensation returning in a few weeks. However, even if you do not get the feeling, the purpose of Kegel is still being achieved . Doing Kegels on a regular basis would also help to make your second or subsequent pregnancies better, lessening chances of prolapse or other vaginal complications .
When not to do Kegels
Though Kegels are considered safe during early or late pregnancy, avoid doing it on days you feel too stressed or worn out. If you experience bleeding, pain in the coccyx or hurt yourself in any way when doing it, stop immediately and consult your doctor at the earliest.
The best thing about this exercise is that others would not even know when you are doing it, at the traffic signal, workplace, at the doctor’s anywhere you please. In fact, doing it all your life, and not just when you are expecting, would ensure a sound pelvic floor health .