Women are often told during pregnancy to exercise their pelvic floor. (You’ve heard of Kegel exercises, right?) But what exactly are “Kegels” and why are they important to practice even after the baby is born? And what are the pelvic floor muscles anyhow?
The pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles at the base of the pelvis. One of the primary pelvic floor muscles wraps around the urethra, the perineum and the rectum or anal sphincter muscle. This web of muscles provides support for your bladder, your bowels and your sexual organs. Strengthening the pelvic floor can provide extra support during pregnancy, help you push your baby through the birth canal and allow you to recover more quickly after a vaginal birth.
Arnold H. Kegel, M.D. (1894-1981), became famous for his eponymous exercises that squeeze and strengthen these muscles. Kegel exercises initially were used primarily to strengthen the perineum (the area between the anus and the vaginal opening) and to control stress urinary incontinence in women after childbirth. This is when a little urine leaks out, for example, when you cough or sneeze.
Kegel found that many women have little or no awareness of or control over the muscles in the pelvic floor. This is exaggerated after childbirth, illness or injury, menopause or pelvic surgery and can result in a weak bladder. Strengthening the pelvic floor can help to reverse stress urinary incontinence. It can also help you control over passing gas.
The exercises can also be used as a preventative measure. Some pregnant women have a weak, thin perineum, which can be thickened and strengthened through regular repetitions of pelvic floor exercises. As a result, bouncing back postpartum is much easier. If that isn’t enough to convince you to practice pelvic floor exercises, how about this: Strengthening the pelvic floor can help you to further enjoy sexual intercourse through increased awareness of your sex organs. This benefits both you and your partner!
Pelvic floor exercises focus awareness on muscle control, primarily working to pull the muscles upward with a squeeze.