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Practice Your Kegels: The Importance of a Strong Pelvic Floor

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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. The first step is to identify the different areas of the pelvic floor, to avoid overuse of abdominal or gluteus muscles in the exercises.

  1. 1. Start with the area around the urethra. This is the muscle used to hold in urine when you are waiting for an open bathroom stall! Start by squeezing this muscle “up” and “in.”
  2. 2. Next, move to the perineum. Imagine that you are picking up a small pearl with your vagina. Squeeze upward as you pull the pearl toward you. This helps to tone the vaginal walls.
  3. 3. Finally, focus on the anal sphincter muscles, where you have a bowel movement. Squeeze these muscles upward.

While this may be difficult at first, identifying of the muscles of the pelvic floor becomes easier with repetition. Try moving from front to back three times; next time, increase this to five, and continue to increase the repetitions with every session. Try to hold each squeeze for a couple of breaths before releasing.

One of the best things about pelvic floor exercises is that they can be practiced anywhere, at any time. At first, lying on your back or coming onto your hands and knees can help you isolate the muscles and avoid relying on your abdominals and gluteus. As you become more familiar with the individual pelvic floor muscles, you can practice these exercises sitting cross-legged, squatting, standing—even waiting in the grocery store check-out line!

Practicing pelvic floor exercises can help women of all ages maintain a healthy, strong core and keep their bodies feeling young and in control.

Do the Kegel

Reviewed May 18, 2011

Edited by Alison Stanton

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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