Age, stress, hormones, and childbirth cause many changes within the body. We usually notice these changes, whether we’re becoming quickly out of breath, having difficulty bending down, rotating our bodies, or feeling less strength in our hands. Conversely, it is nice to notice when you start feeling stronger.
I relished the moment postpartum when my mommy muscles kicked in. What are mommy muscles, you wonder?
They happen gradually from the day your baby is born. While carrying around your child, you progressively get stronger as your baby gets bigger. Suddenly you’re carrying a 25-pound baby like it’s no big deal. As moms, we become stronger, lovingly toting our heavy kiddos for extended periods. It’s the mom edition of strength training.
Even though you work up to carrying your little ones around as they grow, you must take measures to care for your body and ensure you remain sturdy and supported. What if I told you about a group of inconspicuous muscles that also need strength training?
This group of muscles manifests differently within the body and aren’t as noticeable when they start weakening. Strong pelvic floor muscles are the forgotten group of muscles that are equally, if not more, important to your everyday life and overall health. Here, we’re sharing what you need to know about strengthening those important pelvic floor muscles, including the proper way to do Kegel exercises.
What are Pelvic Floor Muscles?
Pelvic floor muscles are located in the pelvis and stretch from the pubic bone at the front of the body to the tailbone at the back. They support the bladder, uterus, and rectum like a hammock would hold your body.
Pelvic floor muscles are part of the core muscle group. Core muscles include the pelvic floor, abdomen, and lower back. They are essential for strength, stability, and endurance. Additionally, a strong core is vital for injury prevention, recovery, and alleviating chronic pain. Sometimes the pelvic floor is overlooked when discussing the core. Arguably, the pelvic floor is your core’s base and building block, so starting at the bottom and working up is important.
Pelvic floor muscles are also the foundation for regulating urine and stool. Changes from pregnancy and childbirth can cause the pelvic floor muscles to become weaker and decrease their function. After childbirth, as many as one-third of women suffer from urinary incontinence and 1 in 10 from fecal incontinence.
Signs and symptoms of a weak pelvic floor
- Urinary incontinence and/or urgency
- Bowel incontinence and/or urgency
- Lower back and pelvic pain
- Bad balance
- Poor posture
- Decrease in sexual pleasure
- Pain during sex
- Heaviness in the pelvis during exercise, walking or lifting things (like your baby!)
How To Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor With Kegels
As a female of childbearing age, you have likely heard of a Kegel exercise. You may even read this and start doing your version of Kegels, recalling that your doctor or midwife mentioned their importance. Many females do Kegels on the fly when they remember. This is not ideal as it leads to Kegels being done with bad posture and can cause more harm than good. Think of a Kegel exercise as strength training for your pelvic floor muscles.
When we work out or do yoga, we set aside focused time to ensure proper technique and form. A Kegel is the same. Sure, we may stretch here and there during the day, but it is less intentional than when a specific time is set.
How To Isolate Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
Unfortunately, it is commonly taught that an excellent way to do Kegels is to stop and start the urine while peeing. Continuously stopping and starting urine can do more harm than good and lead to urinary incontinence, urinary retention, and bladder infections. Although you don’t want to use that technique for your Kegel exercises, it is a good way to understand which muscles you want to isolate for your pelvic floor exercises. Take this feeling to your mat and target those same muscles when doing Kegels properly.
How To Do Kegel Exercises
To do a proper Kegel, embrace it as you would any exercise. Set some time aside to strengthen these muscles.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
- Take a deep breath in and out and then in again.
- On your exhale, begin to pull in your pelvic floor muscles in three stages, like an elevator going up. Picture a time when you unexpectedly had to hold in some unwanted gas, those are the muscles you should feel during this pulling-in step.
- Hold when at the top for an inhale, and an exhale.
- Slowly release the pelvic floor muscles on your next inhale, slow and controlled. The release is equally as important, so keep concentrating. Repeat this 5-10 times, and that is one set.
- Do 2-5 sets at a time.
When doing kegels properly, put your fingers about an inch from your hip bone. Kegels should take minimal effort, and you should not feel any bulging or have any other muscles pushing out under your fingers as you do them. You shouldn’t feel any pain while doing Kegels properly.
You can start doing Kegels 1-2 days after your baby is born or as directed by your healthcare provider. As with any exercise, it is essential to listen to your body. If you are feeling pain, dial it back and wait; Kegels should not be painful. If you’re freshly postpartum, you may have to work up to doing the exercise as much as desired. Start slowly, with one set at a time for the first week postpartum, and work toward the desired goal. A good goal for all women, no matter their stage in life, with or without kids, is to incorporate Kegels into their daily exercise. This is where you will see the most results. Aim to do five sets of 5-10 repetitions daily.
Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy
Kegel exercises are a great way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and decrease your chance of incontinence and pelvic pain. Sometimes Kegels aren’t enough, and additional professional support is needed.
If you have any of the signs or symptoms of a weak pelvic floor and Kegels aren’t helping, seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist is necessary. A pelvic floor physiotherapist can do internal and external examinations, personally coach you on your Kegel technique and create an individualized plan to help strengthen your pelvic floor.
After childbirth, many changes occur in the female body. Your body has gone through a lot of hard work during birth. If your pelvic floor is not rested and attended to correctly, it can lead to specific weaknesses and chronic challenges. Luckily there are ways you can support your body to heal and strengthen. To avoid a weak pelvic floor and the health challenges that come with it, the sooner you start strengthening your pelvic floor after birth the better.