During pregnancy your pelvic floor muscles are put under a lot of stress, and can become weaker and stretched, from as early as 12 weeks. Pregnancy can also increase the risk of constipation, which adds further pressure to your pelvic floor.
A few simple exercises that you can do anywhere (even on the bus) will help you keep your pelvic floor muscles in shape.
Step 1: Find your pelvic floor muscles
Imagine that you’re trying to stop yourself mid-wee and also in the middle of passing wind. The feeling is that you lift up and in, gently squeezing, both at the front and back. If you can feel a tightening in either or both of these areas, you’re going to be making a difference.
Step 2: Improve your technique
Now it’s time to do it properly and the tricky thing is to learn how to do it:
- without holding your breath – you should be able to hold a conversation while doing it
- without tightening your tummy, thigh or buttock muscles
- without squeezing your legs together
So, try it again, but this time put your hands first on your tummy and then on your buttocks to make sure you can’t feel them moving. To make sure you’re not holding your breath, try counting out loud while you do it.
You may want to start by lying down in a quiet, comfy place. Then as you get more experienced you’ll be able to do them when you’re sitting down or moving around.
Step 3: Practise slowly and fast
You need to be able to do your pelvic floor exercises both slowly and fast, to gain the greatest strength. Fast exercises help you avoid a little wee leaking out when you cough, sneeze or laugh.
- Lift your pelvic floor muscles while you count to ten
- Hold your muscles tight for a further count of ten – don’t worry if at first you can’t hold them for ten, hold for as long as you can and then slowly increase over time
- Relax your muscles for a count of ten
- Repeat at least seven times
Fast – you’ll need to be good at your slow exercises before moving on to fast ones
- Quickly lift your pelvic floor muscles
- Hold for just a second
- Relax your muscles and rest for one second
- Repeat at least seven times
How often should I do pelvic floor exercises?
The recommendation is to exercise your pelvic floor muscles for a minimum of three times a day, for eight times each session. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists also recommends that you do a quick contraction just before you cough, sneeze or laugh – if you’re quick enough!
I keep forgetting to do them. How can I remember?
To help you remember to do your pelvic floor exercises, try putting a little red sticker on the fridge door, on something in your bedroom or on your diary cover to remind you that when you see that sticker, you need to do your exercises.
Pelvic floor exercises are discreet and you can do them anywhere, even on the bus!
How can I tell if I’m doing the exercises correctly?
If you know you don’t have any infection, haven’t had bleeding and haven’t been warned off sex during pregnancy (due to medical issues), you can try this. Make sure your hands are clean (you may want to do this in the bath) and then gently insert one or two fingers into your vagina and do the exercise. You should feel a good squeeze around your finger.
If it feels a little weak, don’t worry, just keep up the exercises and you should notice a difference quite soon.
When should I start pelvic floor exercises?
If you’re already pregnant, you can start doing your pelvic floor exercises now to get your body into shape.
Once you’ve given birth, do your pelvic floor exercises regularly. Even if you don’t have any birth problems that have caused excessive strain, it’s good to keep these exercises up throughout your life.
I’ve given birth now. Is it too late to start?
It’s not too late to begin. If you haven’t been doing your pelvic floor exercises and are now wishing you had, don’t worry, just start doing them regularly and you’ll notice a difference.
“I’m converted to Pilates”
“While pregnant, I didn’t think pelvic floor exercises applied to me, as I was having an elective caesarean. But after birth I had pelvic and back problems and began Pilates classes. My advice to all pregnant women is to find a good prenatal Pilates class. Even though you may not feel it at first, it works your body at a deeper level. The results are immediate.”
Sabina, 40, mum to Finn, 4, and Lorenzo, 18 months
“I still do my pelvic floor exercises”
“My ‘accident’ at seven months pregnant encouraged me to do pelvic floor exercises, and I still do them each time I change Luca’s nappy.”
Jacquelyne, 38, mum to Luca, 5 months
“Exercises really helped me”
“I started to do pelvic floor exercises when five months pregnant. Then I read that too much exercise could impair delivery, so I stopped. But six weeks after delivery I had to go back to see the gynaecologist. Now I do the exercises and have no problems.”
Raphaelle, 30, mum to Carmen, 16 months