How Can Kegel Exercises During And After Pregnancy Help You?
Should you do Kegel exercises before and/or after pregnancy? The short answer is yes. Kegels target the pelvic floor—muscles you might not even know you have let alone know how to go about finding or strengthening them. But exercising your pelvic floor muscles is key to keeping these muscles, which support the bladder, rectum, and uterus, functioning optimally.
Kegel exercises are particularly relevant for women who are pregnant and/or have given birth as pregnancy and childbirth (as well as aging, excess weight, and other factors) can weaken these muscles—and cause a host of pelvic health problems. Luckily, Kegels are a relatively simple and effective exercise that most women can do to dramatically improve their pelvic floor muscle tone.
Kegels can be done just about anywhere and take only a few minutes per day to perform. Read on for a primer on why you may want to incorporate Kegels into your daily routine and how to do them properly.
Pelvic Floor Muscles
The pelvic floor is a set of muscles in the pelvic region running from the tailbone to the pubic bone like a hammock. This layer of muscles supports the organs in the pelvis, which include the uterus, bladder, and bowel. The muscles span the base of the pelvis to keep your organs in place and strengthen the bladder and rectal sphincters, which give us conscious control over the bladder and rectum.
In other words, strong pelvic floor muscles help you control the release of urine, feces, and flatulence, which means they keep you from having accidents or having to go to the bathroom too often. Kegel exercises can help you keep them strong.
Invented by American gynecologist Arnold Kegel in the 1940s as a nonsurgical treatment for incontinence, the exercise has become a first-line treatment for urinary stress incontinence (USI), vaginal, bladder, or uterine prolapse (sagging), and other pelvic health concerns.
Additionally, Kegels can be used to prevent these issues as well, which is why many healthy women, especially in mid-life and later are encouraged by their doctors and other health professionals to perform them regularly.
Prevention exercise becomes particularly valuable for pregnant and postnatal women seeking to improve or maintain the condition of their pelvic floor muscles. Kegels can also help bolster sexual sensation, which means adding them into your daily life can be a boost in the bedroom as well.
Kegels are an effective, relatively easy exercise that improves pelvic floor muscle strength, which can help prevent and treat incontinence as well as other pelvic health issues.
So, even if you don’t have clinically diagnosed pelvic floor dysfunction, Kegel exercises can help reverse, improve, or prevent very common pregnancy and post-childbirth pelvic health concerns.
Kegels are essentially repetitive squeezes of the pelvic floor muscles. You don't need any special equipment to perform these exercises and they can be done anywhere. All you do is locate the right muscles, tighten, hold, release, rest, and repeat.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. It can be a bit tricky to get the hang of where the muscles are and what exactly to do. However, rest assured, once you do, the actual exercises are straightforward—even easy. The key is to isolate the correct muscles to focus on and learn how to perform them correctly.
Identifying the Muscles
In order to find the correct muscles, there are some things you can try:
- The next time you urinate, stop the urine mid-stream with your muscles and hold. These are the muscles you will use during Kegels. If needed, squeeze and hold a few times to tap into how to isolate these muscles. However, don't make a habit of this or do your Kegels while you urinate, as doing so increases the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).
- Insert a clean finger into your vagina. Squeeze your muscles as if you were holding in urine. If you feel a tightening around your finger, you’ve got the right muscles.
- Use weighted vaginal cones (which are shaped like a rounder, smaller computer mouse) that you insert like a tampon and squeeze. These can be helpful tools to show you which muscles to use and keep you on track while doing your Kegels.
If you’re having difficulty isolating your pelvic floor muscles, ask your doctor or gynecologist for guidance. They may refer you to a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic health who can help teach you proper Kegel technique.
Some doctors also use biofeedback with Kegel exercises in order to monitor pelvic floor activity.
How to Do a Kegel
Proper technique is vital but you can do the exercise in a variety of ways and settings. You can do Kegels laying down, sitting, or standing. Actually, you can do this exercise pretty much any time, anywhere. Ideally, you should do all three positions each day for maximum strength.
To perform the exercise, pull up the pelvic muscles and squeeze for a count of five or six, then relax for a count of five to six seconds. Eventually, you want to be able to work up to a set of 10 to 15 repetitions each time. Aim to do the exercises at least three times a day.
One way to think about doing Kegels is to squeeze and lift from the vaginal opening up toward the cervix. Some describe this tightening motion as like riding an elevator up as far as it will go. Then, as you let the muscles relax, take the elevator all the way back down.
There are many different ways Kegels can be performed. Consult your doctor for specifics on the best forms of the exercise for your particular body and pelvic health concerns. Some variations include doing fast, tight holds or a series of longer, progressively stronger squeezes. Other options include doing customized holds which target specific concerns, such as leaking when exercising, coughing, laughing, or yelling. Variations may incorporate saying different letters or words or simulating coughs while performing Kegels.