The pelvic floor comprises a sling of muscles, tissues, and ligaments stretching from the pubic bone in front to the back’s rear end of the spine. It functions like a hammock, supporting vital organs like the bladder, uterus, and intestines and helping control bowel and bladder movements.
What are Kegels?
Earning its name after gynecologist Andrew Kegel, who, in the 1940s, stressed it to help women cope with bladder problems during and post-pregnancy, the Kegel exercise aids in strengthening and toning the pelvic floor muscles.
Why are Kegels important during pregnancy?
Kegels are extremely good during pregnancy because it works to maintain a healthy pelvic floor in the following ways:
- Benefits toning and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, reducing the risk of prolapse.
- Facilitates proper bladder and bowel movements, thus minimizing the possibility of hemorrhoids and providing relief from constipation.
- It lessens urinary incontinence or leakage (common during all trimesters of pregnancy) when laughing, sneezing, coughing, or carrying something heavy.
- Helps better support the increasing weight of the growing baby.
- It proves beneficial in the ninth month as it relaxes the pelvic floor, shortening the second phase of labor as you attempt to push the baby out and minimizing the chances of requiring an episiotomy (surgical cut to help childbirth).
How to do Kegel exercises during pregnancy?
- Make sure you have located the pelvic floor muscle, which can be done by inserting your finger into the vagina and squeezing the surrounding muscles. However, this is not recommended if you often experience bleeding or are advised not to have sex during pregnancy.
- Now contract the pelvic floor muscle, hold for 4-5 seconds, and relax; repeat 8-10 times, and gradually increase the holding time to reach a 10-second mark.
- Try doing two sets thrice a day.
While doing a Kegel, imagine as if you are pausing your urine flow or preventing the passing of gas.
Things to keep in mind while doing Kegel exercises for pregnancy
- Always keep your bladder empty before doing it.
- While exercising your pelvic floor, avoid pulling your stomach in, pausing your breath, moving your legs, or squeezing your buttock and abdominal muscles. The only area you should be working on is the pelvic muscle.
- Do not attempt it while urinating, as it might weaken the muscles, putting you at risk of urinary infection.
- If you already have urinary incontinence, attempt to squeeze your pelvic floor muscles when you cough or sneeze, as this might help prevent urine leakage.
- Refrain from overdoing it as you may have to strain while urinating or during bowel movements.
Are Kegel weights and balls safe while pregnant?
Kegel weights or balls, also known as pleasure balls, do the work of Kegel exercise as they are said to strengthen the vaginal muscles, improve bladder control, and increase sex drive. However, inserting it into your vagina may not be a proper thing to do when pregnant or during nursing as there are risks of bacterial infections. Hence, a doctor’s advice is always needed if you intend to use Kegel balls when pregnant.
Women are even said to use electrical stimulation as an alternative to pelvic floor exercise, though its application during pregnancy may not be safe.
Video: Kegels or pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy
Post-pregnancy pelvic floor exercise: Is it safe
It is advisable to continue Kegels even post pregnancy as it helps in toning the pelvic floor muscles, lessens swelling and accelerates the healing process.
If you did not have much hassle during your pregnancy, you might resume Kegels a day after delivery. Initially, you can do it while lying down if your stitches hurt as you sit up. Begin with gentle squeezes for a short span (four to five times a day) which should increase in duration and intensity as you recuperate.
If you have had a C-section, ventouse, or forceps delivery, do the exercise only after the catheter has been removed, and the urine flow is normal.
You may not feel anything when you do it post-childbirth since the perineum stays numb for a while, with the sensation returning in a few weeks. However, even if you do not get the feeling, the purpose of Kegel is still being achieved. Doing Kegels regularly would also help improve your second or subsequent pregnancy, lessening the chances of prolapse or other vaginal complications.
When not to do Kegels?
Though Kegels are considered safe during early or late pregnancy, avoid doing it on days you feel too stressed or worn out. If you experience bleeding, pain in the coccyx or you hurt yourself when doing it, stop immediately and consult your doctor at the earliest.
The best thing about this exercise is that others would not even know when you are doing it, at the traffic signal, workplace, or doctor’s, anywhere you please. Doing it all your life, and not just when you are expecting, would ensure sound pelvic floor health.
Dr. Mashiach has completed his MD at the Sackler School of Medicine, TAU; specialization in gynecology at the Lis Maternity and Women’s Hospital, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center; fellowship in Endoscopy at the Polyclinique de I’Hotel-Dieu, Universite d’Auvergne, Clermont, France.
He is a Senior Physician, Director of the Department of Gynecology, which provides routine and preventative care services to its patients and a full range of gynecological surgical procedures for adequately managing its patients with benign gynecologic disorders.
He offers advanced care in all gynecological subspecialties such as Urogynecology, Colposcopy, Fetal Loss Clinic, and Post Menopausal Clinic.