Pelvic Floor Exercises (Kegels)
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When it comes to pelvic floor exercises, you might wonder what all the fuss is about and if they are really so important. You may have heard them referred to as Kegels, which means exactly the same thing. Kegel is the name of the gynaecologist who invented the exercises in the late 1940s.
Why do I need to do pelvic floor exercises?
Both men and women have pelvic floor muscles; they are a group of muscles that lie underneath the underside of the bladder and rectum. They provide support for these two organs and to the uterus in pregnant women, and it is important that they are kept strong.
Pregnancy and childbirth can put a tremendous amount of strain on these muscles, making them weak. A weak pelvic floor can often cause stress incontinence. Stress incontinence is common amongst women and causes small amounts of urine to leak when pressure is applied to the bladder - typically through laughing, coughing or sneezing. A weak pelvic floor can also lead to faecal incontinence, a more embarrassing but less common condition.
Don't worry if this has already happened to you, it is never too late to start exercising your pelvic floor. However, you should choose not to wait until you experience these symptoms before starting to do these exercises. The sooner you begin to do them, the lower your chances of experiencing stress incontinence. It is possible that you could sail through pregnancy (particularly if you are young) with no leaks at all, but childbirth could stretch your pelvic floor considerably, and you will find that it returns to normal more easily if you have maintained an appropriate exercise regime throughout your pregnancy.
Toning your pelvic floor is also thought to help you to deliver the baby and potentially reduce your chances of having an episiotomy or a tear. Preventing stress incontinence and aiding the delivery of your baby really ought to be highest on your list of priorities. However, in case you needed any further incentives to start that exercise regime, you might like to know that exercising your pelvic floor can also lead to a more gratifying experience during sexual intercourse. So get squeezing!
How do I do pelvic floor exercises?
Pelvic floor exercises, or Kegels, are very easy to do. You should tense the muscles, hold them tightly for 5 seconds, and then slowly release them. The best way to describe how to contract your pelvic floor muscles is to tighten the area around your vagina and anus in the same way that you would if you were to stop urinating mid-flow. Keep your legs still, and do not tighten any other muscles - your thighs, bottom and tummy should all remain relaxed. Don't hold your breath either, you should be able to talk normally while doing these exercises and they should not leave you short of breath afterwards.
You should aim to do sets of 20 repetitions, 3 times a day. They really can be done anywhere and nobody will be able to tell that you are doing them. So whether you want to get your little workouts done in the supermarket queue or in the dentist's chair, go ahead!
The most difficult aspect of a pelvic floor regime is actually remembering to do them. Lots of women say that they mean to do them several times a day but that they often realise that they haven't done them for days. Work out a routine that will work around your lifestyle and one where you will not forget to do them. Using prompts is helpful for some women, for example, doing a set before each meal of the day, or every time you are about to get out of the car. If necessary, set a reminder on your phone or computer three times a day! You can also do these exercises while having sex, which might make the idea of exercise more attractive, but unless you are having sex three times a day you will have to schedule in time to do them on your own as well. Do not practice pelvic floor exercises while you are urinating, as it is important that you empty your bladder completely every time you go to the toilet to help prevent urinary tract infections.
You should continue with this exercise regime after childbirth but give yourself a rest during the immediate weeks following labour. You will not damage yourself by starting them again too early but these muscles will be sore following the birth of your baby and exercising them too soon could be uncomfortable.
The exercises won't take up more than 15 minutes of your day, you can do them whenever and wherever you like. You don't need any equipment, you don't need to go to the gym and you can even do them while having sex. There really is no excuse for not doing them!