We know it’s important to strengthen pelvic floor muscles in the lead up to pregnancy. But how do you identify exactly where these muscles are, and which exercises are best to help strengthen them before and after childbirth?
To find out, we spoke to Lyz Evans — a mother and women’s health physiotherapist at Women In Focus physiotherapy, specialising in helping women pre- and post birth.
Listen to the full interview here:
Why it’s important to maintain healthy pelvic floor muscles
- They help keep women continent, so when there is urine in the bladder, it stays there.
- When active and exercising, they can prevent leakage.
- They support organs, to help keep the bladder, uterus and bowel are up where they should be, instead of dropping down out of place.
- They support the back and work with deep tummy muscles in the core. Pregnant women have less back pain when pelvic floor muscles are strong.
Strengthening your pelvic floor
To help strengthen these muscles, it’s important you maintain a structured pelvic floor program which you can stick to everyday. Treat each exercise like you would for any other muscle group — focusing on it until it’s fatigued. If the muscle is strong leading up to and during pregnancy, you’ll find you’re able to connect with your pelvic floor muscles a lot quicker post-birth.
If you’re struggling to find your pelvic floor muscle, don’t worry you’re not alone — women are often confused about this muscle because it’s one of the only voluntary muscles that are internal. To learn how to find and engage the pelvic floor muscle, check out Pelvic Floor First.
- Ensure you’re exercising correctly: It’s important to ensure you are exercising the muscle correctly and not detrimentally — by pushing down, instead of up. However, it’s never too late to correct this, and like any other muscle you have to use it to make it work well. In doing so, you’ll be less likely to experience urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
- Relax the muscles: Along with learning to strengthen these muscles, it’s important for women to learn how to consciously relax them too. Women who know how to activate their pelvic floor in pregnancy can often learn to relax better during labour, because it’s a muscle they’re in tune with. The more you can connect with that muscle, the stronger the muscle memory is, and the stronger the neurological connection is.
- Try ‘the Epi-No’: ‘Epi-No’ is a small balloon which is inserted into the vagina in the late stages of pregnancy (around 35 weeks) and acts as a feedback tool on how to relax, how to bear down and push in the right way.
- Continue exercises after childbirth: While it’s important to let your muscles rest after giving birth, you should still try to activate your pelvic floor as soon as possible. This can be done very gently to begin with, such as slowing down urine flow. By engaging this area soon after giving birth, it helps promote the healing of cells where stitches may be, flush out dead blood cells and reduce swelling.