How to do pelvic floor exercises
Following the birth of your baby this is one muscle group that you cannot begin exercising too early!
Pre and post natal fitness expert, Wendy MacLeod, explains what pelvic floor exercises are and how to do them effectively.
The muscles of the pelvic floor have an important part to play in every woman’s life. And it is not necessarily just in the post natal period that this is the case – age, chronic coughing and high impact sports play a part in its overall strength. Another common misconception is to believe that a caesarean delivery, has no impact on your pelvic floor.
Here is my short guide to understanding your pelvic floor and how to do effective pelvic floor exercises after childbirth.
- So, what is pelvic floor?
- The benefits of pelvic floor exercise
- When to start?
- Stress incontinence
- Effective pelvic floor exercises
Most of us are familiar with the fact that if we contract the muscles used for stopping the flow of urine, we have located our pelvic floor. But the pelvic floor is so much more than this and plays many important roles in a woman’s life. Not only does this hammock of muscle tissue literally hold up and support our pelvis and internal organs but it can assist the delivery of our baby and even enhance our sex lives.
Pelvic floor work in the first few days following delivery is invaluable as it aids the healing process. This is good news for trauma caused during the birth such as tears and episiotomies, as it increases the blood flow to the area of the scar. Also, the sooner you start the sooner you will see and feel the results as well as setting yourself off on a good routine.
You can begin ‘training’ your pelvic floor muscles immediately after the birth of your baby, so quite literally from your hospital bed! Don’t be demoralised if you find it difficult to contract the muscle at all during those first few days. This is completely normal and within a few days you will begin to feel the strength return.
It is often the case that a little stress incontinence can occur in the early post natal days – this is normal. High impact activities such as running or jumping are best avoided for the first few months to avoid putting undue stress on the pelvic floor and from weakening it further.
If you find that you are experiencing stress incontinence (passing a little urine when running, sneezing, coughing) even after weeks of regular pelvic floor work, you may wish to contact your GP. He or she can then refer you to a physiotherapist for further treatment if required.
Each muscle group in our body is made up from both slow and fast twitch fibres – the pelvic floor is no different. This means that it is essential to engage the pelvic floor in two main ways – fast and slow types of contractions.
Finding your ‘base point’
To monitor your progress, the first day you start; take a note of how many seconds you are able to hold a contraction. Don’t be disheartened if you only can for a second or two, this will improve!
Basic (‘fast’) contraction
Start by simply contracting and slowly releasing the muscle. The controlled release is important as it does not put the muscle through any further strain or trauma. Aim for up to 10 contractions per set, and for up to 3 sets, 3 times a day. Bear in mind, everyone is different so just do what you can and build it up.
Contract the muscle in the same way as above but aim to hold the contraction for up to 10 seconds. Again this will be minimal to begin with but with regular practice can improve within in days. Aim for the same amount of sets as before.
This takes a little more control than the others and so is probably best to add this in after you are a few weeks post natal.
Try to imagine your pelvic floor as an elevator and take the muscle contractions through the various ‘floors’. This requires a lot of control and concentration and probably best left to practice in a private area to avoid the embarrassing facial expressions that may ensue!
Start by taking the contraction to level 1, then level two, then level 3 and so on – but without returning to ‘ground’ in between.
You don’t have to be lying down to do pelvic floor exercises. ‘Link in’ your pelvic floor routine with regular daily activities, such as baby’s feeds, walks, brushing your teeth, waiting at traffic lights etc.
The good news is that it is possible through doing these exercises regularly that you can get back to almost, if not all, your previous strength.
Like every muscle group though, it takes regular training to maintain results!