Are you tired of leaking urine? And do you want to have an easier childbirth experience? You have to try Kegel exercises.
Kegel exercises (also called pelvic floor exercises) are one of the most recommended ways for you to prepare your body for labor and delivery. Kegels strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which are the muscles that support your uterus, rectum, bladder, and urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside world).
These special exercises are named after Dr. Arnold H. Kegel, a gynecologist in the 1940s, who recommended these exercises to help women with urinary incontinence and diminished bladder control. (There are also Kegel exercises for men, which have nefarious sexual reasons. Kegels were original designed for women, though.)
The Scoop on Kegel Exercises and their Benefits
Urinary stress incontinence (accidentally peeing on yourself, i.e. leaking urine, when you sneeze, cough, or laugh) affects up to 70 percent of pregnant and postpartum women. Since wetting your pants is quite embarrassing, you probably want to prevent this symptom (or reduce its severity). Kegel exercises are the way to go.
Kegel exercises strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which gives you more control over your flow of urine. And another perk of practicing Kegel exercises when you’re pregnant – they also help reduce your risk of postpartum anal incontinence (accidentally passing a bowel movement or passing gas).
Roughly 1 in 4 women will experience involuntary loss of a stool or accidentally passing gas within six months of giving birth. So, to prevent anal incontinence, it’s a good idea to start practicing Kegel exercises in pregnancy.
Kegel exercises also improve blood circulation to your vaginal and rectal areas, so they may help keep hemorrhoids (swollen blood vessels in your rectum) away. Hemorrhoids are common in pregnancy, especially in the final months, and they can become itchy and a literal pain in your butt.
Another biggie on why you should practice your Kegels – they will speed up the healing of a tear or episiotomy (surgical cut made in the perineum to speed up delivery).
Of course, Kegel exercises also improve the muscle tone of your vagina. So there’s the benefit of having better, more enjoyable sex, too.
How to Do Kegel Exercises
To do Kegel exercises correctly, you need to first identify your pelvic floor muscles. An easy way to find the pelvic floor muscles is to go to the bathroom and pee. In mid-urination, stop the flow. If you’re successful, then you’ve found the correct muscles. (Make sure that you don’t make this a habit – starting and stopping urination can actually weaken the pelvic floor muscles. Plus, not completely emptying your bladder puts you at higher risk of a urinary tract infection.)
Another way to find your pelvic floor muscles is to insert a clean finger inside your vagina, and then squeeze the surrounding muscles. You should be able to feel your vagina tighten, and the pelvic floor shift upward. (You can also practice a Kegel when you’re having sex. If you’re using the right muscles, your husband should be able to feel you “hug” his manhood.)
Once you find the right muscles, you’ll want to start out by tightening the muscles for a few seconds before releasing. Give yourself five seconds to relax. Then, try the exercise again five more times in a row. (Eventually, you’ll want to be able to hold the muscles for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds in between.)
Try to perform three sets of 10 repetitions (holding for 5 to 10 seconds, then releasing) every day.
Don’t overdo it. Kegel exercises are like anything else. You can’t overwork the muscles, or else you’ll end up feeling sore.
Remember to breathe freely during these exercises. It’s important that you don’t hold your breath, tighten your belly or butt. You should only be tightening and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles.
What is awesome about Kegel exercises is that you can do them randomly and discretely throughout the day. You can practice your Kegels while at a red light, or sitting at your desk, or even when you’re sitting on the couch watching TV.