The importance of staying healthy throughout pregnancy by eating right, getting enough sleep and exercise cannot be overstated. It has been proven time and again to have many beneficial rewards for both the expectant mother and her child.
Exercising, in particular, strengthening and stretching the perineal muscles or pelvic floor, has become increasingly important. It ensures not only a comfortable pregnancy for the mother but less stress during the birthing process for the child.
What are the perineal muscles
The perineal or pelvic floor muscles are the muscles, ligaments and tendons located in the lower pelvis that make up the support system for the organs of the pelvis. In a female, these organs consist of the uterus, bladder and bowel. They stretch from the pubic bone in front back to the tailbone. The perineal muscles have often been compared to a “hammock” as they support or cradle those pelvic organs. They also help to control the evacuation functions of both the bladder and bowel.
Importance of perineal exercises
Strengthening these muscles during pregnancy helps support the excess weight of the growing child which causes strain on the entire pelvic floor. By consciously exercising these muscles throughout the process of labor, a smoother vaginal delivery may be produced. One with less exhaustion and trauma for both you and your child that may prevent tearing during childbirth. During labor and delivery is when your ability or tighten and relax these muscles becomes most important. You will find, as the contractions deepen, that you will be able to adequately push hard to deliver the baby without causing perineal damage or tearing.
Results of not exercising the perineal muscles
Throughout pregnancy, as the child’s weight increases, these muscles weaken and tend to stretch. When this happens, it can cause embarrassing leakage of the bladder or bowel just by simple acts of coughing, sneezing, even standing up quickly. Lower back pain, risks of high blood pressure, constipation and poor posture are often the results of weakened pelvic floor muscles. One of the more serious problems that can arise is the possible prolapse of the pelvic organs into the vagina. By carefully exercising the perineal muscles, these and other common complications can easily be avoided. For these reasons alone, it becomes all the more important to take these simple exercises seriously to strengthening the perineal muscles throughout your pregnancy.
How long does it take to strengthen the perineal muscles
Since it takes approximately 6-8 weeks or more to train these muscles, it is important that you start exercising your perineal pelvic floor and prepare your perineum for labor in the early stage of pregnancy. This will significantly reduce many complications. It will improve your pregnancy experience and will prepare you for a shorter, more comfortable delivery time. Continuing these exercises after delivery will also help to repair and keep the pelvic floor strengthened, greatly helping to speed recovery as well.
Lasting benefits of perineal exercise
The benefits that come from continuing these simple perineal exercises after birth and throughout your lifetime are many. By keeping these muscles strengthened, you will experience more stamina and healthy posture and, as you get older, incontinence will not become big an issue. The ability to tighten and relax these strong muscles will also help you and your partner experience more pleasurable sensations during intimate relations.
How do I strengthen the perineal muscles
Training these muscles is quite easy and can be done anywhere at anytime. For example, while waiting at a red light, standing in line at the store, watching a movie, sitting at the dinner table. It’s true, anywhere at anytime and all the while you can be discrete without ever being noticed. The following are some examples of exercise methods that you can do to achieve success in strengthening these muscles.
The Kegel Method
One of the most popular and easy forms of exercising this area is known as the Kegel method. You can do this by sitting or lying down. Focus on tightening and holding the pelvic floor muscles, like you would do to stop the flow of urine midstream. Hold tight for about 5 seconds then relax for 5 seconds. Repeat at least 10 or more times in each individual session. Throughout the day, repeat as many times as you think to do so. As you gradually work your way up to increasing the amount of time you tighten and relax these muscles, you will begin to see more rapid results. The more you make an effort to do these little discreet exercises, the stronger the perineal muscles will eventually become.
Studies have shown that Kegel exercises may be performed in conjunction with perineal massage. In one study from Spain, 466 woman performed a pelvic floor training program that included daily perineal massage in pregnancy and pelvic floor exercises from 32 weeks of pregnancy until birth. The pelvic floor program was found to significantly lower the rates of episiotomies and perineal trauma.
You can also lay on the floor, keeping your back flat while bending your legs up at the knees, feet flat on the floor and arms by your side. Thrust your hips upward with your back off the floor and hold for about 5 seconds. Relax back down to the floor for another 5 seconds, repeat thrusting upward while tightening the pelvic floor muscles, holding then relaxing, increasing the seconds as you get stronger.
Doing normal squats also helps strengthen the perineal pelvic floor. Standing straight with your feet somewhat apart but aligned with your hips for balance, gently lower yourself down as if you are about to sit in a very low chair, tightening your perineal muscles and stomach. Push yourself up again with your legs to stand straight and tall. Repeat, lowering your body until you can achieve the position of your hips being lower than your knees. As you grow with child, this particular exercise may become a bit more difficult to accomplish. However, you can still achieve the same strengthening effects by trying the other exercise mentioned above.
Decide what exercises are right for you
Depending on your strength and mobility as you become further along in pregnancy, you will be able to decide what feels most comfortable for you at any given time. In that way you can continue to exercise without strain. You can try prenatal yoga if that works for you. The more you exercise the perineal muscles and the pelvic floor the more stamina you will have. You will be able to do more complex methods and movements and the rewards in the end will have been well worth your efforts. As stated above, strengthening these important perineal muscles will provide many positive benefits if you continue these easy exercises not only during your pregnancy but throughout your lifetime as well.
As with any type of exercise, whether pregnant or not, please check first with your healthcare professional for approval.