It’s not unusual to be worried about the changes to your body that will come from being pregnant. If this is you, make sure you fit into your daily routine some strengthening exercises where it can make a massive difference. Namely, your stomach and pelvic floor.
Stomach strengthening exercises can make a real difference. They improve circulation, ease backache and make joints stronger. All of which helps you to feel at your best.
Doing pelvic floor muscle exercises (Kegels) from early pregnancy onwards can stop those accidental wees in late pregnancy and within six months of childbirth. Pelvic floor exercises can also prevent prolapse, which is where the pelvic organs drop down into the vagina (Hay-Smith and Dumoulin, 2006; Hay-Smith et al, 2008; Pelaez et al, 2013).
What is the pelvic floor?
Your pelvic floor is the layered muscle that stretches like a hammock from the front of your pelvis to the bottom of your backbone. Pregnancy and childbirth puts a strain on these muscles (NHS Choices, 2017).
It is quite common to leak wee when coughing, sneezing or straining during pregnancy if you have weak pelvic floor muscles. It’s known as stress incontinence. Stress incontinence can carry on after pregnancy yet doing pelvic floor exercises can help reduce or help you avoid having this issue (Boyle et al, 2012; NHS Choices, 2017).
If you’re young and not experiencing stress incontinence, pelvic floor exercises are also hugely beneficial during pregnancy. The best thing is to fit the exercises into your daily routine, perhaps when you’re watching telly or just before you climb into bed (NHS Choices, 2017). Here’s what you need to do.
Stomach muscle exercises
Start on all fours, making sure your knees are under your hips and hands are under your shoulders. Have your fingers facing forwards and abdominal muscles lifted to help keep your back straight.
Pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back towards the ceiling, letting your head gently relax forwards. Don’t let your elbows lock.
Hold this for a few seconds and then return to the original position.
Take care not to hollow your back. Your back should always return to the straight, neutral position.
Do this rhythmically 10 times, making your muscles work hard and moving your back carefully.
- Only move your back as far as you can while still feeling comfortable.
Pelvic tilt exercises
Stand with your shoulders and bottom against the wall, keeping your knees soft.
Pull your belly button towards your spine so your back flattens against the wall, hold for four seconds and release.
- Repeat 10 times.
Pelvic floor exercises
Close your anus like when trying to stop yourself from doing a poo. Meanwhile, draw your vagina upwards like you’re gripping a tampon or stopping a wee with your muscles.
Do this quickly to begin with, tightening and immediately releasing the muscles. Then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before you relax. Try to hold for 10 seconds. Repeat nine squeezes.
- Try to do three of these sessions every day.
(Boyle et al, 2012; NHS Choices, 2017)
As well as these exercises, practice tightening up the pelvic floor muscles before and during coughing and sneezing.
Slow squeeze pelvic floor exercises
This exercise helps to support your pelvic organs through your pregnancy. It might be tricky at first to hold this squeeze for a long time. Try to build up the length of the hold and release the squeeze slowly.
Lift your pelvic floor muscles upwards and inwards, slowly tightening them.
Continue lifting from your pelvis up into your belly.
Hold for four seconds and release it slowly.
If it’s difficult to hold the squeeze for this long and you have nothing left to release, hold for a shorter time to begin with. Don’t worry, you can increase the hold length bit by bit until you manage a four second hold.
Try to keep some of the squeeze left to release so you can release it slowly when you finish the exercise. Do five squeezes at a time
- Repeat this five times a day. It will get easier.
Our helpline offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.