Have you heard the common advice to “do kegels” to prepare for childbirth? While this advice is usually well-intentioned, it actually isn’t one you should follow. There are several things you should do to prepare your pelvic floor for birth, but kegels actually isn’t one of them!
If we are meeting for the first time - Hi! Welcome to Vibrant Mama Wellness! My name is Megan, and I am a pre and postnatal personal trainer. I am certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, with a specialization in pre+postnatal fitness through Pronatal fitness. I am a mom of one, and became interested in pre + postnatal fitness as I was going through my own pregnancy journey!
(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or condition. This blog post is based on my own research and experience - please consult a medical professional before starting or making any changes to your exercise program).
Kegels are taught like a universal exercise that anyone with a vagina should be doing. When it comes to pregnancy, we are told that you have to strengthen the pelvic floor to help push the baby out during labor, and to help prevent weakness in the postpartum period. But this is actually false!
Let’s talk about what exactly the pelvic floor is. It is essentially a sling of muscles (14 to be exact) at the bottom of your pelvis to support all of your internal organs. It surrounds your vaginal opening, and your urethral and anal sphincters. These pelvic floor muscles work together, in tandem with your diaphragm (the muscle located below the lungs and heart to help you breathe) and your transverse abdominis (the deepest abdominal muscles). In additional to supporting general life functions in your core, this system also manage the pressure in the intra-abdominal cavity.
When we are taught to do kegels, we’re often told to “stop the flow of urine.” But if we are only practicing stopping the flow of urine, that’s only focusing on the CONTRACTION. And it’s only focusing on the front of the pelvic floor! This means that the front of the pelvic floor is constantly contracting and tightening up. And what happens with tight muscles? Often pain and the inability to relax.
Now let’s talk about childbirth. Most of us are aware that the cervix needs to dilate to 10 centimeters to push out a baby out through the vagina. To give you a visual, 10 centimeters is roughly about the size of a bagel. And remember what I said about the pelvic floor muscles? They surround the vaginal opening. SO - this means they need to be able to RELAX and STRETCH to make way for the baby to come through.
All of this is why we don’t want to be focusing on kegels as a way to prepare for childbirth, because we don’t want tight muscles with the inability to relax. So what should we be doing?
Learn how to relax and lengthen the pelvic floor. The best way to do this is with breathing exercises. Practicing 360 breathing and bringing awareness to the pelvic floor throughout is key. Be sure to keep the pelvic floor relaxed BOTH on the inhale and exhale. This is also a great technique to use when you are actively pushing!
Stretches to target the pelvic floor muscles. My favorites are butterfly, hip flexor stretches, happy baby (if you can tolerate being on your back), and figure four.
Unclench your jaw! This sounds strange, but it has been determined that when you clench your jaw, you also are holding tension in the pelvic floor (many people with TMJ also report pelvic floor dysfunction). Noticing when your jaw is clenched and consciously relaxing can be really helpful!
Perineum massage. Here is an article by The American Pregnancy Association on instructions on how to do this at the end of pregnancy!
Once you are in your third trimester, it is a good idea to start thinking about these pelvic floor relaxation techniques. Having full mobility of your pelvic floor muscles (being able to contract and release) is vital to your pelvic and overall health! And if you found this post helpful, be sure to share it with a pregnant friend!
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Disclaimer: This blog does not serve as medical advice. Please consult your medical provider before starting a new fitness routine. This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.