The pelvic floor stretches from your backbone to the pubic bone. Like a sling, it supports the bladder, uterus and large intestine. This area experiences a great deal of change during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, increased levels of a hormone called relaxin can cause pelvic floor muscles to weaken and become less elastic. These muscles also experience increased strain due to weight gain, pressure from the developing womb and complications such as constipation.
As the pelvic floor becomes weaker and looser, bladder control decreases. That is why it is common for pregnant women to leak urine when they sneeze or lift things and for women who have given birth to sometimes have trouble controlling urine flow.
Having good control of your pelvic floor muscles may make it easier for you to give birth. A weak pelvic floor can cause problems later in life, such as organ prolapse — a condition in which the muscles can no longer support the organs.
Back in Shape
Simple strengthening exercises called Kegels can help you maintain pelvic floor strength during pregnancy and regain strength after pregnancy. Kegel exercises can be done anywhere at almost any time, and no one can tell you are doing them.
To begin, locate your pelvic floor muscles—the same muscles you use to stop the flow of urine. However, Kegels should not be done while urinating to prevent voiding problems.
When you tighten the pelvic floor muscles, you should feel a lift around the area between the anus and vulva, but no movement or tension in your back, belly or legs. A doctor can help you identify the correct muscles using biofeedback, if necessary, or recommend other devices such as a weighted vaginal cone to help strengthen the pelvic floor.
Once you’ve found the right muscles, tighten your pelvic floor and hold the tension for 10 seconds. Repeat the exercise 10 times in a row, three times a day.
Kegels can help you restore strength to your pelvic floor after pregnancy. This is especially important in preparation for menopause, when additional hormonal changes and the natural progress of age can cause these muscles to relax over time.