Most people are aware of the effectiveness of exercise during pregnancy for toning the body and making pregnancy and childbirth easier. However, many people are unaware of the importance of doing Kegel exercises, which have the critical job of working the pelvic floor.
Dr. Arthur Kegel is credited with revealing Kegel exercises as a benefit for female patients. He spread the word in the 1940s, letting his patients know that performing these exercises could make the pelvic muscles stronger after pregnancy or pelvic surgery. When these muscles are kept in good shape, the urethra and the bladder are strengthened. Even the uterus and the rectum benefit from Kegel exercises.
Benefits of Kegel Exercises
Today, both men and women may perform Kegel exercises. They may help men achieve and maintain an erection. For pregnant women, there are multiple benefits, including:
- Greater ease with pushing during childbirth
- Decreased risk of vaginal tearing during delivery
- Prevention of incontinence after delivery
- Maintenance of good vaginal muscle tone, which can make intercourse more pleasurable
Pelvic Muscle Condition
As a result of childbirth, the pelvic floor muscles may become lax, and the vaginal muscles may become looser and stretched out. This is particularly true of women who have multiple children, as their pelvic muscles have more opportunity for degradation. Aging and menopause only contribute to the problem. Women with well-toned pelvic floor muscles find it easier to push, as their muscles are efficient enough to get the job done well. When the muscles work as they should, vaginal tearing is less likely.
One of the major reasons to perform Kegel exercises is to prevent incontinence after pregnancy and childbirth. If a woman’s pelvic floor muscles become too weak, they may fail to keep her urethra tightly closed. As a result, she may experience some level of urinary incontinence. For example, some women develop stress incontinence, which means their bladders leak urine in response to physical stress. A simple sneeze or laugh is enough to make some women leak urine.
In some cases, weak pelvic floor muscles can even lead to pelvic organ prolapse, a condition in which the pelvic organs move out of place. In severe cases, an organ, such as the bladder, may actually start to protrude from the vagina. While there are surgeries that correct pelvic organ prolapse, Kegel exercises can help to prevent it.
Kegel Exercises During Pregnancy
Kegel exercises are safe during pregnancy. Most women won’t need any special precautions for doing them, but it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor before beginning any new exercise during pregnancy. Essentially, Kegel exercises are so safe because they only require a woman to use the muscles she employs to stop the flow of urine. They are not strenuous, dangerous or painful.
To perform Kegel exercises, pretend you are trying to stop the flow of urine from your body, contracting the pelvic floor muscles and then releasing them after about three seconds. For optimal toning, a woman may work up to tightening these muscles and holding them in this position for 10 seconds before releasing them again, performing three or four sets of these exercises per day--20 to 25 contractions per set. It is also helpful to do several quick contractions of these muscles as a variation of the exercise.