Under the influence of relaxin and the increasing weight of your growing baby, your pelvic floor muscles weaken and begin to stretch. This may cause the sphincters to widen and become less effective at resisting internal pressure, resulting in a small leak of urine when you cough, sneeze, or laugh. This condition, known as stress incontinence, is not uncommon during pregnancy but tends to be most prevalent in the early postnatal period due to the stretching and weakening that takes place during labor and delivery. Daily pelvic floor exercises, sometimes known as Kegels, may help to prevent or alleviate this problem.
What are pelvic floor muscles?
The pelvic floors form a hammock between the front and back of your pelvis and support your pelvic and abdominal
organs: the bladder, uterus and the bowel. Additional “rings” of muscle, called sphincters, encircle the urethra and vagina at the front, and the anus at the back.
Working your pelvic floor muscles
Try pelvic muscle exercises in a seated position initially; you should find it easier when your body weight is supported. If you cannot feel anything happening, next time you go to the toilet try stopping the flow of urine mid-stream (preferably not with a full bladder). The strength of the pelvic floor muscles is determined by their ability to stop the flow of urine. Be sure to release your muscles and allow the bladder to empty afterwards. This procedure should be used only as a method of locating these muscles, not as your daily exercise as it carries an increased risk of infection.
Initially you will probably need to stop what you are doing and concentrate hard when trying to exercise your pelvic floor muscles but don’t worry, it will feel much easier and more natural as you become more experienced; don’t give up after the first few attempts.
Prevention is better than cure
Strong pelvic floor muscles will help during delivery and aid the healing process following the birth. Exercises for the pelvic floor muscles should commence as soon as you know that you are pregnant. It is better to strengthen these muscles before the weight of the baby begins to exert increased pressure, rather than trying to locate and work them when they are already stretched and weakened.
Slow pelvic floor exercises will help you to develop the strength needed to support your baby in the third trimester, while the fast ones will help to prevent stress incontinence.