LIVING WITH INCONTINENCE
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Simply put, Kegel exercises are a type of pelvic floor muscle exercises that aim to strengthen the muscles that support the bladder, uterus, and rectum. These exercises involve repeatedly contracting and relaxing the muscles that control urination and bowel movements.
As a woman, your pelvic floor muscles hang like a sling between your hips to support your bladder, uterus, other organs, and (if you're pregnant) the baby when it is in the womb. They are very strong muscles, and control the flow of urine and the contraction of the vagina and anal sphincter.
When a woman is pregnant, the baby’s weight puts pressure on the bladder and on the pelvic floor muscles, weakening them. The birth process stretches these muscles even more to allow the baby out. Sometimes the muscle tears during the birth process. Therefore pregnancy and birthing weaken and in some cases damage these muscles. It is this weakening which causes urine incontinence during pregnancy and after giving birth. With tearing may even come fecal incontinence.
Armed with this knowledge, you want to keep your pelvic muscles strong during and after pregnancy. They play an important role in delivery and they keep your urine from leaking when you cough or laugh.
The Kegel exercise is an important tool for keeping your pelvic floor muscles strong. With strong muscles, your labor is likely to be smoother and you'll have fewer incontinence-related problems after birth. If you do only one exercise during pregnancy, make it this one. It is a key tool in preventing urine incontinence during and after pregnancy.
The goal of the Kegel exercise is to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles so they can control the bladder and vagina. You do that by contracting the pelvic floor muscles for short periods of time, completing several short sets a few times a day. The exercise is easy, fast and free. Once you know how to do it you can do it just about anywhere, even when you are working.
Research has shown that women who perform the Kegel exercise:
In order to identify your pelvic floor muscles, go to the bathroom with a very full bladder. Urinate then stop mid-stream. Urinate again and stop. Then just urinate to finish. The muscles that you tighten to stop the urine are the ones that you contract when you do the Kegel exercise. Once you find the muscles, don’t repeatedly engage those muscles while urinating, as this can cause complications, however this is a useful tool to initially identify the muscles.
Insert a clean finger in your vagina then squeeze your muscles. If you are doing the exercise correctly the vagina should contract around your finger. Your thighs, stomach and butt muscles should not move at all.
If you still don’t get it, ask your healthcare practitioner to coach you the next time you go for your check-up.
Like any other muscles, they get stronger with use. So keep at it. Be patient. Do not rush to do 20 contractions on day one. Gradual increase is safer.
It’s never too early to start doing the Kegel exercise. It is better to start earlier and practice throughout pregnancy. Then you benefit more.
Restart your exercise soon after delivering the baby. Create a routine and do it at the same time, say while you feed your baby. The exercise will stimulate circulation, promote healing and improve muscle tone. Don’t worry if you can’t feel your muscles at first. The perineum will be numb after birth, but feeling will return gradually over a few weeks.
Continue doing your Kegel exercise for a few months after birth to help your muscles get back in shape. Consider doing it almost every day of your life to maintain pelvic floor health.
How about mixing exercise with pleasure? Perform your Kegel exercise during sex. It may even impact the pleasure for you and your partner. Squeezing can increase sensitivity, and your partner may even start asking you to squeeze whenever you have sex!
If you keep forgetting to do your exercises, or find them hard to engage with, why not download a Smartphone app. There are a large range on App stores, and can offer handy tools like sending you daily reminders & tracking your exercises. Some even provide musical routines for your pelvic floor workouts.
Vaginal exercisers are devices that claim to help you isolate the pelvic floor muscles or to exercise them for you. Some of them provide electrical stimulation to the muscles. They might be fun to try but be aware that there is no scientific evidence that they work better than contracting the muscles on your own. In fact, some studies have found them to be less effective.
If you use any device, make sure it is clean as it may introduce bacteria into the vagina. In fact, it may be wise to avoid devices during pregnancy or when you are recovering from childbirth. Check with your doctor first before trying one for the first time.
For even more Kegel exercise tips, visit our Exercise Zone.