Kegel exercises, a type of pelvic floor strengthening exercise, are recommended to pregnant women to prevent the risks of urinary incontinence.
Losing control over your bladder, especially involuntarily while coughing, sneezing or laughing, can be quite debilitating. This condition, called urinary incontinence, usually occurs with age or the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles due to an infection or health problem. The one phase of life when the risk of urinary incontinence increases manifold and may lead to more complications is during pregnancy.
Why urinary incontinence occurs during pregnancy
The Cleveland Clinic points out that as the uterus expands during pregnancy to accommodate the growing baby, it puts a lot of pressure on the bladder. The bladder lies right under the uterus and the pressure can continue to build with time. This is the reason why many pregnant women start to experience frequent urination during their second and third trimesters. It may also cause urinary incontinence as the pelvic floor muscles and the bladder walls weaken.
Most pregnant women may stop experiencing urinary incontinence after childbirth as the pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor recedes. However, the extent of damage to the bladder and pelvic floor muscles during childbirth — both during C-section and vaginal delivery — can cause stress incontinence to occur, the effects of which can last much longer. Women who have given birth are also at risk of issues such as pelvic organ prolapse and cystocele, which can also continue to cause urinary incontinence.
Kegel exercises and pregnancy
Kegel exercises, a type of pelvic floor strengthening exercise, are recommended to pregnant women to prevent the risks of urinary incontinence. These exercises are very easy to do, can be done while sitting, standing or lying down and are completely non-invasive. Kegels are also very effective in preventing as well as treating urinary incontinence in men and women alike.
A new study published in the Journal of Women’s Health, however, suggests that Kegels are being underused by pregnant women in both preventing as well as treating urinary incontinence. The study included 368 multiparous (a woman who has borne more than one child) white women in the United States, who reported similar incidences of urinary incontinence irrespective of differences in their birthing histories.
The study found that while urinary incontinence was reported by 45.2 percent of the women at three months after childbirth and by 44.1 percent at six months after childbirth, only 25% of them sought medical care and advice regarding it. On coming to learn about Kegel exercises from their doctor, these women performed an average of 16 Kegels twice daily, which the study indicates to be a very low consistency in practice.
How to do Kegel exercises
The study thus recommends that all pregnant women need consistent education and support to be aware of Kegel exercises to prevent urinary incontinence. The techniques should be taught to women and they must be motivated to routinely perform Kegels. To do Kegel exercises properly, the first thing you need to know is how to identify your pelvic floor muscles. To do this, wash your hands and gently insert a finger into your vagina. Now, tighten the vagina like you would when trying to hold your pee, hold for a few seconds, then relax. If you repeat this a few times, you’ll be able to identify the pelvic floor muscles at work, which tend to move up and down as you tighten and relax them.
Once you have identified your pelvic floor muscles, do the following steps of the Kegel exercises 10 times, thrice a day.
- Empty your bladder before beginning. You may sit, stand or lie down as per your convenience.
- Slowly tighten your pelvic floor muscles while ensuring that you aren’t also tightening your stomach, thighs, buttocks or chest muscles.
- Hold this position for three to five seconds, then relax your pelvic floor muscles for another three to five seconds.
- Repeat nine more times.
It’s important to not do Kegels with a full bladder or while peeing and equally vital that you don’t overdo them since that can injure your vaginal muscles. Doing Kegels daily can start strengthening your pelvic floor muscles in a few weeks’ time and help prevent urinary incontinence in the long run.
For more information, read our article on Kegel exercise.
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