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Umm - what exactly is a pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a set of sling-like muscles at the base of your pelvis that supports your uterus, bladder and bowel - effectively keeping them all where they should be.
Your pelvic floor goes through a tremendous strain in pregnancy. The added weight of your growing baby puts more and more pressure on it, making it harder and harder for it to do its job. The muscles can become stretched and weak because of the continual weight.
Childbirth then compounds this and, unfortunately, can do some damage - nearly a third of women develop some level of stress incontinence after they have given birth.
To give your pelvic floor muscles a fighting chance of being able to do their job after the stresses and strains of pregnancy and labour, try to get into the habit of doing some strengthening pelvic floor exercises whenever you get a chance.
When should you start doing pelvic floor exercises?
You mean you're not doing them already?! Every woman, pregnant or not, can benefit from exercising their pelvic floor muscles. Start now.
Keeping your pelvic floor fit and healthy can help you have a satisfying sex life and can ward off problems in the future that can be exacerbated by pregnancy and childbirth.
It can also help you when giving birth as strong pelvic muscles can help you during the second stage of labour when you need to push your baby out. They can also help you heal if you experience a perineal tear during birth.
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So how can you exercise your pelvic floor?
Imagine that you're trying to stop the flow of urine when you are urinating by tightening your muscles from the front of your pelvis and round towards your bottom. It might help to imagine that you are drawing something up and into your vagina, pulling the muscles upwards.
Keep the muscles tightened for the count of 10, then let them go and relax. Do this five times.
Make sure that you are breathing normally and avoid tightening your legs, stomach or bottom. Just concentrate on the pelvic floor muscles.
When you are used to this, try tightening and relaxing the muscles in succession, without holding the tension. Do this 10 to 15 times.
A variation is to imagine the pelvic floor muscles as a lift, gradually squeezing them tighter as though they are rising from floor to floor.
How often should you be exercising?
Luckily, pelvic floor exercises can be done while you're going about your business without anyone noticing (practice your straight face), so try to do them as often as you can.
Don't overdo it though and make sure you know how to relax the muscles as well as tighten them. This can help during the second stage of labour where relaxing the muscles around your vagina may help you to avoid damaging your perineum.
Try to associate them with something else you do every day, such as during your regular commute, listening to The Archers or watching your favourite soap. This way, you're more likely to remember to do them.
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