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Pelvic floor exercises

5-minute read

Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. These muscles come under great strain in pregnancy and childbirth.

The pelvic floor consists of layers of muscles that stretch like a supportive hammock from the pubic bone (in front) to the lower end of the backbone.

If your pelvic floor muscles are weakened, you may find that you leak urine when you cough, sneeze or strain. This is quite common and you needn’t feel embarrassed. It's known as stress incontinence and it can continue after pregnancy.

By performing pelvic floor exercises, you can strengthen the muscles. Pelvic floor muscle training will help the body cope with the growing weight of the baby. Healthy, fit muscles before the baby is born will mend more easily after the birth and helps to reduce or avoid stress incontinence after pregnancy. All pregnant women should do pelvic floor exercises, even if you’re young and not suffering from stress incontinence now.

Even though this condition is common, consult with a doctor if the problem is at all distressing or is difficult to cope with.

What causes weakened pelvic floor muscles?

Being pregnant and giving birth stretches the muscles of your pelvic floor — the muscles that keep your bladder closed. Weakened pelvic floor muscles can’t stop your bladder from leaking. This leaking happens mostly when you cough, sneeze, lift or exercise. You may also find that you can’t wait when you want to pass urine.

Will they get stronger by themselves?

No. You’ll need to help your pelvic floor muscles get strong again. If you don’t strengthen the muscles after each baby, you’re likely to wet yourself more often when you reach middle age. Pelvic floor muscles tend to weaken with age. Menopause can make incontinence worse.

How can I prevent this happening to me?

  • Always squeeze and hold your pelvic floor muscles before you sneeze, cough or lift.
  • Don’t go to the toilet 'just in case' — this trains your bladder to want to empty more often.
  • Empty your bladder completely when you go to the toilet.
  • Avoid constipation by drinking plenty of fluids (preferably water) and fibre-rich foods.
  • Don’t lift heavy loads too often.
  • Don’t do bouncing exercises.
  • When sitting on the toilet, lean forward. Your knees should be slightly higher than your hips (you could use a small stool or step to rest your feet on). Rest your elbows on your knees or thighs so that your back is straight. This helps to relax your pelvic floor and sphincter muscles. Gently bulge your abdomen. Relax your pelvic floor and avoid pushing.

To keep these muscles working well, make pelvic floor exercises part of your routine for the rest of your life. You can start during pregnancy and continue after birth. Pelvic floor exercises can be done anywhere — while sitting, standing or lying down.

  1. Squeeze and draw in the muscles around your anus (back passage) and vagina at the same time as if you are trying to stop a wee.
  2. Hold the squeeze as you count to 8; relax for 8 seconds. If you can’t hold for 8, just hold as long as you can.
  3. Repeat as many as you can, up to 8 to 10 squeezes. This equals 1 set. Rest for about 8 seconds in between each lift up of the muscles.
  4. Try to do 3 sets of 8 to 10 squeezes each day.
  5. While doing pelvic floor exercises, keep breathing, do not tighten your buttocks and keep your thighs relaxed.

Pelvic floor exercises are not necessarily easy to do correctly. The pelvic floor muscles can be difficult to isolate. When done correctly, they are very effective, but the wrong technique can make a problem worse.

If you are not sure that you are doing the exercises correctly, ask for help from your doctor, physiotherapist or continence nurse.

The Continence Foundation of Australia has produced this video on how to locate your pelvic floor muscles:

You can also find out more about pelvic floor strength on the Jean Hailes website.

How can I remember to do my pelvic floor squeezes?

It’s easier to remember if you do them at the same time as you do something else. Pick something from this list. Each time you do it, do a set of squeezes too.

  • after going to the toilet
  • washing your hands
  • having a drink
  • feeding the baby
  • standing in line at the supermarket checkout

Weaker pelvic floor muscles can make you break wind more. Just in case you need another reason to get serious about strengthening your pelvic floor muscles — these muscles also help close off the back passage. Many women find that following the birth of their baby they have less control, and find it harder to control wind, or to hold when they need to open their bowel. If you do experience problems, speak to your doctor or midwife since early treatment can be simple yet effective in improving muscle tone.

If the condition is not improving, or it worsens within, say, 2 to 6 weeks of using simple pelvic floor exercises, seek an opinion from a general practitioner who may arrange a referral to a specialist health care provider in this area.

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Last reviewed: September 2020

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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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