Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

Pelvic floor exercises & care: in pictures | Raising Children Network

Your pelvic floor holds your bladder, bowel and uterus in place, but pregnancy and birth can weaken it. Do pelvic floor exercises: squeeze, lift and hold.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Frequent urination during pregnancy

Having to urinate more often during pregnancy is very common. Find out why it happens and how you can reduce it.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Physiotherapy advice after pregnancy

Pregnancy and childbirth can be hard on your body. Read about simple exercises and healthy habits that can help you cope with many of the changes to your body.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Safe return to exercise after pregnancy

Exercise can help you recover after childbirth, make you stronger and improve mood. Here's how to work out safely after a pregnancy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Bladder weakness after birth

Leaking urine after childbirth is very common. It can be embarrassing and inconvenient, but there are ways to improve bladder weakness.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Exercising during pregnancy

Doing regular moderate physical activity has health benefits during pregnancy and also helps to prepare the body for childbirth. Read about getting fit during pregnancy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Anatomy of pregnancy and birth - perineum and pelvic floor

The perineum – the skin between the vagina and anus - stretches during childbirth and can sometimes tear. Learn here how to prepare the perineum for the birth.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnancy at week 23

By week 23, your baby is practising to breathe in the womb and you might be experiencing some incontinence.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Women · Working your pelvic floor · Pelvic Floor First

Pelvic floor muscle exercises for women

Read more on Continence Foundation of Australia website

Pregnancy: illustrated guides | Raising Children Network

Parenting in pictures provides step-by-step guides to pregnancy topics such as healthy eating, pelvic floor exercises and more.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

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.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.