How to strengthen your pelvic floor when you’re postpartum
Mama, your body has been through a lot!
From carrying your unborn baby throughout your pregnancy, right through to birthing your little bundle of joy – it has been a big 9 or so months for both of you!
Now you’re on the other side of pregnancy and navigating your way through postpartum life, it’s super important that you take the necessary steps to recover correctly and regain your strength and confidence. Your pelvic floor has been weakened, and while you may have stayed on top of your Kegels throughout pregnancy, there’s still some work to be done. Emily’s Post-Pregnancy program will address pelvic floor weakness, but it’s important that you understand how and why before you get started.
An important reminder: Always consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, as there are some situations where exercise may not be advised. This information should be used as a guide only and should not replace the advice of your medical practitioner. It’s also important to note that during your time on my program, your regular FIT planner may present information or advice that is not intended for women who are postpartum. Check with your doctor if you are unsure. Read the full statement on safety here.
Why is a strong pelvic floor important?
Where do we begin!? Your pelvic floor is a sling (or hammock) of muscle and tissue that supports your uterus, bladder and bowels. It’s had a whole lot of extra weight to support during your pregnancy, so now it needs some help healing and rebuilding. Of course, a strong pelvic floor will help stabilise the entire pelvic region, but there are a few other key benefits, too:
- Kegels promote blood flow. In the early stages of your recovery, blood flow is vital when it comes to assisting the healing process. If you had a C-section or a perineal tear Kegels will help wounds heal faster, and they can also assist in the reduction of any swelling.
- Kegels help reduce incontinence. The pelvic floor opens and releases when you’re emptying your bladder and bowel, so if it’s not strong enough you may experience leakage.
How often should you do Kegels postpartum?
If you’ve had no complications giving birth, you can start doing Kegels again as soon as you feel comfortable. (Talk to your doctor if you had complications or a C-section.)
Kegels will work wonders for your pelvic floor, but it’s not necessarily a case of ‘more is better’. The right frequency when you’re postpartum is around three times per day, 8-12 reps, holding each rep for up to 10 seconds. You might struggle to hit those numbers right away, but keep at it and you’ll get there eventually.
Watch Emily and Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Expert Sarah Male discuss the benefits of pelvic floor exercises.
Can you overwork your pelvic floor?
Short answer: yes. An overactive (or hypertonic) pelvic floor can be caused by a range of things, including trauma associated with birth. It can also occur in people who spend a lot of time working out and engaging their core or doing pelvic floor exercises – the pelvic floor never has time to relax and switch off. Symptoms of a hypertonic pelvic floor include (but are not limited to):
incomplete emptying of the bowels
straining when emptying the bowels
low back pain
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important that you work with a women’s healthy physiotherapist to establish the condition of your pelvic floor as well as an appropriate treatment plan.
When is the best time to do Kegels?
The best time is whenever you can! There’s no perfect time of day, and now that you’ve got a precious bub to care for you’ll need to seize the opportunity whenever it arises. It’s also important to remember that there’s no such thing as perfect – life is different now, and you can only do your best. Be realistic with your postpartum goalsetting – missed your Kegels today? Don’t stress, just aim to get them done tomorrow and be as consistent as you possibly can.
Some helpful hints to give yourself the best chance of doing your daily pelvic floor exercises are:
Do them while you’re feeding your little one.
Do a set at breakfast, lunch and dinner – boom! That’s your three sets a day.
Set an alarm – it can be easy to forget, so set reminders in your phone.
Pelvic floor exercises after a C-section
Whether you had a vaginal birth or a C-section, your pelvic floor is still going to need attention. As we covered earlier, pelvic floor exercises will help promote blood flow, which will speed up the healing process of any wounds – perfect if you’ve had a C-section or a perineal tear.
Women who have had a C-section will also have a weakened pelvic floor as a result of carrying a baby around for all those months! The weight of your unborn child, as well all the fluid and the placenta pushes down on the pelvic floor, causing your ligaments to stretch and descend.
A reminder: always consult your doctor when it comes to postpartum exercise, especially if you experienced complications or had a C-section.
Is it ever too late to strengthen your pelvic floor?
If you didn’t manage to prioritise pelvic floor exercises right after giving birth, don’t stress! Everyone can benefit from Kegels! Just remember – the sooner you make a start, the better off you will be.
Need a reminder on how to do Kegels?
Step 1. Contract or lift your pelvic floor by thinking about your front and back passages rising into your abdomen – draw them up, then relax.
Step 2. For endurance training, lift and hold your pelvic floor while counting steadily to 10, then relax.
Note: You may find that when you go to relax, your pelvic floor has already beaten you to it. This is because your pelvic floor muscles will slowly fatigue and drop without you knowing it. Try to find the number you can count to before you actively feel the moment of relaxation, then work from there. The endurance holds will get harder the further along in your pregnancy you go, so don’t worry if your number decreases – I’ll help you build it back up after your baby is born.
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