We know that child birth is a miraculous affair, but there’s no denying it, it’s not all smiles! You may be ‘glowing’, but sometimes that will just be because you’re hot, sweaty, and generally irritable. It should therefore come as no surprise that during pregnancy, and indeed childbirth, the body will be put under immense strain in order to accommodate that beautiful little life growing inside you. So how do you prepare your body for what it is about to endure?
If you’ve decided that you’re ready to try for a baby, it’s never too soon to start preparing. You will find a myriad of information all over the web, offering pregnancy advice and tips for preconception. The majority of which follows the same principle; eat healthily, exercise, take vitamins, and stop drinking/smoking. This is excellent counsel which will undoubtedly make conception easier and provide a healthier environment for your baby over the next nine months. But, what about readying your body for this great physical challenge that it is about to undertake?
Pregnancy puts a great deal of pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, which expand to make room for your growing baby. The pelvic floor is made up of muscles, ligaments and fibres, which stretch like a tight sling from the pubic bone to the base of the spine. Not only do they have control over urinary and bowel movements, they stabilise the spine and pelvis, whilst supporting all of the pelvic organs. Typically the pelvic floor holds approximately 20lbs of weight, and during pregnancy this (somewhat unsurprisingly) increases dramatically. I’m sure we don’t need to emphasise, therefore, just how important it is that these muscles are strong and healthy.
Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles prior to pregnancy should be looked upon as a preventative measure. The pelvic muscles are stressed throughout pregnancy due to the additional weight, but they can also be weakened by pregnancy hormones. Not only will having a stronger pelvic floor train your body to cope with the effects of carrying a baby, it also reduces the likelihood of encountering pelvic dysfunction as a result of labour itself.
Perineal tearing is always a risk during childbirth, however the stronger your muscles are, the less likely, and the less severe, it is expected to be. In cases where there is a need for episiotomy, women find that it takes the body much longer to recover. By keeping your pelvic floor strong, this is hopefully something that can be avoided.
In extreme cases, where labour has been very traumatic, it is possible that pelvic organ prolapse can occur. This is where one or more of the pelvic organs move downwards into the vagina. Many women are not aware that this condition exists, which is particularly disheartening since steps can be taken to try and prevent it.
Perhaps the most common problem associated with pregnancy and childbirth is stress incontinence (a little leak when coughing, sneezing, laughing etc.). Research suggests that 1 in 3 new mums will suffer with this. A strong pelvic floor prior to pregnancy improves the chances of not being in this bracket.
We hope that you’re not feeling at all discouraged or overwhelmed, after all you’re about to embark on the journey of a lifetime, parenthood. All you need to remember is; it’s never too soon to ‘be prepared’!
How can I strengthen my pelvic floor prior to pregnancy?
We’re not just here to scaremonger; we’re also here to help you get that perfect pre-pregnancy body! If you consider the training required for long distance running/cycling or even mountain climbing, it is clear that a certain amount of body conditioning is essential for any major physical activity. Why then, do we so often go into pregnancy, the most strenuous physical activity we will ever endure, without any preparation at all? Well, hopefully this is about to change!
Firstly, it is imperative to locate exactly where the pelvic floor is in the body. The easiest way to do this is to stop yourself mid-stream next time you go to the toilet. The muscles used to stop the flow of urine make up part of the pelvic floor.
Now you know exactly where they are, there are many Kegel exercises you can perform to strengthen your pelvic floor prior to pregnancy. Try the following as part of your pre-pregnancy exercise regime;
- Squeeze your anal passage as if restricting wind
- Squeeze the urethra as if stopping the flow of urine
- Whilst lying down squeeze the pelvic floor muscles, lifting inwards and upwards
These exercises should be performed several times a day for best results.