The Pelvic floor is something you only really start to hear about when you're pregnant, but its important to keep it strong and healthy at all times, both during pregnancy and then continually after birth and beyond.
The pelvic floor is the hammock of muscles, ligaments and tissue that stretches from your pubic bone at the front of your body, down below and across to your tail bone at the back, it supports your bladder, bowl and uterus and helps you to control when you go to the loo.
During pregnancy the pelvic floor can come under a lot of pressure from the weight of your growing baba, and therefore its important to keep these muscles and ligaments strong. Its important to practice pelvic floor exercises everyday before you give birth and to continue after the birth, and basically for the rest of your life! Keeping a strong pelvic floor will help to avoid the area becoming weakened which can cause stress incontinence or in other words make it hard for you to hold in your pee and poo. A weak pelvic floor can also cause prolapse after birth, this is where your pelvic organs drop down and can fall out towards the opening of your vagina. Scary stuff right there, hence the importance of these really simple exercises.
How to practice strengthening your pelvic floor.
Find a comfortable position. I like to practice whist in a squatted position like in the image below. Sit on a block, bolster or meditation pillow and make sure you feel comfortable and supported.
Another option is to come onto all fours with the head between the hands as in the second image below. This position is also great for getting baby into the optimal foetal position (more about this in another post), so you're killing two birds with one stone in just a few minutes.
Once you are in a comfortable position, take a moment to find your breath and bring awareness to your pelvic floor area.
To locate the pelvic floor you'll need to imagine you need to firstly stop yourself from breaking wind and secondly stop yourself from peeing. The muscles you use to do this are your pelvic floor and you'll need to pull these up and squeeze them in.
I usually teach two of the three exercises below in each class i do. You can do all in a session if you want to, or pick and choose and alternate each day.
1) Pelvic floor quick twitches
For these twitches we focus only on the pelvic floor tense/squeeze and release. forget the breath for this round. think about counting 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,2.
On the 1 count squeeze and lift your pelvic floor and on the 2 count release.
Complete ten rounds of this twitching.
2) Hold and release with the breath
For this round we focus on holding and releaseing with the breath.
Inhale and squeeze and lift your pelvic floor (try to count to around 8 for each inhale) and then fully and slowly release and relax on the exhale.
Complete ten rounds of this hold and release with the breath.
3) Holding for 5 breaths.
For this round we inhale as we squeeze in the pelvic floor and then continue to breathe for 5 breaths whilst still holding and lifting, trying to lift and squeeze a little higher with each inhale. Once you've completed 5 breaths, slowly release the pelvic floor fully. Complete 5 rounds of this exercise.
One thing that is important to note is that the exhale and the release is just as important as the inhale and hold. Whilst we want to focus on strengthening the muscles to keep the hammock strong we also need to know how to fully release and relax as this will help during labour and contractions.
Try to do these exercises every day, both before baby is born and once you've given birth. You don't have to be practicing yoga to do them, you can do them anywhere, like when you're standing at a bus or tram stop, waiting in a queue, sitting watching TV. Fitting them into your daily life will mean that you get into a habit of doing them and you'll reap the benefits.
I hope this has made it all bit a clearer for you. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below, and good luck!