It’s important—both during and after your pregnancy. Kegel exercises (also just referred to as “Kegels”) work the pelvic floor, a muscular meshwork that forms a figure eight to support the pelvic organs, including the bladder, uterus and vagina.
During pregnancy, as baby gets heavier, there’s added stress on the pelvic floor muscles, causing overstretching and weakness. And during a vaginal birth, those muscles are stretched even more, sometimes causing incontinence or peeing when you laugh, sneeze or cough.
Training your pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises (named for the doctor who developed them in the 1948) will help reduce your risk of stress incontinence, teach you to relax the right muscles during delivery, and (bonus!) increase vaginal muscle tone for more sexual pleasure. Here’s how to do them:
1. Pee Test: Know you’re isolating a pelvic floor contraction correctly by trying to stop the flow of urine while you’re going to the bathroom. Stopped peeing? Those are the right muscles. (Just don’t do this too much with a full bladder because you could irritate the urinary tract—it’s only for testing purposes.)
2. Fast Contracts: Once you know how to contract the pelvic floor muscles, practice fast contractions, forcefully squeezing to draw the perineum inward and upward, then relaxing. Start with 10 repetitions and work your way up to 50.
3. Slow Holds: As you get more advanced, hold the contraction for five counts and relax. Work your way up to 15 repetitions.
4. The Elevator: Imagine an elevator inside your pelvis that you’re bringing upward with the slow and gradual contraction of your pelvic floor muscles, until it reaches the top floor and contracting as much as possible. Hold it for at least a full breath (work your way up to five full breaths) then release by lowering the elevator gradually, one floor at a time. Work your way up to 15 repetitions.
Want to get your partner in on the action? Do any of the above pelvic floor exercises using a finger or your partner's penis to give the muscles something to contract around, and helping you get a better sense of just how hard you’re squeezing.
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