By LISA GIMENEZ-CODD
Female Health & Exercise Coach
Pilates & Lower Back Exercise Specialist
Mummy to 2 young boys!
(click here to read Part One)
This article focuses on ways to regain – or improve – your pelvic floor strength after giving birth. Things like sexual intercourse can seem a scary prospect after you’ve given birth but performing pelvic floor exercises and including these elements can take the stigma and the fear away, giving you control back over your body.
I find sitting is a useful position to start performing these pelvic floor strengthening exercises as the feeling of your bottom on a chair lets you know straight away when you are clenching your buttock muscles in place of drawing up the pelvic floor. You can also do them lying down though. What’s most important is that, throughout these exercises, you progress to being able to keep your buttocks relaxed. When you move to performing these muscles in a standing position, it’s useful to rest your hands on your buttocks initially – again to ensure you are keeping the gluteals i.e. your (buttock muscles) relaxed.
Elongate your spine. If you’re sitting down, imagine there’s a beanstalk growing upwards, out of your pelvis, and draw the top of your head towards the ceiling. Allow the arms to hang relaxed at your sides. Breathe deeply, in through the nose, sighing out through the mouth.
First we’ll look at short contractions (i.e. the tightening and squeezing of your muscles), using the part of your pelvic floor that that kicks in every time you cough and sneeze. If you’ve read my first article on BabyPow – you’ll know that I realised this in a big way the first time I sneezed after having my first child!
The best analogy I have heard to date for these exercises is by the fabulous, Jessie Mundell (check out her articles on BabyPow and, of course, her amazing website). Imagine you are picking up blueberries with your vagina and anus. I know, I know. It sounds… strange. You’ll never look at a blueberry in the same way again so feel free to choose an alternative fruit. I use cherries (metaphorically speaking only) in my classes as I love giving ladies their cherries back 😉 Pick up those blueberries – or cherries – on your exhale breath and then place them back down on your inhale breath. Repeat. Aim to perform 3 sets of 6 repetitions, ensuring you relax those muscles completely in between. Once you have mastered your imaginary fruit picking (please do not attempt it with real fruit!), have a go at longer contractions.
Here I use different visualisations:
Imagine you are stood in front of a lift/elevator with the lights for each floor shown above the door. Start to squeeze the pelvic floor – tightening those internal muscles as if stopping yourself from urinating. Your pelvic floor contraction is the lift. As you continue to draw it upwards (feeling like you are pulling yourself up away from your underwear) imagine the lights for each floor lighting up. This feeling of tightening or squeezing may start around your anus – as if trying to stop yourself from… breaking wind. Once you have mastered that, work on bringing that contraction forwards through your perineum (the space between your anus and vagina) and then squeezing the walls of the vagina itself (where you “nip” when stopping yourself from urinating).
When you first start, your lift may only go up 2 or 3 floors – that’s great. Control your lift up to your top floor, pause slightly and then lower that lift back through each floor bringing it to rest at the ground floor (no basement levels here!) As you practice and get more of a sensation of drawing up, add more floors, progressing up to 10 floors as and when you can.
Controlling the descent of your lift is as important as the ascent. As you’ve seen from above, those pelvic floor muscles work hard all day long supporting you, so it’s important that you know how to relax them too.
If you are just starting these exercises you may not feel much sensation to start with….please persist as this should improve with practice and time.
Please note: Whilst it is absolutely OK to check you are squeezing these muscles whilst urinating, please do not perform the exercises then, as doing so can cause infection.
Still not sure you are doing it right? Try inserting a finger(s) into your vagina and squeeze your fingers – clearly this element is best performed in the privacy of your own home! This gives you feedback in two ways – it helps your brain focus on what you are asking those muscles to do and you then feel on your fingers when the contraction happens. You may ask your partner to help with this – as well as involving your partner in what you are trying to achieve, exercising your pelvic floor is a great element of promoting sexual health – a drug free alternative to Viagra perhaps.
Ideally you would do these exercises 2-3 times a day and my advice is to find a trigger activity (such as washing your hands before a meal or brushing your teeth) as a way of remembering to do them. You can do these anywhere though – stood at a bus-stop, working at your desk, watching TV. So find an activity that suits you and remember to do these exercises each time you do that activity. If you do not feel your pelvic floor strength is improving or still have no sensation of the muscular squeeze after a few weeks of doing these exercises, have a chat with your doctor for further advice.
Note: The exercises described in this article are offered as a general guide. As with all exercises, their effectiveness depends on you doing them correctly. If you are in any doubt or have any of the following symptoms, please seek professional medical attention.
- leaking involuntarily,
- having trouble emptying your bladder or bowel,
- feel like your vagina is bulging outwards/downwards or
- experience any pain in your genitals and/or lower abdominal area (especially when doing pelvic floor exercises or during intercourse).
Going to talk to your doctor or other health professional may seem awkward and embarrassing but you need to think L’Oreal here – you are worth it! Your doctor will deal with this as s/he would any other part of your body. You can always ask to see a female if this would make you more comfortable.
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