How to train your pelvic floor muscles for childbirth
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
If you’re expecting a baby, I bet you have come across the term ‘Kegels’ or “pelvic floor exercises” or have started doing these exercises in your Prenatal Yoga or Pilates classes, but do you know if you’re doing them correctly?
When I was pregnant, I practised all sorts of pelvic floor exercises religiously — lifting and releasing, holding, segmented lifting, you get the idea... — for fear of incontinence during pregnancy and after childbirth. I was also taught that exercising my pelvic floor could help guide baby down the baby passage. Well, it is true that the pelvic floor plays a role in helping baby rotate and descend the birth canal, but if they are already overly tight, doing Kegels don’t help releasing a hypertonic pelvic floor. While women who have specific weak pelvic floor symptoms (such as urinary leaking, voiding difficulties or even pelvic organ prolapse) would benefit from pelvic floor strengthening, in my particular case, I believe I would’ve had a shorter, less complicated labour if I had focused on releasing my hypertonic pelvic floor.
Let‘s try something — bring your awareness to your pelvic floor or pelvic diaphragm, i.e. the band of muscles running from the back of the pelvic (the tailbone) to the front of your pelvis (the pubic bone). Can you relax them? Chances are, without knowing it, you may be subconsciously tensing up your pelvic floor. Many people have difficulty relaxing their pelvic floor muscles because they are overtight.
During labour, the pelvic floor actually reaches upwards to facilitate rotation of the baby, which leads to progression in labour. It is helpful to imagine the pelvic floor not as a bowl like structure that simply stretches out, but as a flower with petals that open and flute up to help baby turn. If the pelvic floor muscles are too tight, they cannot achieve this effect, which may result in a prolonged or stalled labour.
Learn to relax your pelvic floor for birth
Many yoga practitioners have hypertonic or overly tight pelvic floor from being told to constantly “engaging Mula Bandha” or “tucking the tailbone”. If you discover that you have a tendency to subconsciously engage the pelvic floor, what should you do?
Instead of doing more Kegel exercises, I suggest that you practise the following to prepare for labour:
Visualise the pelvic floor as a flower (like one in the image below). With the inhale, visualise the flower petals reaching upwards, as the pelvic floor passively lengthens; with the exhale, visualise the flower petals reaching outwards and opening as you allow the pelvic floor to completely relax.
I understand that some women lack pelvic floor awareness and there is nothing to be ashamed about. Like any other form of exercise, keep practising and you will see the results!
Wishing you a bright and beautiful birth,
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