Most women have heard of the Kegel exercise but don't realize just how beneficial this discreet movement can be. Even more women completely miss out on other wonderful exercises that can tone the pelvic floor, such as the pelvic tilt and the elevator. Before, during, and after pregnancy it's important to understand why and how a woman should do these muscle-toning exercises.
Pelvic Fitness Benefits
Keeping the pelvic-floor muscles strong can aid in birthing and allow for a much smoother recovery, says Tracey Mallett, fitness professional and creator of the 3-in-1 Pregnancy System Exercise DVD. "Regular activation of these muscles will keep them supple and flexible, decreasing the chance of tearing," she adds.
Weak pelvic-floor muscles—also called pubbococcygeal muscles—can be caused by straining during childbirth, the added stress and weight of pregnancy, heredity, and other factors, which can further cause women to "leak urine or sometimes stool when they cough, sneeze, laugh, jump, or exercise," says Barbara Dehn, women's health nurse practitioner and author of Your Personal Guide to Pregnancy. If incontinence develops, strengthening the pelvic floor can help tremendously in stopping urine leakage—not to mention returning sensation to your sex life.
When Can I Begin?
Women should begin toning the pelvic floor during pregnancy, even if they have never performed such exercises, says Dehn. Doing the exercises will help moms-to-be "identify some of the muscles they will be using to push their babies out," she explains. Most women can resume pelvic-floor exercises right after delivery. The sooner postpartum you start, the faster the recovery process and the less likely problems such as incontinence or uterine prolapse will occur.