Ah, the kegel. Toted as the ultimate exercise for women for pelvic floor strength, you’ll find lots of advice on how to do them “correctly” (I use that word loosely). On the opposite spectrum, you will also find sites stating you should never do kegels during pregnancy. Before you stress yourself out trying to figure out who is right, I’m going to ease your mind. I’m excited to share this information because I was very happy to learn about it too! Are you and should you be doing your “proper” kegel exercises during pregnancy? Let’s find out.
See A Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist
Begin with discovering and understanding what exercises you need to do. That means you will need to get your, um, “fitness” tested. How do you do that? Enter the pelvic floor physiotherapist (PFP)! Many of you may have never heard of one, as I hadn’t. You’re going to find and make an appointment with one you like, since you will be getting extremely up close and personal. The goal you will be working with them towards is to balance and engage your entire pelvic floor so that it functions optimally. Your PFP will be able to tell you about your pelvic floor, if it is weak, if it’s too tight, maybe the muscles are just not be firing the way they should. You need to be able to contract AND release just like all your other muscles.
“The research shows that more than 50 per cent of women don’t do their Kegels properly,” says physiotherapist Nelly Faghani. “The only way of really knowing if you’re doing it properly is by having an internal evaluation of these muscles.”
Signs you’re doing Kegels wrong:
clenching butt muscles or leg muscles
holding your breath
contracting muscles without being able to let go
other people can tell you’re doing them
After you have your examination, your PFP will be able to give you some exercises to address your weaknesses and imbalances. They may recommend, and I certainly do, to work with a pre and postnatal fitness consultant/trainer. They can help you get started and support you along the way. In the meantime, here’s a good start in learning how to exercise it like a jellyfish.
There’s A Tool for That!
For some of us, it will be more difficult to tell if we’re engaging the right muscles or not, and at the right time. There’s good news! A really helpful tool called the EPI-NO, which is - “a multi-purpose childbirth preparation tool that enables you to connect with your pelvic floor prior during pregnancy. The biofeedback aspect is helpful in the strengthening phase as it allows you to see your ability to contract your pelvic floor muscles and also learn how to relax them which is vital during delivery.” So cool!
Learning The Core Breath
A key component of proper pelvic floor engagement is the core breath. A strong core is about way more than “abs”. There are a team of muscles that work together called The Core 4, consisting of the diaphragm, the pelvic floor, the transversus abdominus, and the multifidus. This group supports the spine and the pelvis; and the core breath is the foundation for your exercise program that improves overall core functioning (before, during and after pregnancy) from the pelvic floor up. This is also the first exercise you’re doing as soon as your baby is out, and until that core is restored, no boot camps, running, planks, crunches (#never), CrossFit, gymnastics (yeah I said it), or boat pose for you. Those can wait. In the meantime focus on baby, core breath, rest and walking. This breath is also very calming, which all of us can use any day of the week right? To learn how to do the core breath, check out this YouTube video from Kim Vopni of Pelvienne Wellness. Your PFP or fitness trainer can help with this as well.
Finding Your People
Meet with a few PFPs before making your final decision. It will be a close and rewarding relationship if you choose carefully, and don’t forget to listen to your gut! If you have a hard time finding a pre and postnatal fitness consultant or trainer in your area, maybe an online course would be helpful. A great one is called Prepare to Push, which you can do at your own pace in the comfort of your own home. Topics include posture, breathing, the pelvic floor, birth positions and more. Kegel exercises during pregnancy is not a one size fits all recommendation; find out what’s right for you.