Kegel Exercises





Before you know it, the moment you’ve been waiting for (and perhaps freaking out about) throughout your entire pregnancy will arrive: childbirth — when you push your baby through your pelvis (ouch) and into the world. And that moment will be demanding not only on you (eight hours of labor! one hour of pushing!), but also on your pelvic muscles, which will have to stretch to proportions previously unimaginable. Never thought much about your pelvic muscles (or maybe never even realized you had any)? You may want to pay attention to them now. Not only do those pelvic muscles play an important role in delivery (they stretch, therefore you birth), but they keep your urine from leaking when you cough or laugh (a skill set you’re only likely to notice when it’s gone — as can happen with postpartum incontinence). They also can make for a much more satisfying sexual experience.

How can you get your pelvic muscles into shape for delivery and beyond? It’s as simple as doing your Kegels. These pelvic-muscle movements are named after gynecologist Arnold Kegel, who conceived them when he was looking for a way to help women keep (or regain) bladder control after pregnancy and birth. As anyone who’s done their Kegels religiously can tell you, they’re more than worth both the time (minimal) and the effort (also minimal) they require. Indeed, just five minutes of these exercises three times a day can make a world of difference — not only to your urinary tract, but to your perineum (that prone-to-tear area of tissue between your vagina and rectum), and your vagina, which will be able to snap back more gracefully after your baby’s grand entrance.

No visits to the gym or workout clothes necessary to flex these particular muscles — and you don’t even have to leave your desk, sofa, subway seat, or bed, or break a sweat. All you have to do is tighten, hold (for at least five seconds), and then release the muscles that you use to stop the stream of urine when you pee. (You don’t want to actually practice your Kegels while you urinate, however, because that can lead to urinary tract infections during pregnancy and other problems — so when you pee, let it flow freely.) If you’re not sure you’re using the right muscles, you can check by inserting a clean finger into your vagina; you should feel the muscles of your vagina tighten around your finger if you’re doing your Kegels properly. Keep in mind when you Kegel that all your focus should be on those pelvic muscles — and not any others. If you feel your stomach tensing or your thighs or buttocks contracting, your pelvics aren’t getting their full workout.

Got the hang of the Kegel? Do them any time, anywhere, no matter who’s around. (No one will be the wiser, but your pelvic muscles will be the tighter.) Do a few quick Kegels each time you stop at a traffic light or while you check your e-mail. Do them in line at the ATM or while waiting for the cashier to ring up your groceries or while at your desk working — or while having sex (both of you will appreciate the effort!). Even if you start getting “Kegel fatigue” as your pregnancy winds down, keep your eyes on the prize (and your pelvis on the Kegels). The payoff now? Kegels can prevent (or treat) pregnancy incontinence, make birth easier (allowing you to avoid tears during delivery because you’ve learned how to relax your pelvic floor muscles), and enhance your sex life. The payoff later? Continuing your Kegels will not only help you recover your pelvic muscle-tone postpartum, but they’ll help you stave off incontinence problems as you get older.

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