At 20, 30 or even 40, you’ll be told to do Kegel exercises while you’re pregnant to make childbirth easier. Listen. Do them. And keep at it for the rest of your life, because the simple exercise will help you control your bladder in your silver years. They might even make your orgasms stronger along the way.
About a third of women in the United States have some sort of pelvic floor disorder, and Kegels are sometimes part or all of the solution. That could mean trouble holding in urine or feces, or pain during sex or at other times.
In recent years, the term “pandemic pelvis” has been used to refer to challenges that arise from sitting still for too much of the day combined with stress. Slouch too often and your pelvic muscles might weaken, your nerves fray and your back ache; Kegels are an antidote.
What Are Kegels?
The Kegel exercise is a way to strengthen your pelvic floor — a bowl of muscle that holds vital organs in place including your uterus, bladder, rectum and vagina. The Kegel involves repeatedly squeezing your pelvic floor and slowly letting go.
Kegels help in many circumstances:
- During childbirth, you’ll want those pelvic floor muscles to relax so it’s easier for your baby to pass through the vaginal canal. If you do Kegels regularly while you’re pregnant, you’ll have more control over your pelvic floor and might be able to send directions to your muscles more easily. Your body creates beautiful hormones to help the process along. Relaxin, for example, is released along with oxytocin whenever your uterus contracts.
- After delivery, those pelvic floor muscles might stay relaxed — too relaxed, or can even weaken more. That might lead to incontinence, pain or a prolapsed (dropping) bladder. Do the Kegels regularly to get those muscles stronger again.
Obstetricians have so much information to share with pregnant women that they might not mention Kegels. Ask, though, and your doctor will surely tell you they’re beneficial.
How To Do Kegel Exercises
Kegels involve squeezing your vaginal area and easing up, again and again.
- Squeeze your vaginal muscles, as you would if trying to hold in urine with a full bladder or holding in gas from your anus. Then release. You might even literally stop your urine while it’s flowing, then start again.
- Isolate only those muscles. Do not move your thighs, your pelvis, or any other part of your lower body. If your legs or hips jerk, you’re doing something other than Kegels.
- Mix it up and, sitting in a chair, try a variety of Kegels. Squeeze in and out slowly for a count of one. Then for a count of 10 in each direction. Then rapidly. Each version helps in a different way. Build up to doing each of these versions 10 times apiece, three times a day.
- Kegels should be invisible — so invisible that you can do them in the carpool lane, in the boardroom … anywhere, anytime that you are sitting still.
Most people do them the wrong way, so during your next pelvic exam, ask your healthcare provider to put a finger inside your vagina to evaluate if you’re doing them correctly.
If Kegels seem overwhelming, or you fear your Kegels aren’t ideal, find help. Ask your doctor. Download one of many specially designed smartphone apps. Buy an over-the-counter device that provides feedback about how strong your Kegels are. Most have either “Kegel” or “pelvic” in the name, or possibly “PC,” referring to the pubococcygeus, which is one specific pelvic muscle. Biofeedback is another option, as is electrooculography (EOG) simulation. Ask your OB-GYN for a referral.
Or visit a pelvic floor physical therapist. These professionals are trained to help women develop and keep strong pelvic floors. In Florida, women with most health insurance plans can see a pelvic floor specialist for one month post-partum without a referral from a doctor.
Stronger orgasms are an unheralded extra benefit. Kegels strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and help women become aware of these hidden muscles. Since pelvic floor muscles contract during orgasms, Kegels might lead to stronger contractions — although the movements do not affect the clitoris, which is more important for orgasm.
Who Shouldn’t Do Kegels
In certain cases, Kegels will do harm instead of help.
When incontinence is involved, some women need their pelvic floors to relax, not to be strengthened. Overactive bladders have similar symptoms as “stress incontinence,” yet the former does not benefit from Kegels while the latter does.
Likewise, following childbirth, some women have tight pelvic floors after repairs from an episiotomy —a small incision made in the vaginal area that makes more space for the baby, and is then sewn back up. Kegels won’t likely be of assistance in those cases.
It’s best to consult with a urogynecologist or pelvic floor physical therapist before beginning a Kegel practice. Or ask your gynecologist during your next check-up.
Do your research. So many resources are available for women. You can find out if you should be doing Kegels, how and when to do them, and how they might benefit you. Just keep looking and asking until you find the information you need.
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