Preparing our pelvic floor for birth is one of the most misunderstood elements of antenatal education. You may have heard the advice of doing lots of Kegels to strengthen your pelvic floor, aka “do your exercises or you’ll wee yourself”.
Sure, your pelvic floor needs to be strong through pregnancy to support the extra weight of your womb, but it also needs to relax and soften to allow your baby to move down and out.
I’m not going into a whole anatomy lesson here, but if you’re unsure where your pelvic floor actually is and what it is, have a Google or check out this lovely video by Holistic Health Physiotherapy https://youtu.be/z5F6xKQpgag
Then come back to read my top tips on how to prepare your pelvic floor for birth:
1. Learn to feel your pelvic floor. Awareness makes the change.
Sit or lay in a comfortable position and start taking some deep breaths. Pay attention to your belly, how it changes with the movement of your breath. As you breathe in, your diaphragm will move down, and so will your pelvic floor. As you breathe out, your diaphragm will rise and your pelvic floor will follow. Can you feel the movement in your pelvic floor? It may be very subtle. It may take a little while to feel it in your body. Keep taking deep breaths and tune in with the very slight rise and fall of your pelvic floor muscles.
If you’re finding this to be quite a challenge, try again in different positions and make sure your environment is quiet and you can actually focus on you. If you still aren’t sure you can feel the natural movement in your pelvic floor, try contacting a women’s physio, someone who specialises in pelvic floor health and can do an individualised assessment and give you personalised tools to help you prepare for birth.
2. Practice control
Now try coordinating your breath with pelvic floor exercises. As you exhale, feel your pelvic floor raise and add a gentle contraction of those muscles. As you inhale, relax your belly and your pelvic floor. Release any holding of tension around your abdomen and your pelvic floor muscles. Can you feel it soften a bit further? Contraction and relaxation are equally important here. This isn’t a strength building session, mama. You’re learning to control your pelvic floor so you can intentionally relax it to birth your baby as well as hold it strong when needed (ie before you cough).
3. From 35 weeks - Just relax!
That’s right, now is the time to stop the contraction part of the exercise. Instead, practice keeping your pelvic floor relaxed during the exhalation too. It may feel tricky at first but this is a brilliant exercise to prepare for birth. Visualisations can help make this easier, so check out this video for a simple exercise by Holistic Health Physiotherapy https://youtu.be/z5F6xKQpgag
You can resume strengthening exercises after birth, but for now relaxation is the name of the game, mama.
I encourage every mama to practise these exercises, but let me be clear: you don’t actually NEED any of this to give birth. Your body knows how to guide your baby out and when you have the time and support you need, when birth is physiological and no interventions are being used, it will all happen exactly as your body and your baby need it to.
However, if you’re planning on birthing in the current maternity system with its strict time limits and expectations, to use pain relief or accept any potential interventions, then this preparation may just be invaluable for you.
Gaining awareness and control of your pelvic floor through pregnancy, connecting with this part of your body means building your confidence in yourself and your birthing body. It also means you can access specialised support early in your pregnancy if you are one of those mamas who need a bit more support.
If you’d like to know more about your pelvic floor through your pregnancy, birth and postnatal recovery, get in touch, mama. I teach lots of different techniques in the Mamabody workshop and I am always happy to help with a one to one session if you prefer.