Women often experience a leaky bladder after pregnancy. The medical term for the condition is stress incontinence. This is when a simple action such as laughing and sneezing can result in bladder leakage. Stress incontinence after pregnancy is usually caused by weakened pelvic floor muscles damaged by childbirth and the pressure of pregnancy weight on the abdomen and bladder. Up to 70% of women may experience urinary leakage during or after pregnancy, according to the National Association for Continence, but they are often embarrassed to tell their doctors, let alone their best friends. What many women don’t realize is that incontinence after pregnancy is usually temporary and treatable.
One way to minimize the chances of having a leaky bladder after pregnancy is by strengthening the pelvic floor muscles through kegel exercises.
What are kegels?
The word, “kegel,” comes from Dr. Arnold Kegel, a gynecologist who recommended that kegels be done to strengthen a woman’s pelvic floor muscles, which may have been weakened due to childbirth. In addition to its discreetness, another great thing about kegel exercises is that it can enhance sexual pleasure. Men can do kegels, too.
Kegel exercises target and strengthen the pubococcygeus (PC) muscles, which are used to control urine flow. Women are often told to perform kegels if they experience bladder control problems due to pregnancy, childbirth, or menopause. In this case, exercises can be done before, during, and after pregnancy.
How to do kegels
The first step in doing kegels is to find the PC muscles. Women, who use the wrong muscles when doing kegels, don’t see any progress and ultimately, give up on the exercises. The PC muscles are ones used to stop urine midstream or the ones used to stop from passing gas.
After locating the correct muscles, empty your bladder out completely. Now you may choose to lie down, sit, or stand – eventually, you’ll have no problem doing kegel exercises in all positions and especially while moving around. Squeeze your kegel muscles for three seconds and relax for three seconds. Do this 10 times in a row, three times a day. Make sure that you aren’t squeezing your abdominal, buttocks, or thigh muscles. Breathe and stay relaxed. That’s it!
It’s best to make kegels into a habit, so the more you do them, the better your bladder will be. However, it’s important to give your PC muscles a break, as they can get worn out. You may find it easy to do kegels during certain times or activities during the day. For example, do them morning, afternoon, and night, or in the car at every stop light.
How effective are kegels?
Many women see improvements in their bladder control after six weeks of regular exercise. Kegel exercisers, such as vaginal weights, can help determine how strong your pelvic floor muscles are getting. You might also want to wear an incontinence pad, or bladder control pad, to stay dry as you work on rebuilding your pelvic floor muscles. Be patient and keep kegeling away! If you’re having trouble locating the PC muscles or performing the kegel exercises, your doctor, a physical therapist, or pelvic floor trainer can help you. For those who are still experiencing bladder control problems after six weeks, see a doctor for other incontinence treatment options.