What are Kegels?

Quite possibly, no other part of your body takes as much of a beating during pregnancy as your pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is made up of the muscles that support your uro-genital tract, which includes the organs in your pelvis — your bladder, bowels and uterus. During pregnancy, this may relax in anticipation of delivery, but it is important that you learn how to control and strengthen these muscles, called the pubococcygeus muscles. Kegels, or Pelvic Floor Muscle Training (PFMT), named for Dr. Arnold Kegel, the obstetrician who devised the exercise, can help you strengthen the pelvic floor — helping you avoid tearing and episiotomies during labor, and reducing your chance of developing stress urinary incontinence (SUI).

Many women who have had children can attest that the aftermath of labor and delivery often includes stress urinary incontinence, episiotomies and hemorrhoids. In more serious cases, women may suffer vaginal prolapse, where their pelvic floor muscles are unable to support the pelvic organs and tissues, and they actually begin to protrude into and through the vagina. While in some cases, kegels are not enough to treat the problem, they can be of benefit to all women, even if you're not pregnant.

There's really no excuse not to do your kegels before, during and after pregnancy — and you don't need to go to a gym to do them! You can do kegels while you're watching TV, driving, sitting at work or doing the dishes. Just doing them a few times a day can be of great benefit — studies have shown that it is the best treatment for mild stress urinary incontinence.

First, you should identify and isolate the muscle that you will use to perform the kegel exercises. It is around the vagina, and is easy to find during urination. It is the muscle that you use to start and stop the flow of urine. You can also find the muscle by inserting a finger in the vagina, and tightening it around the finger.

Once you have identified the muscle, you will practice tightening and relaxing it. Don't hold your breath — remember to breathe through the exercise. Also, don't tighten your stomach, leg or buttock muscles while performing kegels — these are different muscles unrelated to the pelvic floor. There are several varieties of kegels — varying your "routine" can help you more effectively tone and strengthen the pelvic floor.

Basic kegels involve simply tightening, then relaxing the muscle and repeating several times. Elevator kegels have you slowly tightening the muscle incrementally, building up, and then releasing. You can also tighten and hold for 10 seconds, then release and repeat. Do several "reps" of kegels throughout the day — maybe during your favorite TV show, or when you wake up and go to bed. The added bonus of regularly performing your kegels is that you not only keep your pelvic floor in good shape, avoid vaginal prolapse and urinary incontinence but you can also increase sensitivity during sexual intercourse.

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