“Exercises” Your Pelvic Floor Will Thank You for During Pregnancy
This Is Nike (M)
Kegels are so 10 years ago. Show your pelvic floor some modern love with a trampoline, a balloon and a yawn (it’ll make sense in a sec).
- Your pelvic floor can become tight from pregnancy, too many Kegels, and frequent training.
- For easier delivery and postpartum recovery, practice releasing your pelvic floor muscles through deep breathing and visualization.
- For more prenatal wellness guidance and workouts (including ones that prioritize your pelvic floor), hop into the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother program in NTC.
Read on to learn more…
*This content is designed to inform and inspire, but it is not meant to diagnose, treat or give specific medical advice. Always check with your health care provider about how to stay healthy and safe before, during and after pregnancy.
It’s hard not to feel strong AF after powering through a few chest-to-deck push-ups and seeing the biceps pump you get seconds afterward. Building strength through challenging movements, especially ones that come with instant gratification, is objectively something to be proud of. But not all muscles are meant to be seen, and some function best with exercises that release and strengthen.
That’s the case with your pelvic floor — especially if you’re pregnant.
Before we dive into the why and how, a quick primer: Your pelvic floor muscles wrap around your pubic bone and tailbone, forming a trampoline-like surface that supports your organs.
Every time you pee, poop, have sex or give birth (!), your pelvic floor muscles need to expand and open. A pelvic floor that’s tightened, shortened and elevated has a much harder time doing that, says Laurel Proulx, DPT, PhD, a pelvic health physical therapist in Colorado Springs and the founder of FEM Physical Therapy.
The Trouble With Tight
Tense pelvic floor muscles are common during pregnancy. As your uterus expands, your pelvic floor has to work harder to deal with the increased weight above it, which can cause stiffness in your pelvic muscles, says Ann Nwabuebo, DPT, a pelvic health physical therapist in Philadelphia and the founder of Body Connect Physical Therapy. You can also be on the tighter side if you’ve overindexed on pelvic floor strengthening exercises (hi, Kegels), says Proulx, and/or have a weak core and/or hip rotators (the muscles that allow you to rotate your leg), because your pelvic floor has to pick up the slack when other muscles aren’t strong enough.
Emotional stress (not exactly unheard of in pregnancy) can contribute too. “Your pelvic floor is linked to your central nervous system,” says Proulx. “It reacts by contracting and clenching when you are afraid or anxious.”
Why care? According to Nwabuebo, a tight pelvic floor can not only contribute to pain in pregnancy, it can also cause unnecessary problems on delivery day. Your pelvic floor muscles have to stretch about three times (!) their typical length to allow the baby to come out, says Proulx. If those muscles are tight and tense, it’s like your baby is pushing against a closed door — and your delivery might be longer, explains Nwabuebo. Your vaginal tissue can also tear if your muscles don’t easily stretch and open. (Perineal tears are supercommon due to other factors, but it’s worth trying to help those muscles chill out.)
How to Relax Already
Learning how to relax and release your pelvic floor with the following breathing exercises can help you better prepare for delivery and, if you do them postpartum, too, could help with postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction. Plus, the mind-body connection you score from this work can give you a sense of control and preparedness, says Nwabuebo.
1. Use the trampoline metaphor.
Remember when we said the pelvic floor acts like a trampoline? Pretend the air you’re breathing is a person: Inhale and imagine them sitting on the trampoline, stretching out the surface and pressing it downward, says Nwabuebo. Exhale and imagine them leaving the trampoline, allowing the surface to go back to neutral again.
You should feel your pelvic floor muscles expand (or relax and lower) when you inhale and gently contract (or tighten and lift) when you exhale.
2. Notice your tummy.
Make sure your rib cage and belly expand as you inhale rather than sucking them in — think about filling the whole belly with the air you’re inhaling, like a balloon.
If you can’t feel your ribs expanding, try lying on one side and putting your top hand on your ribs to physically feel them move, says Proulx. A few deep breaths that way should provide a bit of stretch and relaxation to your pelvic floor.
3. Embrace the yawn.
It sounds weird, but Proulx encourages visualizing your anus unclenching and your vaginal area yawning. (If a yawn doesn’t quite do it for you, think about opening your pelvic floor like a swimming jellyfish as you inhale.)
4. Flex those hips.
Still can’t loosen up? Proulx suggests getting on your hands and knees or standing bent over a table so gravity can work its magic. Your belly will naturally fall, and as you take a few deep breaths, you’ll help your pelvic floor expand and relax, says Proulx.
Whichever breathing exercises work for you, aim to do them for five to 10 minutes every day, or as often as you can remember. Do them any time or at strategic moments, like after a workout to help you unclench your pelvic floor, which likely jumped in to help you train.
One of Proulx’s favorite times for breathwork? Right before bed. Research suggests deep breathing can help shift your nervous system out of a fight-or-flight state that makes you feel stressed and anxious, so you might sleep better afterward, she says. Plus, if there’s an emotional cause behind your overly tense pelvic floor (because, life), deep breathing can be a twofer, helping relax your body and mind at the same time.
No, these aren’t the type of exercises you’ll show off in a gym or on your IG story. But doing them shouldn’t make you any less proud.
Words: Ashley Abramson
Photography: Vivian Kim
Relaxing your pelvic floor isn’t necessarily the most intuitive thing. Let Proulx show you how it’s done.
CHECK IT OUT
For more prenatal and postpartum wellness advice — and workouts that meet you exactly where you are today — start the expert-vetted Nike (M)ove Like a Mother program in the Nike Training Club app. Want more from Nwabuebo? Listen to her talk all things pelvic floor on the Trained podcast.