Kegel Exercises for Post-Baby Incontinence
The baby has arrived and though it was hard on your body for a while, all seems well. You got the green light from your health care professional at your six-week post-baby checkup that you can resume your "normal" life. You can't wait to hit the gym. Hard. Bootcamp, Crossfit, HIIT workouts. Bring. It. On. Not so fast mama. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this faster, harder, stronger mentality, while totally awesome, might just cause you to spring a leak down there--we're talking incontinence here.
You know, the little squirt of urine that you may experience when you sneeze, cough, or laugh. I know you’re down-playing it. Probably thinking that it’s normal. Maybe you think it will go away on its own. But just because everyone else in your mommy bootcamp class is jumping around and seeming to have a good time without embarrassing leakage doesn’t mean they’re not suffering too. The smile on their face could be a disguise for what’s really going on underneath that spandex.
Postpartum incontinence can be fixed through exercise
There’s no need to freak out: it’s actually a very common occurrence in new moms. Research shows that 21% of moms experience incontinence (aka leaking urine) after their first baby born by vaginal birth, and if the baby was born with the help of forceps, that rate increases to 36%! For moms who’ve had a c-section, the rate is lower, but urinary incontinence can still happen because of the effects of downward pressure on the pelvic floor muscles.
And while you may not be able to stop it from happening, the good news is that you can fix it. Studies have shown that exercising the pelvic floor muscles appropriately is successful in increasing the pelvic floor muscle function and strength, while preventing further leaking.
Proper breathing and pelvic floor contracting
Learning to properly breathe through a Kegel exercise and contract the pelvic floor muscles will help minimize that unwanted leakage.
Take a birthday breath!
Every time you inhale, make sure that the breath expands your belly, your side, and back rib cage. This is difficult for most people as we’re so used to sucking in our bellies to inhale. Make sure that your belly and your rib cage expands outward while your shoulders and chest stay relatively still.
On your exhalation, purse your lips together and blow out as if you were blowing out candles on a birthday cake. You will see your abdomen come back in towards your body.
Core breathing works the deep core muscles: the diaphragm, the pelvic floor, the transversus abdominus and the multifidus muscles. All of these muscles work together to keep you from leaking.
Practice good contractions!
Do a Kegel (AKA pelvic floor contraction). Not sure how? The next time you’re on the toilet, try to stop the flow of urine midstream—that’s the muscle you want to work. (Now listen: don’t get all excited and try to stop your pee flow on the regular because it can potentially cause infections if done too much.)
Instead of gripping or squeezing your pelvic floor muscles like many of us do, I want you to do a Kegel and imagine that your vagina is pulling up a blueberry (or visualize trying to prevent your tampon from falling out). Pull up the blueberry as if it were an elevator going up an elevator shaft.
On the inhale, let go of the blueberry and release it all the way down to the ground floor of the elevator.
Contract or relax?
It's important to note that actively “picking up the blueberry” may not be right for everyone. Some moms already have very tight and gripped pelvic floor muscles which require “down training” or relaxing the pelvic floor muscles from their contracted state. You wouldn’t know this unless seen by a pelvic health physiotherapist who can do an internal assessment on your pelvic floor muscles. Generally, if you’d describe yourself as a Type A personality, you’ll probably find you need to focus on relaxing versus tightening those pelvic floor muscles!
Combining breath and contraction
Inhale to expand the ribs and belly. Exhale, pursing your lips together and blow the birthday candle out as you pull up your blueberry, contracting your pelvic floor muscles. Then inhale to release the blueberry all the way down to the basement.
Repeat exhaling while picking up the blueberry and releasing the blueberry on the inhale.
Consistency is key: make sure you do these on a regular basis to help minimize urinary leakage. Also, make an appointment with a pelvic health physiotherapist to ensure the exercise is right for you and to rule out any other issues.
Next time you’re in that bootcamp class you can smile (for real!) and be confident that your leggings will only become wet from the sweat you break. And if the other moms in the class want to know your secret, just tell them to pull up that blueberry!