How important are pelvic floor muscles during childbirth?


Muscle fibres that are exercised become more elastic with careful and repeated contraction and relaxation. It is important that the pelvic floor has a good muscle tone and elasticity. The pelvic floor will stretch and recover more easily after birth if it is strong. By doing pelvic floor exercises, you will strengthen these muscles.

Strengthening the pelvic floor is important, but the ability to release these muscles is just as important, especially during the pushing stage of birth. A tense pelvic floor can slow down the birth of your baby.

During delivery, the pelvic floor should relax and stretch to thin out. There are many extra folds of skin inside the vagina, called ruggae, that allows the extra stretching that will take place during delivery (rather like a concertina).

What is the pelvic floor?

The pelvic floor consists of three layers of muscle as well as ligaments and connective tissue, which lines the bottom of the pelvis acting as a “hammock” or floor. If you think of your pelvis as a paper bag of groceries, then your pelvic floor is the bottom (more reinforced) part of the bag.

It stretches from the pubic bone in the front, to the sacrum and coccyx at the back (between your legs). The main muscle of the pelvic floor, the PC muscle (pubococcygeus) lies in a figure of eight around the openings of the urethra, the vagina, and the rectum and provides sphincter (urine) control.

How do I strengthen my pelvic floor?

To identify the correct muscle, sit on the toilet with your legs wide apart. Begin to urinate, and then stop midway by contracting the muscle that halts the flow. Hold, then release. Do this once or twice so that you can locate this muscle. This is not to be done often, as there may be a chance that you could cause your bladder to retain urine.

Using visualisation is another way to help yourself get in touch with your pelvic floor. Imagine that you are squeezing a tampon really tightly and then release. It is important to feel the difference between a contracted muscle and a relaxed muscle.

Read: What will my labour really be like?

This will help you learn to release the pelvic floor during labour. When doing this, you must be careful not to tighten the muscles of the buttocks and the muscles of the inner thigh.

  • Start by sitting comfortably on a hard chair, slightly forward, with your legs apart. (Once you are a pro, these pelvic floor exercises can be done in any position, at any time and anywhere.)
  • Contract the pelvic floor, concentrating on the muscles of the vaginal sphincter. Try pulling these muscles up as high into the vagina as you can, and feel the pelvic floor lifting up and away from the seat of the chair.
  • Pause and hold it.
  • Slowly release, and be aware of the feeling of release, and how different the feeling is to the contraction.
  • Consciously release the muscles more.
  • Be sure not to hold in your breath while doing pelvic floor exercises.
  • Imagine that your pelvic floor is a lift, and that you are drawing up the pelvic muscles floor by floor. You can pause at each floor and pretend people are getting in and out and then moving to another floor – up or down.
  • Be sure to perform fast contractions, as well as slower, more controlled contractions. This will ensure that both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibres are worked.

How many do I do?

Don’t do too many and do not hold the contraction for too long. Practice for as long as you are comfortable, keeping the same strength of muscle contraction. Stop the exercises as soon as you feel the effort becoming greater and the contractions becoming weaker.

Rather do a few exercises when you remember them than practice for ages every day. Doing too many for too long will strain the already strained pelvic floor.

Must read: Can I be fit and pregnant?

How do I remember?

Place a few coloured dots in strategic places around your environment. Good places include the gear lever in your car, the mirror where you brush your teeth and one on your phone. In this way you will remind yourself to do your exercises. Do your exercises every time you look at them, especially if you are experiencing problems with your pelvic floor.

What are the benefits of having a well toned pelvic floor?

  • Prevents leaking of urine when laughing, coughing or sneezing.
  • Decreased discomfort during internal examinations.
  • Increased chances of having an easier second stage (birth of baby) of labour.
  • Perineum is more likely to heal faster in the case of cut or a tear.
  • Greater pleasure during sexual intercourse.
  • Improved chances for a healthy pelvic floor later in life and less chance of surgery to correct prolapse of uterus and other pelvic organs.
  • Less backache, as a strong pelvic floor aids the back in maintaining good posture.

Did you do pelvic floor exercises while you were pregnant? Did you find that they helped you as well? Tell us by emailing and we may publish your comments.

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