What is a Kegel?Pregnancy
Urinary incontinence, or a leaky bladder is usually thought of as being a natural occurrence during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. We talk about it with our friends and those who have had babies, and giggle over no longer being able to run, jump, sneeze, or even laugh without peeing a little. It seems to be a “normal” part of life especially after having a baby. The response is often, “well you better make sure you do your Kegel exercises!”
So what are Kegels?
Kegel exercises were invented by American Gynecologist Dr. Arnold Henry Kegel in the mid 1940s as a non-surgical treatment for weak pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles which attach to the front, back, and sides of the pelvis and sacrum, and act as a hammock or sling to support the pelvic floor organs (which include the bladder, uterus, rectum, vagina, urethra and small intestines). Women were taught to tighten and lift up the pelvic floor muscles, hold for between 5-10 seconds, then release for 5-10 seconds and repeat multiple times in a row and make it a daily habit. In order to know if they were using the right muscles, women were encouraged to do them while peeing; they were told to stop the flow of urine for a few seconds and then release it. However, doing this continually can lead to incomplete bladder emptying which can increase the risk of urinary tract infections.
Kegel’s were thought to be a “one size fits all” treatment for weak pelvic floor muscles, however pelvic floor physiotherapists suggest that many pelvic floor issues such as pelvic pain, urgency, and frequency are actually caused by over-tight pelvic floor muscles. These mucles need to relax and not tighten even more! Doing Kegel’s to tighten already over-tight pelvic floor muscles can actually make the problems worse instead of better.
Kegel exercises can still be very beneficial for many women, however the only way to know if they are right for you is to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist who will do a vaginal, and sometimes rectal exam, to determine if your pelvic floor muscles are tight, or weak, and give you the correct exercises to do. It is recommended that pregnant women see a pelvic floor therapist at least once during their pregnancy in order to learn how to strengthen or relax their pelvic floor muscles. We strongly recommend a visit as well in the postpartum period to help prevent issues such as stress, or urge, incontinence from either happening or getting worse.
Just remember that although urinary incontinence happens to many women after having a baby, it doesn’t have to be something that you are stuck with for the rest of your life; seek the care of a pelvic floor physiotherapist and save yourself from a lifetime of issues that can easily be prevented.
We encourage you to learn more about our "What in the World" series. Please see our A to Z index for a whole host of pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting information and terminology.
Kerri Oishi is a certified birth doula and childbirth educator and an Elite Doula Group team member who has been a part of the birth world since 2010. She is a member of both DONA International and the Calgary Doula Association and has the privilege of volunteering at a birth centre in the Philippines for a year, enabling her to see birth in a completely different cultural setting. She loves to be able to support women and their families as they journey through pregnancy and childbirth, and believes that each woman’s experience is unique and deserves to be supported and celebrated.