If you’re pregnant, congratulations! You are growing a tiny human inside you. As your due date approaches, you may be feeling nervous about giving birth. One thing that can help you feel more prepared is doing pelvic floor physical therapy. In physical therapy, we teach you birth prep exercises and breathing techniques. Don’t worry; we’ll make it fun!
First, let’s talk about why you should do pelvic floor exercises. Your pelvic floor muscles are responsible for supporting your bladder, uterus, and bowel. During pregnancy, the extra weight of your baby and uterus can put a strain on these muscles. Plus, during childbirth, your pelvic floor muscles need to stretch to allow your baby to pass through the birth canal. Doing pelvic floor exercises can help you prepare for childbirth, prevent perineal tears and incontinence, and improve your recovery after delivery.
So, what are some specific pelvic floor physical therapy birth prep exercises you can do? Here are a few:
- Pelvic Floor Muscle Contractions also known as Kegels: This exercise involves contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. To do a Kegel, pretend like you are trying to stop the flow of urine mid-stream. We don’t actually want you to do this while you’re peeing, just think about the action when performing the exercise. Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Do this 10 times, three times a week.
- Pelvic Floor Lengthening: Begin lying on your back with your legs bent and feet resting on the floor. As you inhale, gently lengthen or “bear down” through your pelvic floor muscles like you are trying to push out gas. Or, you can visualize you are widening the area between your sit bones and gently moving your tailbone away from your pubic bone.
- Squats: Squats can help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and prepare your body for the squatting position you may use during childbirth. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and slowly lower yourself into a squatting position. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly stand back up. Inhale on the way down, exhale on the way up. Do this 10 times, three sets, three times a week.
Now, let’s talk about breathing techniques. Practicing deep breathing during pregnancy can help you stay calm and relaxed during labor. Here’s how to do it:
- Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, filling your belly with air.
- Hold for a 3-4 seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely. Try to make your exhales as long as possible, ideally twice as long as your inhales.
- Repeat for 5-10 minutes.
Finally, let’s talk about perineal tear prevention. Perineal tears are common during childbirth, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk of tearing. Here are a few tips:
- Practice perineal massage: Massaging your perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) can help make it more flexible and reduce your risk of tearing. To do this, apply a natural oil or lubricant: This can help make the massage more comfortable and reduce friction. You can use coconut oil, vitamin E oil, or a water-based lubricant. Use your thumbs: With clean hands, apply gentle pressure to the lower part of your vaginal opening. You can use your thumbs to push down and outwards towards your anus. Massage in a U-shaped motion: Using your thumbs, massage the lower part of your vagina in a U-shaped motion. Gently stretch the tissue down and to the sides, holding the stretch for a few seconds before releasing. You can also try moving your thumbs in a circular motion. Gradually increase the pressure: As you become more comfortable with perineal massage, you can gradually increase the pressure and duration of the massage. Aim for 5-10 minutes per session, 3 times per week.
- Consider your birthing position: Certain positions during childbirth can reduce your risk of tearing. Squatting or using a birthing stool can help widen your pelvic outlet and allow your baby to descend more easily. Avoid lying flat on your back, which can narrow your pelvis and increase your risk of tearing. Birthing on your side reduces your chances of tearing.
- Use warm compresses: Applying warm compresses to your perineum during the pushing stage of labor can help soften and stretch the tissue, reducing your risk of tearing. Ask your healthcare provider about using warm compresses during labor.
- Listen to your body: Pay attention to your body during labor and childbirth. If you feel the urge to push, go ahead, but don’t push too hard or too quickly. Allow your perineum to stretch slowly and gradually, which can reduce your risk of tearing.
- Consider perineal support: Your healthcare provider may use perineal support techniques during childbirth to reduce your risk of tearing. This can include using their hands to apply pressure to the perineum or using a warm compress.
Remember, perineal tears are common during childbirth, and sometimes they are unavoidable. However, by taking steps to prepare your body and reduce your risk, you can improve your chances of having a smooth delivery. Don’t panic too much about perineal tearing. Most tearing is minor and can be treated during postpartum physical therapy.
In conclusion, pelvic floor physical therapy birth prep exercises and breathing techniques can help you prepare for childbirth, prevent perineal tears and incontinence, and improve your recovery after delivery. By doing Kegels, squats, pelvic tilts, and practicing deep breathing, you can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and stay calm during labor. Additionally, considering your birthing position, using warm compresses, listening to your body, and perineal support techniques can all help reduce your risk of perineal tears.