What you should know about your pelvic floor

by Kaiser Permanente |
Pregnant woman practicing bridge pose on grass.

Your pelvic floor refers to the three separate layers of muscles and other tissue in and around your pelvic region. Together they act as a kind of sling to support internal organs like your bladder and bowel. They contract to help us “hold it” when we need to and relax to allow us to urinate and have bowel movements.

In addition, your pelvic floor supports your uterus. As your body prepares for childbirth, your pelvic floor relaxes and allows your baby to drop into your pelvis.

Strengthening your pelvic floor makes things easier during labor and childbirth. You can do pelvic floor exercises, known as Kegels, throughout pregnancy. They make you more aware of which muscles you’ll need to relax during labor. They also help with things like bladder control during pregnancy and beyond. Kegel exercises help you maintain your pelvic floor muscle tone, which can help you heal faster after giving birth.

Exercising your pelvic floor muscles

It’s not hard to locate your pelvic floor muscles. They are the same ones you use to stop the flow of urine or passing gas. To perform a Kegel when you are sitting or standing, simply tighten those muscles just like you would if you were trying to hold your urine or gas. Keep the muscles tightened for several seconds, then slowly release them. Try not to use your abdominal muscles or hold your breath – this actually works against your pelvic floor strengthening. Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times at least three times a day.

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember to make time for these exercises. As a reminder, choose an activity you do a few times a day as a “trigger” to help you remember to practice your Kegels. It could be when you are brushing your teeth or when you hear an ad on TV, on the radio, or on your phone.

Your pelvic floor during birth

Your pelvic floor muscles need to relax while you give birth. To help them do so, try emptying your bladder frequently. You can also try to focus on relaxing those muscles. You might try repeating phrases like “let the baby move down” or “let my muscles sag.” You can also focus on fully relaxing when doing your Kegel exercises – fully tighten to strengthen, then fully loosen to relax.

What to do about pelvic pain

As your body prepares for birth, it’s natural for your pelvic floor to begin to relax. This helps your baby move down into your pelvis and through the birth canal. However, this process is uncomfortable for some people. If you have pelvic pain, try:

  • Applying a heating pad to your back.
  • Using pillows to help you rest on your side or in a semi-reclined position.
  • Doing yoga exercises or using an exercise ball to help reduce tension.
  • Using a maternity girdle or pelvic support device.

Your clinician will let you know if it’s safe to take over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Your pelvic floor after birth

It’s a good idea to keep doing Kegels even after you give birth. These pelvic floor exercises can help your body get back to normal. They maintain good circulation and encourage healing. They help with things like bladder control even when you’re not pregnant.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.