Postpartum incontinence might be common following pregnancy and childbirth, but it shouldn’t be the norm (or at least not for the long-term!). Before resigning yourself to a life of sneeze-induced leaks, take heart that strengthening and repairing your pelvic floor could be as easy as incorporating simple Kegel exercises into your daily routine. With a bit of pelvic floor education + dedication, postpartum incontinence can become a thing of the past—and you’ll be able to confidently jump for joy when it does.
“The pelvic floor is the foundation of our strength,” explains Rachel Nicks, New-York-based doula, lactation counselor, and founding instructor at MIRROR. “It is the base of our core and holds in our organs. The pelvic floor works overtime when you are pregnant to hold up your uterus, and when you have a vaginal birth, a human passes through it. It needs some time to rest and rebuild strength before you rush to go for a run and bounce your organs on it!”
Nicks, who is expecting baby No. 2 next month, emphasizes the importance of maintaining pelvic floor strength during pregnancy—as well as strength + flexibility for childbirth. “The strength and flexibility of the pelvic floor are important,” she says. “You want to learn to relax your pelvic floor for sex and birth. And you want to be able to understand how to engage the pelvic floor when you cough, sneeze, jump, run, or do any other similar activities that put pressure on the pelvic floor to prevent incontinence and make sure it’s supported.”
After giving birth, postpartum recovery can take time and should be at the pace that feels right to both you and your care provider. “I encourage women and myself to listen to our bodies. Six weeks means nothing,” she says, referring to the typical recommended timeframe for returning to activities like sex and exercise postpartum. “Everyone’s journey is unique. Postpartum recovery is different for everyone, and it is important to take baby steps to rebuild your strength. Many of us women feel so much pressure to ‘snap back’ and jump into intense workouts. That can really cause the body a lot of problems. It is extremely important to allow your body to heal and begin to slowly rebuild your pelvic floor and core strength before starting an intense workout regimen.”
When you’re ready, Nicks recommends incorporating these simple Kegel exercises into your daily regimen. “At first, you’ll need to do it with complete focus, but then as you gain confidence, you can practice anytime during your day—while cooking or feeding your baby or commuting,” she explains. Just note you should stop all high impact fitness training initially until your strength and understanding of your pelvic floor are up to par.
Engage pelvic floor muscles (as if you’re stopping urine mid-pee) on exhale. Relax pelvic floor muscles on inhale. Repeat 10 times, fully engaging and releasing the pelvic floor muscles each time.
2// 5 to 10
Engage pelvic floor muscles and hold for 5-10 seconds. Relax. Repeat 10 times.
Engage on exhale and release on inhale at a quick pace, as if blinking. Go as fast as you can while still feeling full engagement and release. Repeat 10 times.
Engage layer one, layer two, and layer three of the pelvic floor little by little on the exhale, like an elevator stopping at each floor. Slowly release on the inhale—three, two one. Repeat 5-10 times.
Practicing pelvic floor exercises will help you call on those muscles as part of your regular routine. “Make sure to engage your pelvic floor before you sneeze, jump or cough,” reminds Nicks. “During your day, be sure you are engaging your pelvic floor muscles and your transverse abdominals, so you are supported as you lift baby, groceries, etc. You also need to make sure the pelvic floor and transverse abdominals are supported during your workouts.”
In addition to Kegel exercises, Nicks strongly recommends meeting with a pelvic floor specialist. “Every woman, mother or not, should go to a pelvic floor therapist to understand the health and function of their pelvic floor,” she advises.
Remember: “It is never too late to build muscle—and your pelvic floor is a muscle.” Even if it’s been years since you last gave birth, if you’re still suffering from postpartum incontinence you can recover from it. “Get back to basics. Go to a pelvic floor therapist and practice your Kegels. Be sure to engage your pelvic floor before sneezing, etc.,” encourages Nicks. “It can and will get better!”
WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW TO HAVE RACHEL NICKS WALK YOU THROUGH SIMPLE EXERCISES YOU CAN DO AT HOME TO STRENGTHEN YOUR PELVIC FLOOR.