o if you signed up for the London Marathon, you’d find the time to run around the block a few times beforehand, right? And if you booked a bucket-list holiday to climb up to Machu Picchu, you’d at least take the stairs instead of the lift for a few months, yes? Well, now you’ve bagged yourself a ticket for one of life’s biggest moments —your baby’s arrival, no less —here’s a simple, one-minute exercise that, if you do it every day, can help you have an easier birth.
Too good to be true? No, the Easy Squeeze exercise tones the very bit of your body that’s going to help you push your baby out. “Toning your pelvic floor muscles can help make the first and second stages of labour quicker,” says pelvic-health physiotherapist Elaine Miller. “Not enough research has been done to know exactly why it has this effect, but it makes sense that a firm pelvic floor will help you push your baby out.”
And if you’re pregnant, then right now your pelvic floor is having a pretty hard time of it. “Your pelvic floor sits at the base of your abdomen, holding in your organs,” explains Elaine. “It’s like the bottom of your handbag—without it, everything would just fall out.” Imagine three layers of muscle slung between your pubic bone and the bottom of your spine: that’s your pelvic floor.
And when you’re pregnant, it’s not just holding up your organs, but also the weight of your baby, placenta and all the extra blood that’s pumping around your body. “During pregnancy your pelvic floor is working harder than normal,” says Elaine. “So it needs a bit of help to stop it from stretching.” It’s not just the weight of carrying a new human being that can make your pelvic floor a bit droopier.
Your downstairs super- sling is also contending with the effects of the hormone relaxin. When you’re pregnant, your body releases this hormone to soften up your ligaments—tough, rope-like tissue—in your pelvis. Softer ligaments mean it’s easier for your pelvis to move and open up, so that your baby can work his way out. But it makes things harder for your pelvic floor. “Most muscles in your body are attached to your bones,” says Elaine. “But not the pelvic floor. Some of the pelvic floor muscle attaches to ligaments.”
So as your ligaments become stretchier with the release of relaxin, your pelvic floor can become a bit, well, saggy. And saggy isn’t going to help you push your baby out. That’s where the Easy Squeeze exercise comes in. Start it at any point in your pregnancy, and it will tone up your pelvic floor muscles, helping them cope better with the strain, and arrive at the big day strong enough to give you a better birth experience.
One minute a day really can make a big difference: turn over to find out just what to do…
- The best position to do the Easy Squeeze varies depending on which trimester you’re in. If you’re in your first trimester and still find it comfy, lie on your back in bed. Once you’re 16 weeks, or past this point, sit on a chair with your feet firmly on the floor and your back supported instead. That’s because when you lie on your back, the weight of your baby presses on the vein that carries blood to your heart, and squashing this vein for any length of time could make you feel dizzy.
- The next step is to take a deep breath in through your nose and then sigh out through your mouth. Make a conscious effort to relax your jaw as you do this, as that will help you relax your pelvic floor muscles.
- Time to get down to business! “To clench your pelvic floor muscles, squeeze the muscles around your vagina and then lift them—only a small lift—about half an inch,” says Elaine. You should be able to feel the muscle that wraps like a low belt around the front of your tummy tightening too. Some mums-to-be find it easier to feel their pelvic floor muscles at the back, rather than at the front, so try tightening the muscle here too.
- Hold the squeeze for 10 seconds, then release. Make sure you carry on breathing normally throughout. Now do a set of 10 sharp, fast contractions, using exactly the same muscles: squeeze for a count of one, relax for a count of one, squeeze for a count of one, relax for a count of one, as though you’re pulsing something in the food processor! Don’t worry if you can’t manage to do the squeezes this quickly at fi rst: once the muscles have strengthened, you will.
- When you’ve finished, take another deep breath in through your nose and then sigh out through your mouth, feeling your jaw, and your pelvic floor muscles relax. And that’s it: you’re done for the day!