There are so many things to think about when preparing for childbirth, but let’s not forget about the pelvic floor! These muscles are essential in birthing a baby, but not in the way you might expect. Below we will cover what role the pelvic floor plays in a vaginal delivery, as well as four positions/exercises you can do to help get these muscles ready for birth.
Let’s start with the basics. What is your pelvic floor? The pelvic floor is a sling of muscles at the bottom of your pelvis. Their primary functions are to help you control urination/defecation and to aide in supporting your pelvis and torso. Both men and women have pelvic floor muscles to perform these functions. However, women will have a more complex use of the pelvic floor muscles if they choose to have a baby.
Which brings us to: What does the pelvic floor need to do in childbirth? The answer may surprise you. Those of us that are aware of the pelvic floor mostly know that it is something that needs to be contracted in order to hold back urine. Many people have heard of Kegels, or pelvic floor contractions, at some point. Contraction of the pelvic floor can be helpful during pregnancy to provide additional pelvic support and help control urination in the face of increased pressure on the bladder. However, when it comes to childbirth, the pelvic floor muscles actually need to be able to relax and lengthen. Once we think about what needs to happen during birth, this starts to make a lot of sense. As the baby descends into the birth canal and begins to exit the pelvis, they must pass through the sling of pelvic floor muscles. If those muscles are tight and short or are holding on strongly, the baby will encounter an elastic wall that impedes their descent. The same holds true once the baby is beginning to exit the vaginal canal. If the pelvic floor muscles are too tight and are keeping the vaginal opening more closed and taught, then it will be harder to push the baby out and the risk of tearing at the perineum is increased. You can think of the pelvic floor as a gate at a driveway. The gate needs to be open for anything to pass through!
So what can you do to get your pelvic floor relax in the months and weeks before birth? Below are 4 positions/exercises that can help promote pelvic floor relaxation and lengthening.
- Wide Leg Squat
Coming into a wide leg squat position helps open the pelvis, and gravity will naturally promote lengthening in the pelvic floor. This is best performed as a repetitive exercise instead of a position that is held. Step your feet wider then your hips, with your feet angled out slightly. Slowly lower into a squat, thinking of pushing your knees out and letting the muscles around your groin relax. Try performing 5-10 of these in a row.
- Supported Deep Squat
A deep squat position will further open the pelvis, and the addition of support will let you relax more completely into the position. Start facing a chair, sofa, bed, or any other sturdy object. Using your hands to support yourself on that object, lower all the way down into a deep squat with the legs wide and then rest your forearms on the object in front of you. Your arms should be supporting at least some of your weight so that you can let your hips and your pelvic floor relax. With every inhale think of letting your groin relax more. Hold the position for 1-2 minutes, or as tolerated.
- Supported Child’s Pose
This more fully supported position can help the pelvic floor relax even more. Kneel in front of a stack of pillows, or a firm bolster if you have one. Widen the knees to straddle the pillows, and then let your torso lay down on the pillows so that they support you from the waist up. Turn your head to one side and let the pillows fully hold your weight. With every inhale feel the muscles in between your legs relax and descend towards the ground. Hold for up to 5 minutes, or to your tolerance.
- Supported Butterfly Pose
This position allows for a lot of opening in the pelvis and pelvic floor, as well as the inner thigh muscles. Position yourself in a semi-reclined position, with a bolster, wedge or pillows supporting your back. Bend your knees with your feet together and then let your knees fall open wide. Place pillows under the thighs/knees as needed to ensure your legs can relax fully without discomfort. Allow the pillows to support you and breathe deeply, feeling the entire groin area relax with every inhales. Hold for up to 5 minutes, or to your tolerance.
All of these are good options for helping practice pelvic floor relaxation and lengthening. The best strategy is to try them out and see which ones work best for you. In what positions do you feel the most comfortable and relaxed? In what positions do you feel you can relax your pelvic floor the most? These will be the best positions for you. And when it comes time for the birth, these become good options for laboring and helping the pelvis open before delivery. For further help learning how to relax the pelvic floor and prepare for birth, consult with a Women’s health/Pelvic Floor physical therapist!