Ease Labor with Pelvic Exercises
In addition to the well-known benefit of relieving urinary incontinence in pregnant women, regular pelvic exercises (also known as Kegel exercises) make them less likely to have a prolonged second stage of labor (pushing stage), according to a study in the British Medical Journal (2004;329:378–80). Pelvic exercises consist of alternately squeezing and relaxing the muscles of the pelvic floor, as when stopping and starting the flow of urine.
Following the first stage of labor, characterized by contractions that lead to increasing dilation of the cervix (the opening of the uterus), the second, or active, pushing stage, ends with the birth of the baby. (The placenta is delivered in the third stage and the fourth stage is the recovery phase during which the mother’s condition stabilizes.) Women who have a prolonged second stage of labor are more likely to damage the tissues around the birth canal and to need an episiotomy (a surgical cut into the vagina and surrounding tissues to facilitate delivery). They are also more likely to bleed excessively after the birth and to need a Cesarean section to deliver the baby.
The goal of the new study was to determine the effect of pelvic-floor-strengthening exercises on labor in 301 pregnant women. The women were assigned to either a pelvic-exercise-training group or a control group. The women in the exercise group trained with an exercise therapist for 60 minutes one time per week for 12 weeks between the twentieth and thirty-sixth weeks of pregnancy. The women were also encouraged to perform 8 to 12 intensive pelvic muscle contractions two times per day at home during this period. The control group was not given pelvic exercise instruction, but was not discouraged from doing the exercises. The duration of the second stage of labor and the number of prolonged second stage labors were recorded. Women in the pelvic-exercise-training group were far less likely to have a prolonged second stage of labor (lasting more than 60 minutes) than women in the control group.
The new study provides more evidence of the benefit of pelvic-exercise training in pregnant women. Pelvic-floor exercises also increase circulation to the area, and may help speed healing time and decrease pain after delivery.
Previous studies have shown that these exercises also improve urinary incontinence, which occurs when the muscles in the pelvic area become stretched during pregnancy, losing much of their strength and elasticity, and providing less support for the uterus and bladder.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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