Having a strong pelvic floor is very important for everyone, not just during pregnancy. Weakness in the pelvic floor muscles has been linked to incontinence, lower back pain and increased risk of intervention during birthing, to name a few.
Having strength in the pelvic floor is definitely paramount for optimal physical health and function, but being able to relax your pelvic floor muscles is also of paramount importance. Having the ability to effectively relax your pelvic floor during birth is a great way to reduce the risk of developing tears and reducing the risk of needing intervention such as episiotomy.
Try it now, see if you can relax your pelvic floor. Just focus on letting everything go (unless you need a wee, then maybe do that first!)
A recent study on spinal manipulation of pregnant women in their second trimester showed an increased in relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles, following chiropractic manipulation. This did not occur in the non-pregnant control participants, suggesting that it may be only pregnancy related.*
A great way to help limit tension in a muscle is to stretch it. As you can imagine it is very tricky to stretch your pelvic floor muscles directly. However due to the network of special connective tissue called fascia, you can stretch your pelvic floor indirectly.
Stretching the fascia around your adductor muscles (inner thigh) will have a profound effect on your pelvic floor. Couple this with actively switching off your pelvic floor and changing the pressure in your system by breathing deeply and you will create an effective pelvic floor stretch.
The main focus is letting go. Resisting the urge to tense and be active through your pelvic floor while you do a very controlled stretching movement. Because you are letting go and not stabilising your pelvis and spine during this movement, it is very important to keep it slow and controlled!
So here is how it's done...
Start: Stand sideways on to the chair. Place the foot closest to the chair onto the seat pointing away from your body. Your feet will be at a 90° angle to each other. Try to keep your knee in line with the little toe side of your foot, by engaging your buttock muscle. Much like your set up when performing a glute bridge exercise.
Stand tall, torso facing forward and tuck your tailbone under slightly, so you are not sticking your bottom out. You will start to feel a pull on your inner thigh.
Action: Rest your hand on your thigh for support. With a lunging action, begin to shift your body weight toward your bent knee on the chair. Lunge as far as you can and pause, keeping your torso tall and facing towards and tailbone tucked. Breath in slowly and deeply for 4 seconds inflating your belly and focus on letting your pelvic floor go; Relax!
Feel your breath travel through your inflated belly and out through your pelvic floor (very strange thought but run with me here).
Breathe out for 4 seconds. This is one repetition.
Repeat 3-5 times on the same leg, before swapping sides.
One set of 3-5 repetitions on each leg will be enough to encourage a great pelvic floor stretch. Try to perform this stretch at least once daily.
* Haavik H, Murphy B. A, Kruger J, Pelvic floor functional changes with spinal manipulation in pregnant and non-pregnant women: A pilot study. JMPT 2016. In Press.