The easy squeeze

This sim­ple ex­er­cise makes giv­ing birth eas­ier, and it only takes one minute a day

Mother & Baby - - CON­TENTS - Elaine Miller is a pelvic-health phys­io­ther­a­pist and a mum of three, gus­set­grip­

So 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 su­per­sling 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…

1The 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.

2The 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.

3Time 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.

4Hold 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 first: once the mus­cles have strength­ened, you will.

5When 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!

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