Many women avoid performing Kegels exercises for pregnancy because they fear it will tighten the pelvic floor, resulting in a more difficult labor. The truth is that a strong, toned pelvic floor endures the rigors of labor far better than a weak, de-conditioned pelvic floor.
We can strengthen muscles without making them ‘tight’ – I can train my biceps for strength without creating excessive tightness in my arms. And a strong muscle has more elasticity and resilience than a weak muscle. How can we best develop a toned, elastic pelvic floor to prepare for a safe, empowered birth?
One key tip is to practice consciously relaxing and releasing the pelvic floor muscle, in addition to squeezing and lifting it. While performing Kegels on their own, be sure that you’re completely opening and relaxing the pelvic floor between each muscle contraction. The muscle release is as important as muscle engagement.
Kegels Exercise for Pregnancy: How much, how often? Any exceptions?
In addition to incorporating Kegels into Core Compressions during pregnancy, I recommend performing 2-3 minutes of two varieties of Kegels a couple of times per week.
The only exception to this recommendation is if you have personally been advised not to Kegel by a medical professional – your OB, midwife, or pelvic floor physical therapist. Women who have an overly tight (hypertonic) pelvic floor would not benefit, and could in fact make matters worse – especially if you’re preparing for your first birth or a VBAC.
Common symptoms of hypertonicity include chronic constipation, tailbone pain, and pain during intercourse. If you suspect you’re suffering from an overly tight pelvic floor, discuss your concerns with your OB/midwife and request a referral to a pelvic floor physical therapist. Also, watch our intro to Core Compressions video to find out how to modify your Core Compressions.
For audio coaching in elevator Kegels and sprint Kegels, including how and when to breathe during the set, scroll to the end of our core exercise library. Here’s a brief description of each:
Kegels Exercise Variations
Slowly draw your entire pelvic floor up and in as you exhale, holding the muscle as high and tight as you can (feels like you’re trying not to pee your pants), breathing shallowly, for 10 seconds. Then slowly release and relax completely. Imagine opening like a flower. Then repeat, exhaling as you squeeze your pelvic floor closed and up, up, up inside you. Breathe shallowly as you hold the muscle high and tight for 10 seconds. Then soften, release, lower, and open completely. Perform 10 elevator Kegels (about 2-3 minutes) twice a week to strengthen the endurance muscle fibers. When finished with a set, gently lift the pelvic floor to a comfortable resting position.
These are power moves, working the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your pelvic floor. Squeeze as hard as you can, drawing the pelvic floor quickly up and in as you exhale. Then take a breath as you release the muscle completely. (Note: never bulge your pelvic floor forcefully downward.) Always draw ‘up & in’ as you exhale when engaging the muscle, and then simply allow the pelvic floor to relax and fall open between squeezes. When finished with a set, gently lift the pelvic floor to a comfortable resting position. Aim for 2-3 minutes of sprint Kegels a couple times per week.
Add Kegels Exercise for Pregnancy to Your Prenatal Fitness Routine
As you practice both engaging and consciously releasing the pelvic floor muscle, you can improve strength and elasticity while enhancing your ability to open the pelvic door for a strong, safe birth. If you’re finding it difficult to remember these small but important exercises, this article from Babylist presents a terrific practical tip to work them into your routine. Please read this article for additional training tips to prepare for safer, easier pushing in labor.
Last Reviewed by Abby Inman PT, DPT in December 2021.
- Babylist. (2021, April 6). 23 Weeks Pregnant. https://www.babylist.com/hello-baby/23-weeks-pregnant
- Kegel, A. H. (1948). Progressive resistance exercise in the functional restoration of the perineal muscles. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 56(2), 238–248. https://doi.org/10.1016/0002-9378(48)90266-x.