Aug. 12, 2004 -- If the joy of expecting your first child competes with anxiety of a painful delivery, take heart. Researchers say women who workout their pelvic muscles by doing Kegel exercises during the last few months of pregnancy have an easier time giving birth.
The findings come from this week's British Medical Journal.
Doctors at the Trondheim University Hospital in Norway examined 300 healthy pregnant women who had never before given birth. Half of the women performed intensive pelvic muscle exercises (Kegel exercises) between the 20th and 36th weeks of pregnancy; the others did not.
The researchers investigated whether pelvic exercises could affect the duration of labor and shorten the time to deliver. When it was time to give birth, the study authors recorded the lengths of the different stages of labor.
Women who took part in the training had greater pelvic muscle control and flexibility, which resulted in easier labor. The report also showed that pelvic exercises could prevent a prolonged second stage of labor, when women use pelvic muscles to help uterine contractions. The second stage of labor is the active pushing phase until the time of delivery.
The study contradicts a common belief that strong pelvic floor muscles make childbirth more difficult. To date, scientific evidence regarding the effects of pelvic muscle training on labor and delivery has been scarce.
The exercises are easy to do -- and no one will know you're moving a muscle. Just relax and simply contract your pelvic muscles as if you were halting the stream of urine (but avoid doing so while you're actually urinating). Initially you might try it lying or sitting down, but they can be performed anywhere. Ask your physician about the number of squeezes you should be doing daily, if at all.
Kegel exercises have long been prescribed as a method to strengthen pelvic muscles and prevent urinary incontinence during and after pregnancy.
SOURCE: Salvesen, K. British Medical Journal, Aug. 14, 2004; vol 329: pp 378-80.