Pregnancy may last nine months but its lingering effects on the body can last years. Many women experience loss of bladder control during pregnancy as the weight of the baby presses down on the bladder and other tissue of the pelvic floor. Some women continue to be plagued by loss of bladder control after childbirth. Sometimes the loss of control lasts years and requires surgical correction.

A full-body workout is beneficial for all women, even during pregnancy, and will strengthen the body from head to toe. A specific exercise - Kegel exercise - pinpoints the muscles of the pelvic floor for added strength and control in the pelvis. Doing Kegels routinely before pregnancy may minimize the risk or severity of incontinence and other pelvic floor disorders that frequently develop during pregnancy. Dr. Arnold Kegel, a physician in California, developed the exercise routine in the 1940s.

Kegel exercises are said to enhance the quality of a woman’s orgasms and improve bladder and bowel control. Men benefit from Kegels, too.

Some women, however, find that Kegels aren’t enough, especially after giving birth. Incontinence when laughing, sneezing, and coughing are indications of a weakened pelvic floor.

Another concern is pelvic organ prolapse, the most commonly experienced postpartum pelvic floor disorder. Prolapse means “to fall out of place.” The condition causes the internal organs of the pelvis to slip through weakened muscle and supporting tissue and fall into the vagina or rectum.

One-third of all women experience a pelvic floor disorder at some point in life. Women who have vaginal deliveries are at greater risk of developing a disorder than those who have C-section deliveries but C-section does not eliminate weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, ligaments, nerves, and other tissues that occurs during pregnancy. Older women are more likely to experience pelvic floor disorders as are women of any age who begin aggressive exercise routines too soon after giving birth.

Sometimes women regain adequate muscle control within six months of giving birth. If the loss of control is extreme or lingers longer, medical intervention may be necessary. Kegel exercises and other exercises that strengthen the core muscles may be prescribed to treat postpartum incontinence but there are medications and medical devices that can help, too. Surgery, including relatively minor outpatient surgery, is necessary sometimes when less invasive therapies don’t work as well as expected.

Earliest treatment is the most effective treatment. Ask for a pelvic health assessment about six weeks after childbirth. If pain or incontinence are severe enough to interfere with normal activities, don’t wait six weeks. Schedule an assessment immediately.

Source: "Kegel Exercises - Self-Care." MedlinePlus. 12 Dec 2012. Web. Retrieved 19 Nov 2013.

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