Pelvic floor exercises - a workout for your vagina
Vaginas are pretty impressive. This muscular tube leading from the genitals to the cervix goes through a lot in the course of a lifetime. From periods, to sex, to childbirth, it fulfils a variety of functions.
It's a hardy pathway of muscles that's for sure, but having babies, the menopause and obesity can all take their toll.
The pelvic floor muscles that support your vagina, bladder, bowel and uterus are found between your legs, and go from the pubic bone round to the base of your spine in a sling-like shape.
"They are a very important part of a woman's body," says consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Roger Marwood, who's a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
He says: "Exercising your pelvic floor muscles is as important as exercising your abdominal and back muscles. They need to be strong, as a weak pelvic floor can lead to urinary stress incontinence when you laugh, cough or sneeze."
The classic symptom of weak pelvic floor muscles is leaking urine. It may also lead to a prolapse when one of the pelvic organs bulges into the vagina. It may also mean reduced sensitivity during sex. In severe cases it can lead to faecal incontinence. It can also cause pain and discomfort.
But, just like your biceps or core, your pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened by exercise.
How to do pelvic floor exercises
Some women can easily locate their pelvic floor muscles and know instinctively how to clench and release. Others may need a bit of guidance.
To recognise the muscles you are trying to work, attempt to stop the flow of urine when you are going for a wee. Only do this to learn where the muscles are, don’t do it regularly as this might damage the bladder. Alternatively try to stop yourself passing wind.
Once you know what you are aiming for, squeeze your vagina and anus at the same time.
Tighten and release in quick succession. Fully releasing so your pelvic floor returns to a normal resting position every time.
Then do it more slowly, holding the squeeze for up to 10 seconds then letting it go. Try to do three sets of exercises a day.
When to do them?
The beauty of pelvic floor exercises is you can do them anywhere and, once you've got the hang of it, no-one will even realise you are doing them.
"I did these religiously through both my pregnancies and started them again literally the day I gave birth!" says mummy blogger Rebecca Maberly who runs the Doctor and Daughter's Guide to Pregnancy website.
"I think the best advice is to try and do a set of exercises every time you wash your hands, or see a red traffic light or change a nappy and after a while it will become a natural part of your day. It may feel really strange after you have given birth but if you persevere things will return to normal quite quickly," says Rebecca.
There's even an NHS Squeezy app to remind you to do them and to keep a record for you.