Can I hold my breath to make it easier for my pelvic floor muscles to contract?
This is one of the most common questions that women ask when they are learning to exercise their pelvic floor muscles. It seems much easier to tighten your pelvic floor muscles when you also take a deep breath in and hold your breath. The problem is that your pelvic floor muscles need to work when you are breathing normally throughout the day. When you cough or sneeze, you are in effect breathing out forcefully so if your muscles only learn to work when you hold your breath, they are not going to work when you most need them. An effective pelvic floor contraction is one that begins with a breath out and then is able to be held whilst you continue to breathe normally. Try the following exercise if you struggle with this:
Lie or sit in a comfortable position with your shoulders relaxed. Imagine a balloon in your stomach. The top of the balloon is at the level of your bra and the bottom is your pelvic floor. As you breathe in, imagine this balloon inflating with air. As you breathe out, feel the whole balloon deflate. Practise this a few times.
Now, really focus on your pelvic floor. As the balloon expands, your pelvic floor moves downwards and as it deflates, your pelvic floor gently moves up again. Once you can visualise this, on a breath out, tighten your pelvic floor muscles as though you are trying to help the air out. Then hold this contraction as you breathe in again, re-inflating the balloon. This time, your contraction is stopping the balloon base from moving down though.
Mastering this takes time and practise but if you can perform a good pelvic floor contraction without holding your breath then you are more likely to see a change in your symptoms.
By Alison Bourne MA (Cantab) BSc MCSP ACPWH