Pregnancy can be the most exciting time in a woman’s life. Nine months of reading book after book, taking class after class, and planning everything that you’ll do once your newborn is newly born — it’s intoxicating. But for many women, the joys of pregnancy are overshadowed by physical discomfort, including back pain, sleepless nights, and incontinence.
Fortunately, there are many techniques for combating these symptoms. If you’re experiencing incontinence, the initial strategy is one of education and exercise. By performing Kegel exercises that improve the strength of the muscles on the pelvic floor, a woman can strengthen the sphincter that keeps the urinary bladder’s outlet shut.
If Kegel exercises aren’t working, the next step is biofeedback. Electrodes are attached to the perineum, and a display is put up that allows the woman to see how tense her pelvic floor muscles are. By watching and practicing, a woman can piece together how exactly to flex her pubococcygeal muscle (the muscle flexed in a Kegel exercise.)
If even greater muscular control is called for, a surface electromyograph or sEMG can be hooked up to the perineum. The sEMG records a few different physiologic properties of muscles as they contract and relax. One of the elements it records is called ‘muscle fiber recruitment’ — the more fibers are recruited into a single contraction, the stronger that contraction is. The sEMG’s biofeedback electrodes show the woman not just that she’s successfully contracting the pubococcygeal muscle, but how well she’s contracting it.
Again, by watching the meter and experimenting, it’s relatively easy to achieve a biofeedback mechanism where each contraction of the muscle will recruit more fibers and thus become stronger. Once total recruitment is achieved, the Kegel exercises will have the maximum possible effect on the mother’s incontinence. If the problem persists, more drastic measures need to be taken.
These biofeedback exercises can be accomplished in an afternoon if the mother has discipline and persists with the Kegel exercises after she leaves the doctor’s office. If not, it may take several visits and rounds of biofeedback ‘training’ before her body’s muscle memory takes over and she does the exercises correctly without deliberate thought.