Why you should strengthen your core *before* getting pregnant

The best time to learn about and connect to the pelvic floor muscles is ideally before pregnancy.

Why you should strengthen your core *before* getting pregnant

The pelvic floor is a mysterious and unfamiliar part of the body for many women.

There is some emphasis from health care providers on the importance of Kegels for a strong pelvic floor, yet a lot of misinformation and controversy surround this topic. One in three women will have pelvic floor dysfunction, including bowel and bladder issues and pelvic pain, according to the American Urogynecologic Society. The National Association for Continence has reported that 40% of women are not performing a Kegel exercise correctly.

The best time to learn about and connect to the pelvic floor muscles is ideally before pregnancy, but during pregnancy is just as good.

The pelvic floor is a group of 14 muscles. These muscles’ main functions are continence (they control bowel and bladder function), support and sexual appreciation. These are the muscles that contract and relax when a woman has an orgasm. They play such a vital role in our health, one we often don’t recognize until we experience weakness and issues post-pregnancy.

The challenge with connecting to the pelvic floor muscles is that we cant see them. It’s not like with your biceps, which you can look at while you flex. But to begin getting in touch with the muscles, simply stop peeing midstream. This will give you a sense how the muscles relax when we eliminate and can contract to control the flow of urine. It is also important to look at the bones of the pelvis to get a sense of where these muscles are in our body and how they provide support underneath. When these muscles contract, they squeeze and lift our pelvic contents up and into our body. Equally important is for the muscle to be able to relax.

The pelvic floor does not exist in isolation. It’s one part of a system that makes up the core.

The pelvic floor has a relationship with the diaphragm; the transverse abdominus, aka the deepest layer of the abdominals; and the spinal stabilizers known a multifidus. We can’t squeeze the pelvic floor without considering the other components. The pelvic floor is part of a dynamic system that is strengthened through breathing. The key is to become aware of the system and feel how it works together. Once we can feel this dynamic movement, then we can coordinate our Kegel exercises.

To begin, we need to practice diaphragmatic breathing.

When we take in air, the rib cage expands and the diaphragm descends. The breath moves three-dimensionally down to the pelvic floor. There is expansion forward, sideways and backwards. The pelvic floor mirrors the movement of the diaphragm and lengthens. When we breathe out, the pelvic floor rises, the belly flattens, the diaphragm moves back up and the rib cage returns to its starting position. Normal breathing mechanics create a lengthening and shortening of the pelvic floor without even squeezing or doing a Kegel. The Kegel exercise is coordinated with the exhale or natural lifting phase of the breath cycle.

A very important aspect of strength for the pelvic floor is mobility. The pelvic floor needs to contract by squeezing and lifting up and in, relax fully back down to its resting baseline and elongate to birth our babies. If it doesn’t have enough mobility we can run into issues. The lack of mobility can be caused by musculature being too tight, a pattern of holding in our belly all the time, external stress to the body or poor movement patterns.

Try this

A daily practice of diaphragmatic breathing is the best way to connect to the pelvic floor muscles. You can practice this technique for a few minutes at the end of each day.

1. Lie on your back in a supported reclined position and tune in to the rhythm of your breath. You can place a pillow under your head and another one under your knees. (Once you’ve practiced reclined you can bring this practice into sitting and standing.)

2. Place one hand on your upper chest and another below your rib cage so you can feel your diaphragm move.

3. Inhale slowly through your nose and feel your stomach expand (the hand on your chest should remain mostly still).

4. Tighten your abdominal muscles as you exhale slowly through your mouth. Keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.

When you have a sense of movement of the pelvic floor, you can think about strengthening (when to add your Kegel). Do your muscles need more support? Do your muscles need more flexibility? A pelvic floor exercise program is specific to the individual and not one-size-fits-all.

Developing a sense of the pelvic floor and how it relates to the rest of the core is the foundation for strengthening during pregnancy. It is also where you will begin to re-educate the core after pregnancy, as you return to exercise.

Join Motherly

We're so glad to live in a time when modern baby gear exists. Sure, no one is going to argue that having a baby is easy—but it can be easier with support from some gadgets designed to help your baby and put your mind at ease.

As you build your baby registry, look for products that go the extra mile to make your life a whole lot easier. For example, what's better than a bassinet? A bassinet that can rock by itself. And what's better than a traditional baby monitor? One that allows you to actually take a peek at your baby. Believe us when we say these upgrades can make all the difference.

Here are 10 baby gadgets that will make your life so much easier… relatively speaking, of course!

A bassinet to promote safe + sound sleep

HALO Innovations Bassinest Swivel Sleeper Essenta Series Nautical Net

The safest place for your newborn to sleep is in your room, but not in your bed. Thanks to the swivel function of the Halo Bassinest, you can easily tend to your baby during the night—which means more sleep for you, too. Trust us when we say that is the best gift you can give a new parent.


A smart swing for your baby

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

Believe it or not, many babies are born with strong opinions about how they want to be rocked, swung or shushed to calm down. With the mamaRoo's various motions and reclining positions, you'll be able to find a setting your baby loves when you need to free up your hands for a bit.


A complete travel system for car + sidewalk

Chicco Bravo Travel System - Indigo

No matter where the day takes you—or what mode of transportation you need to get there—getting a complete travel system for your baby will equip you for anything.


A swaddle you don’t have to wrestle

Love To Dream Swaddle UP Original

What do babies and Harry Houdini have in common? A knack for breaking out of tight constraints—which can be a headache when swaddling is the best way to help promote good sleep. Thanks to a breakout-proof swaddle that allows your baby to sleep with their hands up, you don't have to work up a sweat just to get your baby comfortably swaddled.


A nursery wherever you need it

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

During the early days of parenting (when you are feeding and changing your baby around the clock), having convenient access to everything you need with a go-anywhere nursery station can save you serious time and energy.


A little help for stuffy noses

Fridababy NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator

Up until the point years down the road when your child is able to blow their own nose, the sniffles can be a real struggle—but not with a nasal aspirator that makes it easy for you to get that snot out of their nose.


A way to keep an eye on your baby

VTech 5" Digital Video Baby Monitor - VM5251

Trust us when we say you'll sleep better when you know your baby is also sleeping soundly. That's why we're so thankful for modern-day video monitors, which allow you to check in on your sleeping baby without running the risk of waking them up when you sneak in for a peek.


A bassinet for hands-free rocking

Simmons Kids Silent Auto Gliding Elite Bassinet - Odyssey

Babies are soothed by rocking motions. But what does that mean for you if you can't rock them throughout the night? With an auto-gliding bassinet, they can comfortably drift off to sleep... and continue snoozing.


An easy way to contain diaper smells

Diaper Genie Expressions Pail

Sometimes it's the little conveniences that make a big difference in the quality of your day-to-day life. That's why a great diaper pail should not be undervalued: By containing the smell, you will save yourself dozens upon dozens of trips to the garbage can.


A white noise machine that pulls double duty

Hatch Rest Sound Machine, Night Light & Time-to-Rise

A phone-controlled sound machine may be something you never considered until now, but it will be a major lifesaver for years to come, especially as it can also function as a time-to-rise clock that promotes good sleep habits for your child.


And as for securing all these awesome products? Well, a Target baby registry is the way to do it. By creating your baby registry with Target, you will also enjoy their Year of Benefits registry program, which includes perks like a welcome kit with more than $100 in savings and samples, two 15% off coupons to complete your registry, and a full year of returns. The benefits are better than ever right now: Target just launched the Year of Exclusive Deals perk as one of its registry benefits, and this includes a year's worth of discounts on baby essentials (think diapers and formula) and comes complementary when you sign up for Target Circle.

Because while parenting may not be "easy," deciding to register with Target definitely is an easy decision. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with a Year of Benefits featuring a Year of Exclusive Deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


The 6 biggest lies I believed before having kids

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves.

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves. Some of these ideas might have been based on our own ideas of how we would absolutely do things differently than everyone else. Others, we believed what everyone else told us would happen would apply to our littles, too. But, that's not always the case, mama.

Below are six of the biggest lies I believed before having kids—and the reality of what actually happened for me.

1. Put your baby down drowsy, but awake

Keep reading Show less