skip to main content
What Are Kegels?
Updated on
September 11, 2023

What Are Kegels?

Babylist editors love baby gear and independently curate their favorite products to share with you. If you buy something through links on our site, Babylist may earn a commission.
What Are Kegels?

If you’ve been anywhere on the internet while pregnant (or even while thinking about getting pregnant), you’ve probably come across the term “kegels.” And while it seems like every ob-gyn is recommending them and every pregnant person is doing them, what exactly are kegels?

“Kegels are contractions of your pelvic floor muscles and are commonly touted as the best way to strengthen your pelvic floor,” says Dr. Sara Reardon, the pelvic floor physical therapist behind @the.vagina.whisperer. “Kegel exercises can improve incontinence, sexual function and pelvic organ support if done properly and when indicated.”

Your pelvic floor muscles stretch across the bottom of your pelvis like a hammock, from front to back and side to side, holding up all the organs contained within your pelvic area (uterus, bladder, vagina, rectum). It can be difficult to tell that those muscles are even there…until they don’t work properly. So how do you do exercises with muscles you may not have even known you had? If you’re experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction during pregnancy or in the postpartum period, here’s how to keep your pelvic muscles strong.

How to Do Kegel Exercises

First off, you need to locate your pelvic floor muscles. Those muscles you squeeze when you’re trying to hold your pee in? That’s them. By contracting or squeezing those muscles, you’re performing one kegel.

How to know if you’re doing kegels correctly

To test it yourself, insert one finger into your vagina. When you squeeze those muscles, you should feel a tightening and slight lifting of your vaginal wall around your finger.

The best way to know for sure if you’re doing pelvic floor exercises correctly is to schedule a private exam with a pelvic floor physical therapist. They can test the strength of your pelvic floor muscles and inform you of any tightness or tension you may have, which kegels can make worse.

Keep in mind: “Kegels aren’t for everyone,” Dr. Reardon says. “Many people actually have pelvic floor muscles that are already tight and tense, and doing kegel exercises can reinforce that tension and make it worse.” How do you know if you have tense pelvic floor muscles? If you notice pain in your tailbone, vagina or rectum, pain during sex, constipation or incomplete emptying of the bladder or bowels, it’s a good idea to get in touch with a pelvic floor physical therapist to check for pelvic floor tightness before you start doing kegels on your own.

If a pelvic floor physical therapist determines that kegels are right for you, here’s a step-by-step guide to get the most out of doing the exercise during and after pregnancy:

  1. Switch up the amount of time you contract your pelvic floor muscles by doing both quick squeezes and longer holds. “Your pelvic floor muscles have sprint muscle fibers and marathon muscle fibers,” says Dr. Reardon. “By doing quick and longer hold contractions (5-10 seconds), you will be able to work more of the muscle.”
  2. Relax your pelvic floor muscles between contractions. You might be tempted to do one squeeze right after another, but it’s important to let your pelvic floor fully relax after each contraction—whether it was a quick one or a longer hold—before doing another one.
  3. Change up where you do your kegels. “Often people just do kegels when they are sitting or in their car at a stoplight, but you need your muscles to also work while standing or lying down, too,” Dr. Reardon says. “Make sure to practice kegels in several different positions. Perform kegels while sitting, standing, walking and lying down.”
  4. Besides just doing kegels when you’re thinking about it or as a regular form of exercise, contract your pelvic floor muscles when you need to. That means if you’re about to cough, sneeze, stand up, bend over or lift something relatively heavy, prepare your pelvic floor by contracting the muscles. Getting in the habit of contracting your muscles as you’re performing these everyday actions will help in the long run during pregnancy and postpartum recovery.
This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.