After having a baby, it's very normal for 'down below' to feel, well, different.
But rest assured that with regular pelvic floor exercises, you can speed up your postnatal recovery and strengthen the muscles around your vagina and bladder - which can help with everything from incontinence and bladder control to your sex life.
Pelvic floor exercises have also been proven to reduce symptoms of prolapse. We all know that pelvic floor exercises themselves can be boring, so that's why it's worth investing in a trainer. As well as ensuring you're doing the exercises correctly and efficiently, some pelvic floor toners can even make it *whispers* fun.
What is a pelvic floor?
Pelvic floor training is, essentially, performing vaginal exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles (the muscles you use to wee). These muscles support the uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum.
With time, and especially with pregnancy and vaginal birth, these muscles can start to weaken and you may start to suffer from pelvic floor problems such as pelvic organ prolapse (POP). POP could also be genetic. A prolapsed pelvic floor can make everyday life, and even sex, uncomfortable.
How to train your pelvic floor muscles
Pelvic floor muscle training involves relaxing and tightening the muscles that control urine flow – the Kegel muscles.
1. Squeeze your kegel muscles tight (it's a bit like pretending that you have to urinate and then holding it).
2. Your thighs, buttock muscles, and abdomen should remain relaxed.
3. Repeat each squeeze 10-15 times.
4. When you get used to doing pelvic floor exercises, you can try holding each squeeze for a few seconds.
5. You should do the exercises at least a few times a week, if not multiple times a day.
6. Every week, you can add more squeezes, but be careful not to overdo it, and always have a rest between sets of squeezes.
7. After a few months, you should start to notice results as your pelvic floor strength improves.
General exercise routines such as pilates and yoga are also great for toning your pelvic floor. Although to do Kegel exercises correctly it is important to find the right muscles to tighten. This is where pelvic floor training devices are so useful.
What is a pelvic floor trainer?
A pelvic floor trainer is a small contraption that is often connected to an app on your phone or tablet.
The contraption is inserted into the vagina much like a tampon and helps ensure that you are doing the exercises correctly. It can set workouts, with long and short squeezes, and also monitor your progress.
You'll be reminded when it's time to do the exercises and it can help you stick to a routine. If you are struggling with incontinence or are having trouble experiencing an orgasm, a pelvic floor trainer, or kegel weights (also called Ben Wa balls), if used daily (no more than 15-20 minutes at a time) and correctly, may help.
Frequent use of a pelvic floor machine can improve control over bladder and bowel functions, reduce the risk of prolapse, provide better recovery from childbirth, improve post-birth sex and increased pleasure.
The best pelvic floor trainers
Elvie Pelvic Floor Trainer
Best for smartphone users
The Elvie Pelvic Floor Trainer was shortlisted in the Mother&Baby Awards 2017, in the best pregnancy/maternity product category.
Although it's pricey, it's money well-spent as it makes your pelvic floor exercise routine fun. You sync the award-winning Elvie machine up with an app on your phone and play games designed to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, and are challenged to beat your top score. Perfect for competitive mamas! You can easily track your progress and even get real-time feedback so you get a real sense of achievement.
One of our own testers, Heidi Scrimgeour, mum of three, tried out the Elvie. She said: "If you know your pelvic floor muscles need some work or even if you simply suspect you need to pay them some TLC, I have no hesitation in recommending Elvie. It’s become as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth, with decidedly more interesting results."
Bodyotics Deluxe Kegel Weighted Exercise Balls
Best for beginners
A complete pelvic floor strengthener to get you prepared for pregnancy and birth, or recover from labour.
With only 15 minutes a day, you can get your pelvic floor muscles stronger than ever with its selection of six different kegel balls weights for beginner through to advanced level. Made from medical-grade silicone, this product is ideal for those who want to take their Kegel training seriously and who are set on seeing results.
New mum Elle reviewed this product: "I have recently had a baby and whilst I didn't end up giving birth naturally (emergency c-section), I was finding that my pelvic floor could let me down at times with slight urinary incontinence. At the age of 28, this wasn't really something I was happy to accept!
"I had heard of and even researched kegel balls in the past and was always a little dubious about taking the plunge but decided to start getting back to full health and this was one area I wanted to focus on. They come beautifully packaged in a pink box with a velvet pouch for travel if required. I have to say that I haven't yet used these nearly as much as I want to (or ought to!). However, the couple of times I have used them I have noticed a dramatic difference.
"I must admit that all through pregnancy I was being told to do pelvic floor exercises. I tried but in all honesty, had no idea if I was doing it right! These weights enable you to contract exactly the right muscles and so even when you don't have the weights in you can do your pelvic floor exercises much more effectively because you know where to squeeze and how it should feel.
"As many people have said, the first time I used the lightest weight it came straight back out! Took a little getting used to but the next time was much easier and I noticed a real difference in my control even after one use. Definitely improves sexual pleasure too which is an unexpected bonus! Honestly don't hesitate to buy these, your future self will thank you!"
Intimina KegelSmart Women’s Kegel Personal Trainer
Best app based trainer on a budget
The Intimina pelvic floor exerciser is a similar trainer to the Elvie, but much cheaper. The device also pairs with an app that helps you through each pelvic floor exercise so you can really know you're doing it correctly.
Mum of one Amanda said: "I was really hesitant to spend so much money on this device, but I can already tell that it's gonna be worth it. It only takes about 5 min a day and it's super easy to use.
"And just as I suspected, my pelvic floor muscles are pretty weak. The Kegel Smart says I'm only at level 1, so I've got a lot of 'working out' to do, lol! We're planning to get pregnant soon and I'm glad I'll be able to be better prepared physically to carry my second child."
Yoni Egg of Rose Quartz
Best natural pelvic floor exerciser
If you're after a more natural solution, we love the Yoni Egg. It is made of 100 per cent natural and genuine pink rose quartz. It's easy to insert and remove, and users report that it is completely comfortable so you won't have any problems doing your exercises.
One reviewer said: "Great product, I have tried other firm of pelvic exerciser and this really is the best product I have used. My muscle tone has improved so much I now go to yoga class without embarrassment. I love the quality of the quartz so much. I have purchased another egg too in a smaller size to continue my muscle development."
TensCare iTouch Sure Pelvic Floor Exerciser
Best electrotherapy pelvic floor exerciser
Easy to use, this single-channel pelvic floor exerciser provides relief via a tampon-shaped probe. It uses gentle electrotherapy to stimulate pelvic floor muscles into regaining their strength and flexibility. It delivers electrical impulses which target the correct location.
You can also manually lock the controls to prevent any accidental changes in settings. Use for 20 minutes each day during any seated activity for a two-month period.
Review: "I purchased this as I was getting out to the toilet most nights and was having disturbed sleep. I realised that I had to turn it up quite high to feel it working (not sure if this is a good or bad thing!) and I now have it at the highest level. It takes a bit of getting used to but I can now use it and carry on with things. I suggest holding it in place for around a minute so your muscles can contract around it before leaving it to work."
Intimina Laselle Pelvic Floor Exercise Trainer Set
Best for multi-tasking
Pop in a kegel ball and go about your normal routine for some serious multitasking. There are three different balls to use for different resistance levels, suitable for beginners to more advanced users. Seamless and simple to clean with a storage pouch included, the kegel balls go up in weight and you can even link them together for six different weight combinations.
Review: "Great variety of weights and ability to combine the exercise balls. They are very soft and comfortable, very easy to insert and remove. I got these six weeks postpartum and they have really improved my pelvic floor comfort over the past month. I noticed improvements after a week! Of course I asked my midwife for consent to use the product, but I highly recommend!"
INNOVO Starter Kit
Best non-invasive pelvic floor toner
Unlike most trainers, this can be used by both men and women and is used externally on the body. This product promises to improve pelvic weakness in as little as four weeks and is the ideal product if you want a non-invasive solution.
One reviewer said: “I am delighted with the Innovo shorts. After giving birth to 2 babies and not really listening to my midwife's advice on working the pelvic floor, I am/was struggling with holding the urge to rush to the toilet.
“I am on my week 4 of using these great shorts. I’ve been using them 5 days a week for 30 min as recommended. It has made such a difference already! I don’t need to panic anymore that I won't manage to get to the ladies' room before having an accident. It has worked beautifully on my pelvic floor, I can cough, sneeze and laugh without peeing myself. The monitor is easy and simple to use plus there is a video that you can watch and it will take you step by step.”
If you're still not convinced about using a pelvic floor trainer, experience any pelvic pain, or feel unsure, please consult your GP or midwife. They'll be able to offer you the best medical advice.