The joys of having a baby usually overshadow more unpleasant aspects of childbirth like soreness and incontinence. But there are ways to ease the aftershocks.
A recent study found that doing pelvic-floor-muscle exercises, known as Kegels, may reduce the risk of urinary incontinence during pregnancy -- and after. To perform Kegels, first locate the muscles by stopping and starting the flow of urine -- that's the motion. (Don't do the exercises while urinating.) Then do 10 Kegels three times a day.
Another technique that may help is perineal massage -- stretching the tissues around the vaginal opening in the weeks before delivery. Research suggests that it reduces the risk of tears, the need for forceps and vacuum devices, and the rate of episiotomy (a surgical cut in the perineum made to ease delivery, which can cause complications).
To condition your perineum, wash your hands and apply a lubricant (almond oil, K-Y, or cocoa butter) to the area. Then place your thumbs about 1 to 1 1/2 inches inside your vagina. Pressing downward, gently stretch until you feel a slight burning or tingling sensation. Hold the pressure for about two minutes or until the tissue begins to feel numb. Repeat this towards the right side of the vagina for two more minutes and then to the left. Perform this technique daily (your partner can help!) starting at 34 weeks of pregnancy.