Vaginal Weightlifting, Jade Eggs, and More Wacky Ways Moms Are Strengthening Their Pelvic Floor Muscles
From having an easier labor and delivery and faster recovery to enjoying better orgasms and preempting issues with urinary incontinence, there are a bevy of reasons you might be interested in strengthening your pelvic floor muscles—which support the organs in the pelvis including the bladder, urethra, uterus, and rectum—before having a baby. Everyone's heard of the old-school way to do this: Kegel exercises, which involve tightening and releasing the pelvic floor muscles.
Given that Kegels have been around since 1948, it's no wonder flashy new protocols have been getting more buzz. One of the most eyebrow-raising is vaginal weightlifting. Another is inserting a jade egg. But are these methods safe or worthwhile for parents and parents-to-be?
Here's what experts say and what you need to know about strengthening your pelvic floor muscles.
What it is: A holistic sex and relationship coach named Kim Anami has made international headlines for singing the praises of vaginal weightlifting. The practice involves "inserting a jade egg into the vagina and attaching a string to it" then "lifting any number of things: tropical fruits, gluten-free organic donuts, cold-pressed juices," says Anami.
What women are saying: Anami explains on MindBodyGreen.com that she believes the routine "strengthens the pelvic floor far more effectively than regular Kegels, and gives women sexual confidence and power." She even documents her own vaginal weightlifting experiences on social media under the hashtag #ThingsILiftWithMyVagina.
What experts are saying: Leah Keller, a certified personal trainer and co-founder of Every Mother, an evidence-based pre- and postnatal fitness exercise program based in New York City, warns that holding a vaginal weight continuously, or while multitasking, can be problematic. "This can lead to a hypertonic (overly tense) pelvic floor, with symptoms that include tailbone pain, chronic constipation, and painful sex," she points out.
Keller does believe that when used properly, however, vaginal weights can be a safe, effective part of your pelvic floor strengthening routine.
"I recommend approaching this practice the same as you would any other resistance training: a brief and focused workout, followed by rest and recovery," says Keller. "Controlling the release and consciously relaxing the pelvic muscles is as important to pelvic floor health, as is strengthening and restoring muscle tone. The recruitment and the release of the sphincter muscles must be in balance for healthy function, including elimination, urination, and a comfortable and pleasurable sex life."
Jade Eggs, or Yoni Eggs
What it is: The egg-shaped gemstones, referred to as jade eggs or yoni eggs, which Anami uses as part of her vaginal weightlifting routine, are inserted for a few minutes or even overnight. The routine purportedly offers the benefits of Kegels (because your vagina has to grip the egg to keep it in place), as well as the healing energy of the particular crystal the egg is made from, which is frequently jade or rose quartz. There are even myths that concubines and Egyptian queens used them.
What women are saying: Yoni eggs were recently at the crux of a controversy involving Gwyneth Paltrow and her lifestyle site Goop. Goop sold these eggs with the claims they could "balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles, prevent uterine prolapse, and increase bladder control." After investigation, however, a task force made up of prosecutors from 10 counties found the company was misleading consumers by making statements not backed by scientific evidence. Last year, Goop ended up having to pay a $145,000 fine and had to reimburse any customer who bought the eggs and requested a refund.
What experts are saying: "Jade eggs have no medical evidence for safety and effectiveness," says Cheryl B. Iglesia, M.D., FACOG, director of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington D.C. "They are not made of medical-grade silicone and should not be worn overnight within the vagina due to concerns for infection. Wearing porous jade eggs may lead to more bacterial vaginal infections, as well."
Safe Ways to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
Dr. Iglesia understands why there's so much interest in vaginal weightlifting and jade eggs. "About one in three women in the U.S. suffer from pelvic floor disorders, such as pelvic organ prolapse and urinary and fecal incontinence, so doing pelvic floor muscle exercises—with and without weights—is one way for women to treat and possibly prevent some of these disorders," she explains.
But your best bet for enjoying the benefits of strong pelvic floor muscles and preempting the issues that might stem from weakness is to follow this doctor-approved advice:
Start by seeing your gynecologist
Dr. Iglesia notes that anyone working on strengthening their pelvic floor muscles would do well to get a pelvic exam to make sure that you are doing Kegel exercises correctly. If so, your health care provider might be able to guide you to the best device for your needs.
Always choose weights made for intravaginal use
Marqui Rennalls, PT, DPT, a pelvic floor physical therapist and founder of It's Private Practice Physical Therapy, PLLC in New York City, says that expert-approved weights are typically made of medical-grade materials, many of which are safe for people with allergies.
"They typically have strings made of the same materials and are easy to clean which prevents infection," says Rennalls. "Remember, silicone products should be used with silicone-free lubricant." Experts recommend Intimate Rose Kegel Exercise Weights, made from BPA-free, non-stick medical-grade silicone.
Use the lightest weights possible
Ann Udofia, PT, DPT, co-founder of Body Connect Health & Wellness in San Francisco, recommends starting with the weight that feels most appropriate. "It could be the lightest weight included in the set," she notes. "Don’t overdo it. I usually tell folks, if you haven’t done bicep curls in a long time and you start right off the bat with 30-pound dumbbells, you could increase your risk of injury. The same principle applies with choosing vaginal weights."
Udofia advises starting by using the weight for 15 minutes while doing light household activities (doing laundry, cooking, going for a short walk, playing with the kids). "You can progress to using the vaginal weights while doing some total body resistance exercise routine, as well," she says. "When a particular size or weight feels too easy, you can progress to the next one."
Consider a pelvic floor training smart device
Devices like Elvie, which connects to your smartphone and "visualizes your pelvic floor movements in real time with biofeedback, a mind-body technique often used by health care professionals for pelvic floor rehabilitation. "I like Elvie, because it is safe to use, proven effective and can safely be used for either a pelvic floor that's hypertonic (overly toned and unable to relax) or hypotonic (lacking tone)," says Nicole Buratti, certified pelvic floor, diastasis recti specialist, and owner of Bend & Blossom in New Jersey.
Seek extra support
If you're struggling to master the Kegel or your pelvic floor muscles are especially weak, ask your doctor to direct you to a physical therapist who specializes in women's health and pelvic floor physiotherapy. If you're interested in finding a pelvic physical therapist, consider these tips from The Mama on the Mend blog.