Objective: To test the effect of pelvic muscle exercise on postpartum symptoms of stress urinary incontinence and pelvic muscle strength in primigravidas during pregnancy and postpartum.
Methods: A prospective trial randomized women into treatment (standardized instruction in pelvic muscle exercise) or control (routine care with no systematic pelvic muscle exercise instruction). Urinary incontinence symptoms were measured by questionnaire. Pelvic muscle strength was quantified by an instrumented gynecologic speculum. Time points were 20 and 35 weeks' gestation and 6 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months postpartum.
Results: Outcomes are reported for 46 women with vaginal or cesarean birth and for a subsample of 37 women with vaginal birth. Longitudinal analyses are reported for cases with complete data across time points. Diminished urinary incontinence symptoms were seen in the treatment group, with significant treatment effects demonstrated at 35 weeks' gestation (F [1,43] = 4.36, P = .043), 6 weeks postpartum (F [1,43] = 4.94, P = .032), and 6 months postpartum (F [1,43] = 4.29, P = .044). A repeated measures analysis of variance showed a significant interaction between time and treatment for urinary incontinence (F [4, 41] = 2.83, P = .037). A significant effect of initial pelvic muscle strength was demonstrated; ie, pelvic muscle strength at 20 weeks' gestation predicted significantly 12-months postpartum strength (F [1, 13] = 8.12, P = .014). Group differences in pelvic muscle strength were observed (the treatment group had greater strength at 6 weeks and at 6 months postpartum than did controls), but these differences were not statistically significant.
Conclusion: Practice of pelvic muscle exercise by primiparas results in fewer urinary incontinence symptoms during late pregnancy and postpartum.