Post-pregnancy, it’s completely normal to feel like your entire midsection is a big ball of mush. Think about it: Your muscles have been stretched farther than they’ve ever been and your pelvis has been supporting lots of extra weight. Not to mention you’ve got a little extra fat stored that has and will continue to provide for your wee babe. While you may be most concerned about looking like you did pre-pregnancy, the more important issue should be regaining your core strength and stability.
Once you get that doctor approval for exercise, where should you begin? Before biting off more than you can chew and going for a 3-mile run, my advice is to always ease into it slowly. Start walking and rebuilding the core first. Alexandra DeSiato is a Pilates and Vinyasa Flow instructor, and she’s developed a postpartum core workshop to help moms re-build the core and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles after pregnancy. Here are some of her tips to remember when you’re working on your postpartum belly.
Core Strength After Baby
- Core muscles need to heal, whether you had a vaginal birth or a Caesarean.
- Many women experience diastasis recti to a certain degree. This occurs because the core muscles stretch to encompass baby. The connective tissue between the rectus abdominis muscles can stretch A LOT — or even tear — and as we start rebuilding, we want to only do work that helps correct this issue. (FYI: self-tests for diastasis recti abound online and your OB or midwife can check you.)
- When we think about the “core” we’re really talking about the major muscles of the abdomen, the glutes, the back and the pelvic floor. A lot needs to reintegrate!
- Don’t be alarmed if you can’t “feel” your core muscles. Scar tissue from a C-section or exhaustion from carrying a baby or pushing during delivery can change the sensations big time. The starting point is to have awareness in the core space again.
- You are already amazingly strong! You carried a baby, birthed a baby and are now caring for a baby. Pregnant women are ATHLETES. We nearly double our blood volume, which helps us increase our oxygen uptake so we can sustain another life. Then we go through labor, which is a serious endurance event! And after all that we heal while we get less sleep than we’ve ever gotten in our lives. In short, you’re in a great place to regain your strength.
What NOT to do:
- Avoid crunches or crunch-like moves until you are fully recovered and are sure diastasis recti is healed completely, which can take many months.
- Avoid anything that feels like you are straining.
- Avoid anything that causes you to lose integration of the core muscles. Correct engagement is what you’re looking for in “core exercises.” Don’t lose control.
- Don’t push yourself! Starting slowly is key for healing. This is not the time to feel the burn. Give yourself a lot of leeway to move at a pace that is safe and comfortable for you.
Moves to Gain Core Strength
- Standing core engagement practice / standing side stretches
- Squats / half lift sequence
- Pelvic tilts/bridge/bridge with instability (hip shimmy/marching)
- Head/shoulder lifts (these are NOT crunches)
- Supine leg lowering (or leg holding) Less is more!
- From hands and knees: Cat–cow/side-to-side taps/leg circles
- Advanced: Plank holds/plank knee drops/plank pikes
Alexandra also has three postpartum core classes available at YogaVibes. They are each 20 minutes long, so they’re the perfect length for tired, busy moms.
Thanks Alexandra for giving new moms a starting point for regaining core strength. I know I’ve still got some work to do in that area… —Erin