You’ve probably heard of the dreaded ‘mummy tummy’ and if not you just learned the word to describe what your belly looks like after birth. It seems like it will never go back to normal, but rest assured that MOST of the time, it totally does. Most women really focus on getting their abs back in shape after birth, which is great, but your focus needs to be broader than just flattening your abs. Don’t get me wrong, flat abs are great! The issue is that your abs have just been stretched many inches beyond their normal size! The focus needs to be on strengthening the muscles, tissues, and ligaments that support the entire core.
Your primary focus during this time…your pelvic floor muscles. They were not only stretched, but they held the weight of your growing baby. These muscles are likely stretched and weakened. Focusing here and on the core will help prevent a lot of the post-pregnancy issues that many women experience, like incontinence or prolapse. These issues can develop over time, so even if you don’t initially experience them, they can pop up when you least expect them because weakened muscles only get weaker as we put stress on them without strengthening them first.
Another common issue that many women run into after birth is diastasis recti (especially if they’ve had more than one child). Diastasis recti is literally the separation of the ab muscles at the central point. If you had that dark line called the linea alba extending both way from you belly button during the later stages of pregnancy, then you most likely experienced some separation of the ab muscles. Often, a small diastasis will close on it’s own after pregnancy, but larger ones may need additional help. So, what does a diastasis mean for your post-pregnancy training? It means you should avoid crunches, piking straight up from a seated position, planks, and any kind of ab exercises that place pressure on the abdomen. The more pressure, the larger the gap will become (and you don’t want that!). So, by now I’m sure you’re wondering…if I shouldn’t do crunches, planks, or place any pressure on the abs, then how do I train my core?? Well, below are some great tips to get you started on retraining the core and pelvic floor muscles. Remember, start slowly! Your body just birthed another human, you’re sleep-deprived, and learning to take care of another person. Now is not the time jump into an intense exercise routine. You can DEFINITELY get there, but it’s going to take a little time.
Here are some exercises to get you started:
1. Kegels are your friend. They strengthen the pelvic floor and help to prevent pelvic floor complications in the future.
Directions: 1. start with an empty bladder (or you’ll have to go right away). 2. imagine you’re going to the bathroom and you stop mid-stream; that’s your pelvic floor muscle engaging. 3. do these at least 3 times a day for 3 sets of 10 reps each. I personally like to do them while I’m driving and stop at a red light. Just make sure you don’t actually do them while you’re peeing because that can actually weaken the pelvic floor muscles.
2. Diaphragmatic Breathing. The way you breath actually changes when you’re pregnant. You breath more shallowly because your growing baby is taking up so much room. You have to retrain your breathing to focus on deep belly breath. This will help you to reconnect with your core muscles.
Directions: 1. lie on your back with both knees bent and feet on the floor. 2. place hands on your belly. 3. take a deep breath in through your nose as you feel your belly rise beneath your hands; feel the belly fall as you exhale.
3. TVA Contractions. The transverse abdominal muscles are the deepest layer of your core musculature. They wrap around your waist like a corset and draw everything inward. These muscles are way more important than the outer ab muscles (and they can’t be trained by doing most traditional crunch exercises).
Directions: 1. lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart. 2. place your fingers gently inside your hip bones. 3. take a deep breath in and long deep breath out as you gently tilt your hips forward slightly. You should feel this deep muscle contract under your fingertips. It’s a very small contraction, so you have to be mindful of it.
***It can also be helpful to combine your TVA contractions with your Kegels for added benefits. If you’d like to try this, as you hold the TVA contraction, add in a kegel contraction. Then, release both together. Remember, all of these muscles are intimately connected so retraining them to work together is the key!
If you want more tips, be sure to check out the online Postnatal Fitness Program and Baby Bounce Back Program by signing up at app.namastream.com/Y2Bfit