Congratulations on having your baby! During the first few weeks post-partum, on top of trying to figure out how to get enough sleep, complete all the household chores that are stacking up, and taking care of a tiny human, you might start to think “I need to get back into exercising…” or “I need to loose this ‘mummy tummy’…”
Let me start off by expressing how important it is to allow yourself time to heal & recover from growing a baby for the past 9 months and then delivering that baby. Your body goes through many natural changes post-pregnancy – your muscles are stretched in ways they probably have never stretched before. You may also notice some increased low back pain, hip pain, poor posture or a pooch/bulge in your stomach (especially when going from laying down to sitting up). This is because during those 9 months of growing a baby, your uterus put pressure on two bands of abdominal muscles that meet in the middle of your stomach. This added pressure can lead to a condition called Diastasis Recti (separation of the muscles), and the separation can sometimes be very visible down your midline.
The general rule of thumb is to refrain from any strenuous activity for at least 6 weeks. However, you should always consult your doctor to get the green light before you start exercising. Whether or not you developed Diastasis Recti, working on your core stability is vital to start regaining core strength; to improve your sporting performance; to relieve and/or prevent pain (especially in your low back); to help improve your posture; and to improve balance and stability.
When starting out with core exercises, its highly recommended that you avoid any sit ups, curl ups, bicycles, mountain climbers, planks or any activity that is going to increase pressure against the abdominal wall. As your muscles are already stretched, the focus should be on re-gaining core strength to functionally support the spine and restore dynamic stability. You want to strengthen the muscles from the inside out, so initial exercises should also focus on restoring the timing and sequencing of the deep muscles and pelvic floor.
Core strengthening keeps you safe, centered and prepared for childbirth, and it is the same area you want to keep strong afterwards!
The muscles and structures that are involved with your core are: - Diaphragm - Transverse Abdominis – the deepest abdominal muscle - Multifidus – the deepest back muscle - Pubic symphsis & Sacrum
Some tips and tricks for exercising:
- Never hold your breath! Instead, try and time your breathing with your movements. Exhale during your concentric motion (muscle contractions) and Inhale during the eccentric motion (muscle relaxation).
- Touch the muscles you want to activate – this helps with the mind-muscle connection, and helps with muscle awareness
Do it Yourself!
Here is an exercise you can try to get a feel of regaining functionality of the Transverse Abdominis and pelvic floor all while incorporating proper breathing:
The Cat/Camel Stretch
1. Get down on your hands and knees – place your hands underneath your shoulders and knees under your hips with a neutral spine (keep your back straight)
2. Exhale as you round your back into a “cat” shape, pulling the lower abs in towards your belly button, and your belly button into your spine.
3. Return to neutral and release your abs.
4. Inhale and press your stomach towards the floor, gently lifting your butt and head towards the ceiling. Your back should move into a swayed position.
*The pelvic floor aspect to this exercise: When you get yourself into “cat” pose, pull your pelvic floor up and into your body, as your simultaneously exhaling and pulling your abs into your low spine. Then release everything with your inhale.