The Basics of the Postpartum Core
As you know, your body goes through significant changes when you are pregnant and during childbirth. Of all of the muscular changes, the shifts in your core are usually the most pronounced. Your muscles and skin have stretched (and sometimes torn or cut) and your organs have shifted. The challenge is that the changes to your body can be extreme (and seem to be exacerbated by each subsequent childbirth). The silver lining is that you are likely now more in tune with your body than you've ever been. This is a great place to start a fitness program.
Most typical abdominal exercises work the external muscles (the rectus abdominus). If you dive straight into crunches after having a baby, they may be painful, ineffective or worsen an abdominal split. When you begin a new exercise program post-pregnancy, it is crucial to first begin slowly working on rediscovering (or in many cases discovering for the first time) your foundational inner core muscles.
It is common for your rectus abdominus to split during pregnancy. A pronounced split is called diastasis recti. If you have a pronounced split, it is important to see your doctor before starting abdominal exercises.
How to do a self test for diastasis recti:
1. Lay down on your back with your knees bent.
2. Place your fingers vertically over your belly button.
3. Measure the separation.
4. If the split is wider than 2 finger widths, you may have diastasis recti, which you should discuss with your doctor. If you have severe diastasis recti, your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist.
Here are the crucial postpartum core muscles:
Both the added weight and pressure of pregnancy, and the trauma of childbirth, can alter your pelvic floor, potentially causing incontinence, prolapse, denervation and decreased sexual function.
Doing 3 sets of 10-20 thoughtful bridges can help you re-engage your pelvic floor.
How to do the bridge exercise:
1. lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet in line with your hips.
2. inhale, on the exhale slowly lift your hips into the air until your knees and hips are aligned.
3. hold for 10 seconds and release.
The transverse abdominus muscle runs underneath your rectus abdominus ("6-pack"). Because of its horizontal orientation, it is often called a 'corset muscle.' It is believed that working this muscle may help correct a rectus abdominus separation called diastasis recti that occurs in 35-60% of pregnant women.
My favorite way to engage the transverse abdominus is the TA Squeeze
how to do the ta squeeze:
1. Lay down on your back or get on your hands and knees.
2. Take a deep breath in.
3. Exhale deeply envisioning your inner abdominal muscles squeezing in like a corset.
4. Hold everything in and take another regular inhale and exhale.
5. Inhale, release and repeat.