By: Kaitlin Hartley, PT, DPT, PCES
Whether you gave birth 6 weeks ago or 6+ years ago, these tips and exercises will help restore functional strength to your core (diaphragm, deep abdominals, low back stabilizers, and pelvic floor)!
Things don’t just snap back into place after the baby arrives.
Many women return to exercise when they are cleared by their physician without adequate guidance and often struggle longer than expected to “find” their abs.
The physical changes that occur during pregnancy are abundant and include: lengthened/weak abdominals, tight/shortened back muscles, thinning/separating of the linea alba (diastasis recti), and pelvic floor weakness and/or tightness.
These issues can lead to back pain, throwing your back out while exercising, or just weakness doing everyday activities.
We have to allow our bodies time to physically and mentally recover and spend time focusing on reconnecting to our bodies, specifically our deepest layers.
TIP #1: Improve your alignment and posture.
What You Do All Day Matters → Improving your posture during daily activities can help improve back pain, facilitate healing of diastasis recti, and improve core stability.
Plus, you can work on it while you walk around and carry your little one!
Focus on these tips to improve your posture:
Come tall (imagine a string pulling up from the top of your head)
Unclench your glute muscles (aka: avoid tucking bottom under)
Don’t suck in your stomach
Avoid locking out your knees
Keep your rib cage stacked over your pelvis (don’t lean back and let your hips hang forward)
TIP #2: Strengthen your deep abdominals.
Your core does not only consist of your 6-pack ab muscles. Your core is made up of your diaphragm, deep abdominals, low back stabilizer muscles, and pelvic floor muscles.
We need to reconnect to all of these layers. A good way to learn how to activate the deep abdominals is through diaphragmatic breathing.
You can do this anywhere & in any position!
This is how you Diaphragmatic Breathe
Inhale: through your nose; breathe into your sides and back of your rib cage and send your breath down into your pelvic floor, allowing everything to relax (relaxation is key on the inhale!)
Exhale: through your mouth; think of lightly pulling your pelvic floor up and engage your transverse abdominis (deep abdominals) by imagining pulling together a string connecting the front of your two hip bones as your ribs come down and inward
Check out this video to learn how to perform diaphragmatic breathing & begin to restore your core!
TIP #3: Learn how to tell if an exercise is too difficult for you.
Improving your core stability postpartum has a lot to do with how your entire core works together and manages pressure that occurs in the abdomen.
With certain ‘core’ exercises, there is a lot of pressure that builds up in the abdomen. The pressure has to go somewhere and often ‘leaks’ out at the weakest links.
As you gradually build up your core strength postpartum, it is important to avoid any exercises that cause the following things:
“Doming” or “coning” of the belly/bulging down the midline of your abdominals
Feeling of pressure or heaviness in the pelvic region/pelvic floor
Any leaking of urine (even a very small amount)
You DON'T have to live with back pain, pelvic pain, urinary incontinence (leaking with coughing, laughing, running, jumping), or diastasis recti!
You CAN restore your core postpartum!
Whether it’s been 6 weeks, 6 months, or 6+ years, it’s never too late to be assessed by a physical therapist with training in working with postpartum women.
I would love to help you restore your core! Please reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!
Check out our blog on how to resolve Athletic Incontinence without surgery.
About the Author:
Kaitlin Hartley, PT, DPT, PCES
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist
Physical Therapist at Grandview Primary Care