In the first few weeks (and sometimes months) postpartum, sitting up in bed or standing up from the couch is a two person job. It can feel like your abdominal muscles have disappeared and are no longer in your body. The truth is, your abs have been through so much the past 10 months, and like any overworked and overstretched muscle, they require a bit of rehabilitation before they can work properly again.
So what’s the best way to strengthen your core post-baby? Slowly and purposefully.
Here are 4 steps to get going:
Check for Diastasis: Have your doctor or physical therapist check you or you can do it on your own (see instructions at the end of this post!) You are looking for a gap in between the Rectus Abdominal muscles (your “6-pack” abs), and checking to see if there is any tension in that gap (can you stick your fingers deep into your tummy?) A 2-3 finger gap is normal and checking between 8-12 weeks postpartum is a good indicator of whether or not the gap will close on it’s own.
Be conscious of your daily movements: Every day activities can put too much pressure on core muscles without you even thinking about it - movements such sitting up from a lying down position, or leaning over to pick the baby out of the bassinet, are essentially sit-ups. Try rolling on to your side first before sitting up right and be sure to exhale and engage your core before putting pressure on your abdominal muscles (see #3 below!)
Practice core breathing: there is a saying “blow before you go” which sounds weird, I know, but is one way to remember that we should exhale before lifting or exerting any force. The goal with this breathing exercise is to connect with and strengthen our deepest core muscle - the Transverse Abdominis. This core muscle acts as a corset, providing support for your spine and holding your organs (and baby if you’re pregnant) in place. It also takes the pressure off those “6-pack” abs, the Rectus Abdominis muscles, preventing or rehabilitating Diastasis. You can practice this breathing by lying down on your back, being up on all fours, or sitting upright in a chair. Exercise #1 below goes into more detail on this.
Start with these 5 exercises before going any further: Use the Core Breathing Belly Pump as your foundation (as seen in the exercise #1) and progress from there.
Exercise #1: Core Breathing Belly Pump
Exercise #2: Bird-Dog
Exercise #3: Lateral Bird-Dog
Exercise #4: Heel slides
Exercise #5: Heel Marches
To check yourself for DR:
Lay on your back with knees bent, feet on the floor. Place 2 fingers just below your sternum, in the soft space between your ribs (fingertips should be pointing down towards your belly button). Do a core breathing belly pump and contract the TA on the exhale - press down with your finger tips and feel for a gap and for tension in the gap. While your core is still engaged and pressure is applied with your finger tips, move your fingers slowly your down your mid-line towards your belly button feeling for the gap and the tension. Stop when you’ve reached your pubic bone. A gap that is 2-3 fingers width is normal and recent research shows that the tension is actually what is most indicative of DR - meaning, if your fingers can press deep into your belly on the mid-line of your body.