Let’s first start off by saying that your body is beautiful. Period. I don’t care if you have had a baby, are trying to have a baby, or have just been struggling with your body. Your body is beautiful, powerful, and in no way flawed.
Now, I understand this is easier to read than to believe. But I want you to know that your body is worthy of self care and love at every single stage of life it experiences. You do not need to hate it into being thin or flat or whatever everyone makes you believe you should think about it.
With that said, I want to talk a little bit about postnatal exercise care today. Specifically, your CORE because if you are like just about every women in the world, tummy takes a lot of criticism in the months after baby. I know after having a baby, our stomachs look pretty deflated and jiggly. They are mushy, soft, stretchy and just not what they ‘once were’. I also know that usually quickly turns to the desire to try to make the tummy go away as fast as possible. With all the ‘washboard’ ab workouts and quick fix programs bombarding us, it’s no wonder we feel like this!
I remember feeling like this right after having my daughter. The pressure I put on myself to ‘feel normal’ again was the last thing that needed to be on my mind in those early days. If I could shout one thing from the rooftops to all new moms it would be- REST, RECOVER, RELAX. Your body just went through a huge journey that ended in a display of incredible strength and endurance. Not only that, but you now have to be on 24/7 shift of tiny human care. The last thing we should worry about is how to get back to our former state.
One of the main reasons I started working in the realm of post-natal support for women was because I learned some things through my own personal experience that are critical, but often not discussed with new moms. In fact, my doctor did not even understand the implications of post-partum exercise and in hindsight made dangerous exercise suggestions for me and caused me some issues.
The first issue many new moms experience, including me, is what is called Diastasis Recti-in short, it is the weakening and separation of the abdominal wall/ connective tissue down the center of our bellies during and after pregnancy. This happens in 66% of all women who are pregnant.
The other issue is weak pelvic floor muscles (leakage, pain) an issue that is less about kegels and more about learning how to correct pelvic alignment and breathing.
The first thing I always recommend any mom does postpartum is to request a referral for a physiotherapist in their area. I personally had to ask my OB/GYN three times for this referral before she wrote it for me. So be your own advocate. The reason I pushed so hard for this referral was because something didn’t feel right. My stomach felt weak, there was weird pressure when I was sitting or when I would do intense workouts. If I jumped or did burpees-I’d wet my pants! (so sexy, I know)
I knew after extensive research and training that the answer was not to ignore this.
Especially because it can get worse with subsequent pregnancies.
Prior to writing my referral, my doctor told me to do things like sit-ups, planks, and ‘core exercises’ to make my abs stronger. THIS IS NOT GOOD people.
The KEY thing to know about restoring your tummy postpartum, is that it is not about your ABS.
I see so many women jump into intense 5 or 6 day a week high intensity programs or start crunching to try to do something about their midsection. This may actually be making the situation far worse by further weakening the connective tissue, widening the gap in the middle of our stomach, and potentially causing organ prolapse at the pelvic floor. YIKES. google that if you want to see what I am talking about here ladies. Ugly stuff.
The focus needs to be on Restoring before Strengthening.
This means you need to avoid some workouts for a bit, while you focus on restoring your deep transverse abdominus muscles.
So What Are My Top 4 Exercises to Avoid In the Months After Having a Baby?
- Crunches- I can not stress this enough- do not do these! First, they are a waste of your time and there are plenty of other exercises that will give you more bang for your buck. The entire movement can wreck havoc on your what is called your Transverse Abdominus. This is the section of your core that acts like a girdle and is deep down below your surface level abdominal muscles. Basically, every time you crunch forward your belly bulges up, your organs push back, and you end up with a dome-like shape with every force of the movement. You are actually training your belly to BULGE and stay bulged by doing this. I am assuming this is the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish(I also stress that in the early days postpartum- try not to sit straight up or use your abs to crunch forward when standing up or getting out of bed. Instead, roll to the side and push yourself up with your arms.)
- Planks- This is a highly debated one. But here is what I will say about it- from my training and personal experience it is best to avoid a full on plank until you have gradually rebuilt core strength and your body can resist the force of gravity. The reason is planking puts a lot of pressure on the abdominal wall when you are hanging there. It can cause the connective tissue to bulge and weaken significantly, which ultimately can result in further injury.
- Twisting – Your muscles are not ready to twist back and forth yet. The over stretching and pulling can cause your muscles to go slack.
- Burpees– Your pelvic floor and transverse abdominus is not ready for this high level of pressure and jumping if you have not taken the necessary steps to gradually rehabilitate your floor and core. If you try this exercise and you find your bladder leaks, it is a good indication that you need to scale back.