Contributed by FPC instructor and mama of 2, Carolyn Talents and founder of CLT Wellness
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 3 steps to get going:
1. 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 a few times between 8-12 weeks postpartum is a good indicator of whether or not the gap will close on its own.
2. 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 upright and be sure to exhale and engage your core before putting pressure on your abdominal muscles (see #3 below!)
3. 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. To practice core breathing, start either lying down on your back, up on all fours, or sitting upright in a chair. Take a deep diaphragmatic inhale, filling your lower ribcage and belly with breath. On the exhale, contract your pelvic floor in a kegel and imagine the corset is zipping up your belly from your pubic bone to your lower ribcage – feel the abs below your belly button contract as if your hip bones were moving to meet each other, then feel the abs around your belly button contract toward the midline, and finally your upper abs just under your ribcage. You should feel your whole abdominal wall wrapping inwards and moving toward your spine.
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.
If you are in the NYC area, we invite you to come to Rehab as soon as you can post birth. It’s not a workout. No doctor clearance is needed. We’ll give you all the information you need to know about your postpartum healing and we’ll teach you how to assess your core, pelvic floor and break down how to manage the first few weeks of motherhood (lifting, carrying, lowering, strechting, etc) with less pain. Rehab is every Wednesday at 12PM (babies are welcome) and it’s always free.
Check out our class schedule HERE