In nearly every postnatal yoga class that I teach, mamas come to class and one of the first things they ask is how to get their abs back and how quickly they can get their pre-baby body back. In striving to make this happen, many mamas end up diving into intensive abdominal work postpartum that can actually end up doing more harm than good.
What we have to remember is that over the course of pregnancy our abdominal muscles are stretching and lengthening. We want this! We need to make room for the growing baby. As these muscles stretch and lengthen they lose some of their tone and they can also begin to separate. Postpartum, once the body is no longer housing the baby, these muscles need time to reintegrate and reconnect and begin working, slowly. Think of this, if you haven't been running for nine months, would you jump right in and run 10 miles in one day? In the same way, the abdominal muscles need to slowly be brought back into shape and tone with exercises that have a more subtle focus.
Here are five exercises that you can use to begin working with the abdominals postpartum in a way that is safe and in the long run will actually help you to rebuild these muscles much more quickly:
Pelvic floor: pelvic floor exercises are crucial to any postpartum mama. For anyone who has had a vaginal childbirth the pelvic floor muscles have had to stretch and in some cases have torn. Rebuilding these muscles is key to overall health and support of the internal organs, not to mention reducing incontinence. Think of the pelvic floor as a foundation of a building: if we were to simply build up the walls of the house (the abdominals) without first putting down a foundation for the house, would not have a lot of support or structure. We need the support and structure of the pelvic floor in order to ensure that we have strong overall core support.
Integrating pelvic floor with abdominal contraction: The next step is integrating the work of these two muscles together. We can have a strong pelvic floor and strong abdominals, but if we’re not using them together then we aren’t using the core support in a way that is sustainable in the long term. For more on pelvic floor and a breakdown of these exercises visit my blog on pelvic floor.
Encouraging the reintegration of ab muscles: for almost every postpartum mama, there is some separation between the abdominal muscles. For some it is small, and for some they may be able to fit one or two fingers in between the muscles that run on either side of the belly. This is called diastasis recti. To begin to heal the separation of abdominal muscles use this quick and easy exercise to address the separation of the belly muscles:
Create additional support for back muscle by strengthening the glutes: when we lose abdominal tone, the back muscles are put into overdrive. They no longer have the support from the front of the body and so often end up doing double the work to help ensure we can stand, bend over and carry our baby around. We can help support this work by encouraging strengthening to the glute muscles. Try this glute exercise:
Finally, some abdominal work: once we have the foundational support for the abdominals, then we can begin to add ab work into our routine. It is definitely recommended that for up to 6 to 9 months postpartum we avoid doing double leg drops. This puts undue strain on the abdominal muscles and can actually cause them to take longer to heal. This simple exercise can be done every day and as strength grows you can add layers to make it more challenging link to other blog on abdominal exercise.
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Wisdom and insight with a dash of humor to help guide you on your journey through motherhood.