Safe Postpartum Ab Workout: How To Restore Your Core After Pregnancy
Written by: Lauren Villa - Sep. 21, 2019
The human body is truly amazing. The way our muscles work together to help us move, stand up straight, and most amazingly, grow and give birth to a human child, is nothing short of extraordinary.
The core, in particular, is the area of our body that undergoes the most transformation during pregnancy. Like a piece of saltwater taffy, the core muscles get pulled, stretched, and rearranged to make room for your little bun in the oven! This can leave you with the dreaded mommy tummy, or the separation of the abdominal muscles. But don’t worry, that’s why we rounded up our favorite postpartum ab workouts to help tone up your midsection and prevent other areas of your body from having to overcompensate and ultimately, cause you pain.
There isn’t a miracle pill you can take to heal your body after having a baby. Although, if there was, I’m sure someone would have made a LOT of money on it by now. That is to say, there isn’t a magic bullet that will magically make your body shrink back to prepregnancy size overnight. It takes time and patience for your body to repair itself, even with a bulletproof postnatal workout routine. The secret is taking care of your body by exercising, eating healthy, and taking nutrients like collagen to help your body revive and repair. At the end of the day, you have to fight the urge to be superwoman and sprint towards your pre-baby body.
Take your recovery slow, make sure you’re working out in a safe way, and stay mindful of how exercise is making your abdominal muscles feel. For some guidance, this blog will outline postpartum ab workouts you can do at home to minimize or get rid of ab separation, as well as tips on how to do your own diastasis recti exercises at home.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- How does pregnancy affect core muscles?
- What is diastasis recti?
- How to restore your core after pregnancy
- Exercises for diastasis recti
- Safe postpartum ab workout
How Does Pregnancy Affect Core Muscles?
Everything in the body is connected, and your core muscles are like the most popular kid at school who knows everyone and sets all the cool trends. When the core does something new, all the muscles follow in its footsteps. That metaphor isn’t perfect, but I think you know what I mean. This means a strong core usually translates to a strong body. And a weak core means that other muscle groups have to work harder. Basically, the core internally stabilizes the entire body, including your back and pelvis, and these muscles work together to help you stay standing upright and able to move around without pain.
So, what happens when the core becomes weak during and after pregnancy? As your belly starts to stretch and grow, the front abdominal muscles move forward, making it difficult to stabilize this part of the body. Have you ever seen a woman holding her back in pain while she was pregnant? That’s because her core muscles were pulling on her back muscles to stabilize the core.
When moms rely on their backs for balance and support, it can lead to spine and back problems. Strengthening the core muscles before, during, and after pregnancy not only help with preventing back pain, but it also helps during delivery. A stronger core means more control of the pelvic floor muscles so that when it’s time to push, delivery can be as smooth as possible.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Ab separation is a natural and very common occurrence. Growing and carrying around a baby for 9 months changes your body in endless ways, which may or may not include diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles.
So, what is diastasis recti? It is a term used to refer to the gradual thinning and widening of the midline of the abdominal muscles. Depending on your genetics and the amount of core strength you had going into pregnancy, the pressure from the growing fetus can cause the two sides of your abdomen to push away from each other and cause a separation. This separation can leave a noticeable lump, also known as a “belly gap.” According to studies, even 12 months postpartum, 33% of women may still experience diastasis recti.
Although diastasis recti is extremely common, it can cause harmful effects if it’s not addressed properly. But be careful… many new moms are led astray by blogs and even personal trainers who claim that if they just do extra sit-ups or crunches, the lump will go away. But unfortunately, the opposite is true. Some ab workouts actually make the problem WORSE!
How To Restore Your Core After Pregnancy
Here’s the thing… in order for your body to adapt to the changes of postpartum, you need to ensure that you have the proper nutrients in your system. One of the most vital and replenishing nutrients to help your connective tissues regain elasticity is collagen. Taking a daily collagen supplement, like SkinnyFit Super Youth, focuses on wound healing, muscle and ligament support, and improving skin elasticity that can help strengthen ligaments in all areas of the body. If you’re strengthening your core postpartum, try incorporating a collagen supplement into your daily routine. Studies have shown that women with diastasis recti report lower levels of collagen I and III in their bodies and collagen can help supercharge your diastasis recti recovery.
Other ways to help your connective tissue regain strength include:
- Drink enough water
- Reduce inflammation (SkinnyFit Skinny Greens can help with this!)
- Decrease sugar intake
Exercises For Diastasis Recti (Ab Separation)
If you’re experiencing diastasis recti, you know that ab separation can be uncomfortable and leave the core feeling weak. Along with your individual genetic makeup, one of the main tellers of how your core will bounce back from pregnancy is how strong your core was before you got pregnant. Of course, some women will experience diastasis recti even if they’re the fittest they’ve ever been. And the opposite is true too—someone who’s never done a situp in their life may not experience any diastasis recti. Everyone’s experience is different because every single body is different. As you learn more about ab separation exercises that you can do postpartum, find the ones that make the most sense in your body.
Postpartum is a busy time, characterized by dark circles under the eyes and unwashed hair. With that said, sneaking in a quick 10 or 20 minute round of diastasis recti exercises routine can help you rebuild strength and confidence to gradually close the gap in your midline.
Diastasis exercises: Do’s
Ab separation after pregnancy can seriously affect your day-to-day. You may experience difficulty doing things that were once “easy” like getting out of bed or carrying heavy items.
The first step in addressing diastasis recti is to conduct a diastasis recti test on yourself and figure out if you have it. When you know whether or not you have it, here are some tips on what to do next.
- Talk to your doctor and get the OK to exercise
- Avoid exercises that can make your diastasis recti worse, like planks, crunches, sit-ups, and twists
- Strengthen the transverse abdominals
- Focus on your breath
- Incorporate wellness into your healing regime
- Allow your body to rest and restore
- Use this as a time to strengthen your mind-body connection
Diastasis exercises: Don’t’s
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation circulating in the world of postpartum healing. Make sure that the exercises you’re doing are safe and feel good in your body.
Read through these don’t’s before you hit the crunches at the gym or hop into a yoga class. These are some things to avoid while you’re recovering your midsection:
- Don’t do any exercises that stretch out the abdomen more
- Don’t do exercises that make your stomach dome or cone
- Don’t do backbends on a medicine ball or on the floor
- Don’t do yoga poses that stretch your abs, like an upward facing dog, cobra, or bow pose
Safe Postpartum Ab Workout
An important thing to keep in mind about your postpartum core is that it will be heavily dictated by your pre-pregnancy body. If you had a strong core before getting pregnant, you’ll have an easier time rehabbing ab separation after giving birth. If you are thinking about getting pregnant or you just found out you’re pregnant, certain exercises can help strengthen your belly so you can prevent pain and have a gentler delivery.
1. Pelvic floor exercises
The pelvic floor muscles are the unsung heroes of pregnancy. The abs always get a lot of attention, but your pelvic floor muscles are the ones that are going to help you with sex, going to the bathroom, and controlling your bladder after you give birth. During the entire pregnancy process, these muscles are weakened and it’s in your best interest to exercise them right after giving birth.
- These exercises can be done lying down, sitting, or standing.
- Gently squeeze and relax the muscles in your perineum (pelvic floor area) for 2-3 seconds.
- Slowly increase the time you can hold the contraction, moving up to 5 or 10 seconds.
- Do 10 repetitions as many times as you want during the day.
2. Leg slides
Although leg slides sound and look easy, they can be extremely challenging to your core strength. One challenge is to keep your spine neutral while you slide your leg up and down the floor. Try timing your leg slide with your breath for extra benefits. Inhale as you slide your leg out straight and exhale as you slide the leg back in. Try to bring all of your awareness to the exercise as you’re moving.
- Lay down on a flat surface and bend one knee.
- Slide the heel of the straight leg up and down while keeping your back straight on the ground.
- Continue taking deep belly breaths.
- Do 3-5 rounds on each side.
3. Glute bridges
- Lie down on your back floor with your hands by your side.
- Bend your knees and place your feet shoulder-width distance apart.
- Push into your heels and raise your hips off the floor while keeping your back straight.
- Hold at the top for 3 seconds and slowly down as you take a deep breath out and lower your hips back to the ground.
- Take a deep breathe in as you raise your hips up.
- Do 10-15 reps.
The Bottom Line: Postnatal Workout
Exercising your core might be hard to do right after giving birth, but give it time. Soon your tone in this region will return. When you’re practicing these exercises, move through each rep carefully and slowly. Practice deep breathing with each move. And always stop if you feel any excess pressure or any pain.
Doing exercises for diastasis recti may feel unfamiliar, but with regular practice, your core will heal. Make sure you don’t dive into the same workout routine you were used to before giving birth. Give yourself time to heal. If you have specific questions about your body and proper rehab, talk to a doctor so they can detect it and know how to treat it. Find a set of exercises that feel good and that are easy to incorporate into your everyday routine.