How to Restore Your Core After Childbirth

September 1, 2022

You’ve had a baby and love the joyful experience of having your new little person around. However, some time has passed, and you’re noticing your body is not returning. You have a poochy belly, you’re slouching from nursing, and everything feels… well, a bit “droopy.” 

Don’t worry; this is an entirely normal part of the process after all the awe-inspiring things your body has just accomplished, and whenever you’re ready, I have the perfect method to bring your body back to its functional state.

That being said, it is important to understand that….

Our body wants to be in balance, and will do everything it can to help you get back there!

For example, our body doesn’t want weak, separated abdominal muscles (rectus diastasis). It wants to reunite them. So if you do the work, you’ll probably be amazed at how much easier it is to resolve the issue than you thought it would be. 

Some of you may experience “muscular amnesia.” This is when your muscles don’t remember how to turn on. But, again, don’t worry! The more you do the work, the more muscle fibers you’ll recruit through training, and eventually, it will all come back. Sometimes it takes a while before you even feel the challenge of these exercises.

So take it slow and steady, and let the process unfold.

Start with your core. 

Before you jump back into exercise, it’s essential you set a strong foundation by restoring your core. This foundation laying work is exactly how you can best support your body to return back to the balance it is trying to achieve post-baby. If you jump back into fitness, your body will do everything she can to prevent injury. Unfortunately, this means that she will recruit your stronger muscles to support your joints which leads to compensatory patterns that will work to your detriment later.

We start with our core because everything connects to our core. Your arms, legs, and your head  all connect back to your core. So before you start focusing on strengthening your limbs, you want to make sure that your core is aligned, stable, and strong. Once it is, you can learn how to move from your core, making your body feel and look outstanding!

Despite popular belief, resolving instability in your pelvic floor takes more than Kegels.

As new moms, we often think Kegels are the answer because we’re suffering from embarrassing leaks, and a weak pelvic floor.  However, waking up your pelvic floor muscles with kegels is only a good first step option. Once we can feel and engage them again, we are going to want to integrate those muscles with movement. If we keep training them over and over again in isolation, we could potentially create too much tightness and, ironically enough, strength leading to imbalance. 

Your pelvic floor muscles are connected to your lower abdominal muscles. They are on the same nerve loop. So when you engage the lower abdominal, it engages the pelvic floor—they are designed to work together, not separately. 

You can throw everything off when you don’t focus on the two. 

Crunches are not the answer.

There were four BIG facts that really helped me understand how to restore my chronically shut down core. 

Here they are:

1. Abdominal muscles are voluntary muscles. 

As you train your body, it’s important to actively and intentionally engage your abdominal muscles for optimal performance.

In other words, if you are performing an isolation exercise such as crunches, actively draw your navel down and use your abs to crunch. If you are performing a compound movement such as squats, engage your abdominal muscles to help you maintain good postural alignment. 

2. Abdominal muscles are designed to stay mobile for best results.

Just because you can tighten your abdominal muscles voluntarily does not mean you should always keep them tight. In fact, going to that kind of extreme will only end up in back pain. For best results, keep your diaphragm strong through belly breathing, even when you are supposed to be engaging your core in something such as a front plank exercise.

3. There are multiple abdominal muscles, and each gets trained differently, and must be balanced in strength for the best results. 

The six-pack abs we would all love to have are our rectus abdominis. We also have to work our internal and external obliques, and our deep inner ab muscles (such as our transverse abdominis, which wraps around our waist and, when strong, acts like a girdle).

Different movements and exercises target different parts of our abdominal muscle family. So, crunches will target your rectus abdominis and, when incorporated with breath, your transverse abdominis as well.

Side planks, twists, and bends will target your obliques. Toe touches, lifts, and pelvic tilts will target your lower abs. We want to train our core to work functionally, and crunches alone will NOT do that. 

4. There are times your deep abdominal muscles should kick in involuntarily, and if they don’t, you should train them to do so. 

Although abdominal muscles are voluntary muscles, we can–and should–train them to kick in when we need them (such as when lifting something heavy). If they do not kick in, we are more vulnerable to injury. 

Belly breathing 

The easiest and most important exercise you can do to strengthen your core is belly breathing.

On your hands and knees, or lying on the floor, breathe into your belly and draw your navel to your spine–without rounding or arching your back.

Feel your internal muscles engaging, and then let it all out.

Do this several times a day to activate the transverse abdominis; eventually, you will build on that. 

If you strengthen and restore your core before starting to work out again, you’ll get much more benefit out of your workouts later. However, if you exercise first, you’ll probably weaken your core muscles because the pounding will be too much, and eventually, you’ll create compensatory patterns. So start small, at home, right now. 

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