“C’mon ladies. Let’s get you back to your pre baby body. Time to shred your core!”
Overheard in a gym class for postnatal women. These types of comments are ubiquitous in the fitness world. Seemingly harmless fitspiration types of rah rah. Harmless they are not. Helpful? Not that either. Often these types of sentiments go hand in hand with the idea that a ripped, toned core is a good core and can come with a price tag, especially postnatal, when things are healing, different and changed in our core and pelvic floor.
I have had 3 kids, all in 4 years time. I totally get the desire to get our bodies to feel and look like they did pre baby. There is a smart way to do that and way that takes into account the changes to our body postpartum. Many women struggle with leak pee, their might feel heavy in their core, they might feel totally disconnected from their abs, have an abdominal separation and they might be lacking the confidence to speak openly of these things.
Whether you are a fitness pro or a new mom, here are some very important things you should know about your core and pelvic floor postpartum. You can be 10 years postpartum and many of these things still apply, however they are most critical for the first few years.
A diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominals at the midline. Meaning that there is a gap in the center of your belly, above and / or below your navel. The gap can be wide, narrow, deep, shallow and is measured in finger width. It can lead to your abs feeling “saggy,” “loose,” “weak” and is best diagnosed by a doctor or PT. There are many videos on youtube showing how to do a self test but I have seen many women do the test wrong so a professional opinion is best.With a diastasis recti, it is crucial to train your core in a very specific way as you can make the gap larger with poor core training and exercises.I often hear people say: “If you have a diastasis recti, just do deep core exercises and avoid crunches.” However just avoiding crunches and doing exercises like deadbug or tabletop or navel to spine is not enough.
How you are breathing during the workout matters as does your form and alignment matters. How you train matters.One more piece of advice I often hear women with diastasis receive is to hold their abs tight all day to make them strong again. Actually that is not getting strong, that is getting tense and tension in that form can make a diastasis recti worse! So be sure that one thing you are not doing is holding your belly “zipped” in all the time. It really does not make your abs stronger.
The most common, not discussed issue for women postpartum. Pelvic floor issues can range from urinary incontinence to run and jump pee to prolapse of organs into the vaginal canal. A PT or urogynecologist would be the first place to turn for a diagnosis. Sadly I have heard many many women tell me that they were told that leak pee is not resolvable and “just learn to live with it.”That can be extremely discouraging to hear and thankfully it is not true. There is a lot that can be done to resolve leak pee but we must ensure that we are not making the issue worse with our movement and exercise choices. Any activities that increase intra abdominal and pelvic pressure can make it worse.
Increasing pressure can look like breath holding, excess abdominal tension in the form of sucking our bellies in, bearing down when we exercise, and doing exercises that ab our abs bulge up or out. Again, it comes down to finding a training program that focusses on these areas and can teach you how to exercise wisely in a beneficial way.
Postpartum, your pelvic floor and core are healing for at least 1 year. Both regions have gone through extensive changes and will take time to build back resilience and prior strength. Pushing too hard at first can put strain on the core and pelvic floor and strain on the pelvic floor when it is already in a weakened state is not ideal.
Not all exercising and core training is created equal and our postpartum bodies need to be treated not as a piece of clay to mold back to original shape but as a structure that has gone through substantial changes and needs specific training to regain strength and integrity. If I had a penny for all of the women who wish they had done things differently postpartum and learned the hard way…
There is no need to push yourself in exercise to get your body back. Rather, think of healing your core and pelvic floor in a smart fashion so you can have a functional core and pelvic floor for the long haul.