If you are a new mom, a not-so-new mom, or an expecting mom, you’ve probably spent some time thinking about it. Perhaps even worrying about it. Maybe wondering what exactly happens to it during pregnancy, birth and beyond: your CORE. As a prenatal and post-natal yoga teacher, I hear concerns about the core muscles week in and week out. Pregnant mamas want to know how (if?) they can maintain their core muscles through pregnancy, and new mamas want to know what they can do to regain that connectedness to their internal powerhouse. While this is a very complicated topic—one that would take volumes to fully explore—I want to pass along my top 5 tips for reconnecting to your core (and pelvic floor) after baby comes so that you can start caring for your post-partum body in a safe and effective way.
I’ll just scratch the surface here, but we will be exploring all of these topics in much more detail in my upcoming Core and Pelvic Floor workshop here at DayOne Baby Palo Alto in a few weeks. Read on, write down your questions, and bring them with you when you come to the workshop on March 6!
Tip #1: Remember to include your pelvic floor when you talk about your core. I hinted at this one above: your core muscles and your pelvic floor muscles (the set of muscles that form the bottom part of your pelvic bowl) work together. So, when you strengthen your core you must also think about your pelvic floor….and vice versa. We’ll discuss this topic fully in the March 6 workshop, but for now, just remember: core AND pelvic floor.
Tip #2: The basis of healthy core and pelvic floor function is the breath. So, learn to breathe properly! When you inhale, you should inflating your belly/chest area. When you exhale, you should feel your belly retract towards your back. If you do the opposite (belly in when you inhale and out when you exhale) you will be unable to properly engage your deep core and pelvic floor muscles. These muscles contract on your exhale naturally— it’s just part of our physiology. Emphasize these muscular contractions a bit as you exhale, and see if you can feel your deep core muscles gently tighten around your abdomen (kind of like a corset), and your pelvic floor muscles gently lift upwards as if moving towards your belly button. It may seem simple, but this is the foundation of toning your core and pelvic floor. Plus, you can do it any time.
Tip #3: Don’t wait until you “work out” to start gently engaging the core and pelvic floor muscles. You can work on muscle contractions with breath any time, so why wait until you are at the gym, at yoga class, or at bootcamp to do this exercise? All you need is a room full of breathable air. You can do this exercise while feeding your baby, while stopped at a red light, or while watching tv. Just remember to sit up tall or lie down flat so that your spine is neutral.
Tip #4: No sit-ups or crunches! Yes, you read that correctly. These may be the most common exercises people think of when they hear “core strengthening,” but here’s the thing: any exercise where you go from a lying down position to an upright or partially upright position (and this includes jumping straight up from bed when you hear your babe crying out for you!) will cause your abdominal wall to naturally separate. Repeating this action over and over will exacerbate any abdominal separation (also called diastasis recti) you have from pregnancy, and this in turn leads to a weaker, not a stronger, core. Instead of sit-ups and crunches, there are many other core strengthening exercises that are beneficial for new moms. They focus on toning what we call the “deep” core muscles, or transverse abdominus. Strengthening the deep core muscles will help to heal diastasis recti and help you build a stronger core and pelvic floor.
Tip #5: Patience. One of the most common mistakes a new mom can make is jumping back into an intense exercise regimen too quickly. I know, it’s tempting: in addition to wanting to get back into shape, most moms have just spent 9 months or so avoiding their typical routine, whether that’s biking, running, bootcamp, or power yoga. But, if you start doing these activities before your core and pelvic floor muscles are functioning properly, you put yourself at much higher risk for injury and for making core/pelvic floor dysfunction worse instead of better. Even if your OB says everything looks good at 6 or 8 weeks post-partum, realize that fully healing from the process of pregnancy and birth can take much longer. Give your body the care it deserves and in turn you will feel much stronger and healthier in the long run.
Mia Hall is a yoga teacher based in Redwood City. She currently teaches prenatal, post-natal, and vinyasa classes at Blossom Birth and Vibe Yoga. She completed her initial yoga training through YogaWorks with Natasha Rizopoulos, and has since gone on to complete advanced pre/post-natal training with Jane Austin through Mama Tree, in San Francisco. Mia is mama to 19-month-old Leo, and her experience through pregnancy and early motherhood has inspired her deep interest in using yoga to ease the effects of pregnancy, promote healthy birth, and heal the body in the post-partum period and beyond. She is passionate about helping other mamas learn techniques for staying strong throughout the physical and mental challenges of motherhood. When not teaching or practicing yoga, Mia loves spending time with her family, hiking local trails with her two dogs, and cooking.