4 Steps To Understanding (And Loving) Your Post-Baby Abs

Flat, toned abdominals are the desire of many women and the one of the biggest goals of any post-natal exercise program. You want them? Well, simply do more abdominal exercises and Voila! the flat mid-section of your dreams will appear. Oh, if only it were that simple and safe to do it that way.

In fact, acquiring a flat or flatter stomach and strong, functional abdominals after giving birth can be a complicated process, and one that definitely demands patience, persistence, correct form and safe exercise progression. Understanding and jump starting a safe and effective postpartum abdominal exercise program can happen in four practical steps.

1) Have Realistic Expectations

As much as it is about wanting to look good with a flat tummy, at the root, it is really about promoting the correct healing of the abdominal muscles so that you can feel our best and live an enjoyable life with our children without pain. Unfortunately, when some abdominal exercises are done incorrectly (I’m talking traditional crunches and even planks here ladies) and too soon after giving birth (these exercises have no place in a healthy post-natal exercise program for at least, AT LEAST 5 or 6 months and most of the time longer) it can exacerbate existing conditions and/or discomforts like diastasis recti (abdominal separation), urinary incontinence, lower back pain and pelvic instability.

I’m here to remind you that it’s not a dive in head first situation, rather you should take your time and slowly submerge yourself, as the combination of time and the right exercise choices will lead you to your desired health and body aesthetic goals.

2) Understand The Pregnancy Effect

During pregnancy the abdominal muscles become over-lengthened and the center connective tissue known as the linea alba widens in order to accommodate the continual growth of the baby and the uterus. Once the baby is born and all that stretch is released and moms are instantly left with over-lengthened and lax abdominal muscles, which plays a significant role in new moms feeling like they still have a pregnant-looking belly the first few months or longer after their baby is born. The uterus takes only several weeks to return to it’s pre-pregnancy size, however the abdominal muscles, along with the other connective tissue that help to support the abdomen, can take several months to safely and effectively return to not only their pre-pregnancy length and condition, but also their pre-pregnancy strength and functionality.

3) Obtain Basic Knowledge of the Abdominals

The abdominal wall is comprised of four different paired muscles each with a right and left side that connects at the linea alba. Together they cover and support the entire abdominal cavity. Reconnecting with and developing ALL of the abdominal muscles is important to a successful postpartum abdominal exercise program, because all those muscles work together to create functional and healthy postural control and movement.

  • Transverse Abdominis: Wraps around the torso horizontally from back to front and is responsible for the compression or flattening of the abdominal wall as well as for the narrowing of the waist. The transverse abdominis is also particularly important for providing core stabilization, which is vital for functional movement and healthy back care. When you are instructed to “pull in” your abdominal muscles, you are primarily contracting your transverse abdominis.
  • External + Internal Obliques: run diagonally from the sides of the abdomen, at the ribs toward the midline. As the name implies, the external oblique muscles lie over the internal oblique muscles and together, these muscles produce trunk rotation and lateral flexion (side bending of the spine), and can also help to flatten the abdominal wall and create spinal stability.

4) Know Where To Start

The  first step is to focus on the strength and functional control of the transverse abdominis and internal obliques to achieve the crucial stability of the trunk and pelvis needed for proper posture and movement patterns that are necessary for avoiding back pain.

By just taking a few moments each day to do these simple breathing, abdominal exercises, you will facilitate the healing process after giving birth through increasing circulation to the affected areas and by strengthening the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. This will begin the process of reconnecting with your center and restoring abdominal strength. Remember, this is just the starting point and the emphasis is on taking your time, practicing patience and being persistent.

The First Post-Baby Abdominal Exercise Every Mom Should Be Doing: Sit straight up on your bottom with your legs crossed or on a chair, stack your shoulders directly over your pelvis and place your hands over your belly.

Exercise 1 – The Tranverse Abdominis and Pelvic Floor Activator

  • Inhale for 4 counts while letting your belly push into your hands.
  • Exhale for 8 – 10 counts while drawing your belly button back to your spine, flattening the abdominal wall (TA) and imagining that you are pulling your two sits bones and pubic bone together, squeezing your pelvic floor muscles
  • Hold for 8 – 10 counts
  • Repeat 5 times

Exercise 2 – The Transverse Abdominis Pulses

  • Exhale and draw the abdominal muscles in one more time
  • Inhale release the muscles half way out
  • Exhale and quickly draw them back in
  • Quickly repeat this small in and out motion 30 times
  • Repeat 2 more sets of the pulses

You can also watch these two videos as well to see, learn and try safe and effective abdominal reconnection and breathing exercises.

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Leah Stewart, M.S. is the founder and owner of LiveLife Pilates™. In addition to owning and running LiveLife Pilates, Leah is Senior Faculty and Lecturer for world renowned Body Arts and Science International. Leah has traveled across four continents to teach teacher training courses as well as present workshops and conferences on the behalf of BASI Pilates®. She has visited cities in the United States, England, Japan, China, India, Australia, and Italy. Leah has studied Pilates extensively under the BASI Pilates® founder, Rael Isacowitz. In addition to her BASI Comprehensive Teacher certification, Leah has studied Pilates and pregnancy with one of the field’s experts, Carolyne Anthony, and is a certified Pre- and Post-Natal Pilates Specialist. Leah is also a certified Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) and Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and works diligently with clients to help them discover, correct, and improve their imbalances and incorrect movement patterns.