As a general rule it isn't until 6 months after birth that you should expect to be back at pre-pregnancy weight. However there are certainly some exercises that you can do in the early postnatal period to help get back into shape and flatten your tummy. Regaining your pregnancy figure is not the only benefit of exercise, it can also be used to strengthen important core muscles that were weakened as a result of pregnancy, boost your mood and make you feel energised.
Strengthening your core muscles should definitely be on the top of your list of priorities when it comes to postnatal fitness. When the word core is mentioned you may think ‘abs’, but actually your core is more complex than that. Imagine your core as a cylinder; the pelvic floor forms the base, the diaphragm the lid, oblique muscles are the sides, abdominal muscles at the front and back muscles forming the posterior. These muscles are there to form a solid base to help support your spine, hold correct posture and control movement of your pelvis. Your pelvic floor muscles support your bladder, bowel and womb and gives you control when you empty your bladder and bowel. During and after pregnancy the core function is compromised; your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles have been stretched and weakened, ligaments of the hips, lower back and pelvis have been loosened and as a result there is reduced support for your spine. This muscle weakness also causes increased lordosis (hollowing) of the lower back and increased kyphosis (rounding) of the upper back and often back pain is experienced. Having a weak pelvic floor may mean you accidentally leak urine when you exercise, cough or sneeze.
Stabilisation exercises can be used to strengthen these muscles and should be the ‘bread and butter’ of postnatal core exercises. You should always introduce yourself into exercise slowly especially if you are a newcomer to fitness, however all mums can start gentle core exercises are soon as they feel ready in order to help flatten their tummy. The following are examples of some suitable low key core stabilisation exercises.
Lying on your back, rest your feet flat on the floor so that your knees are bent. Your spine should be in a neutral position (your pelvic should not be tilted too far forward or too far back but fine the middle point so that your spine has a natural curvature as you lie on the floor).
Contract your abs and tilt you pelvis so your lower back is flat to the floor, hold for 5 seconds , return to neutral spine and repeat until your start to fatigue. To make it harder try with one foot slightly off the floor.
Kneel on the floor with your hands directly below your shoulders and knees below the hips, keeping head facing down with knees shoulder-width apart and back straight.
Breath in and contract your abdominal muscles (pull your naval into your spine) and continue to breath in and out. Hold for as long as you can, rest for 10-20 seconds then repeat.
Lie on your front resting your forearms and toes on the floor. Breath in and contract your abdominals lifting up so that your body comes off the floor. Continue to breath normally and ensure your body is straight (bum not sticking up high or sagging low). Hold as long as you can, rest for 10-20 seconds then repeat.
Lie on your side, resting on your forearm with feet on top of each other or one in front of the other. Breath in and brace your abs lifting your hips off the floor trying to keep your body straight. Again holding as long as you can, rest then repeat on the other side. Remember to breath normally as you hold. If you find this one really tricky try lying on your side with your knees slightly bent, now rather than lifting up and resting on your feet rest on your knees to make the exercise easier, progressing to a full side-plank once this feels too easy.
This is probably that hardest out of these exercises and may be one to try once you feel well accomplished at the others. Sit down with your feet flat on the floor, with your hands resting behind you. Contract your abdominals and lift your feet off the floor so your shins are parallel to the floor and bring your arms out straight. Ensure your hips form a 90 degree angle and breath in and out normally. Hold as long as you can, rest for 10-20 seconds then repeat.
It may be that you are unable to do all of the following exercises in one go, but aim to do at least 5-10 minutes daily. As a general guideline stabilisation exercises are usually held for 15-30 seconds and number of repetitions (reps) will vary slightly with each individual in relation to loss of form or fatigue. When you are well practised you can increase the intensity by reducing rest time and increasing reps and holding beyond 30 seconds.
Unfortunately approximately two thirds of all pregnant women will suffer from ‘diastasis recti’. This is a condition that occurs when the rectus abdominis or ‘six pack muscle’ seperates down the mid-line of your tummy. If this separation is more then 2-2.5 fingers width apart it can be problematic and some exercises can make it worse such as sit-ups and front planks, although side-planks are safe. Diastasis Recti is more likely to occur if you have had previous pregnancies, had twins or a large baby. It should be picked up by your GP at your 6 week postnatal check, although you can test yourself at home.
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