During pregnancy, it can be a whirlwind of emotions when you realize that your stomach is only going to get bigger for the next nine months. No matter how hard we try to stop it, there’s a baby growing in there and your stomach needs to expand. With the body positivity movement in full swing, it’s becoming more common to see new moms show off their postpartum bodies. After all, they carried a child for nine months and want to celebrate what an achievement that is!
Having said that, it can be a little daunting to know that you’re on your way to discovering your new postpartum body. Not that there’s anything wrong with the pooch, but with all of the hormones flying around after birth, you might want one less thing to worry about. So, why not try some core exercises to prevent the pooch from forming during pregnancy? Oh, that’s right – we can’t perform traditional core exercises such as sit-ups and crunches. As the core is right around where the baby is residing, it can be dangerous to do these and even cause your muscles to separate. Fear not; however, as we have found six of the best pregnancy-safe core exercises to do to prevent the pooch. Follow along with the below exercises and enjoy one less thing to worry about in postpartum life.
Can you exercise your core while pregnant?
The answer to this question is often misinterpreted among different people, with some thinking that they cannot engage their core at all throughout the entire nine months. However, this is simply not the case. The core muscles are like an internal corset that wraps around the majority of your midsection. These muscles help with a number of aches and pains, such as back issues and pelvic pressure. As your core muscles are vital in helping your uterus push the baby out during labor, training them up beforehand can be extremely beneficial. Some research has even shown that core exercises through pregnancy can improve your postpartum recovery time. However, it is easier said than done to exercise the part of your body where your baby is sleeping. You don’t want to work your core in fear of squashing them or causing more harm than good. Some core exercises are not suitable for pregnancy, such as anything that involves twisting your core or crunching the muscles. However, that doesn’t mean that some exercises aren’t helpful in the long run.
What do we mean by core muscles?
Now, when we mention core muscles it can be easy to think that we’re just talking about your abs. However, your core is actually made up of many more muscles than just the ones that make up a six-pack.The umbrella term core muscles refer to the deep abdominal muscles that wrap around your midsection and the small of your back. Training your core all is working on all of these muscles rather than just the front ones that are sitting in front of your baby.During pregnancy, you should be working on your deep core muscles rather than your abdominals. The deep core muscles are made up of your pelvic floor muscles and the transverse abdominals.The pelvic floor can be strengthened by Kegels, so the exercises we are looking at today will be mainly focused on working your transverse abdominals. Not only do the deep abdominal muscles help to support your baby and alleviate pains during pregnancy, but they can also help during labor.
Why are we talking about transverse abdominals so much?
Working on your transverse abdominals is incredibly important for a number of reasons. For starters, they improve back support and help hold up your growing stomach. This can prevent back pain and even round ligament pain.Another reason why you should work these muscles is that they can help push the baby out during labor. Your uterus will have the main responsibility of this task, but it can always do with some more support from your abdominal muscles.The third reason why we think that working your transabdominal muscles is so important during pregnancy is that it might be able to prevent Diastasis Recti, which is the separation of your abdominal wall.
Even if you do suffer from Diastasis Recti, working your core through pregnancy can help bring these muscles back together after your baby is born.
What about the pelvic floor muscles?
As many reasons to work your pelvic floor as they are for your transverse abdominals, but this doesn’t make it any less important. Working your pelvic floor muscles throughout pregnancy can prevent urinary incontinence during and after pregnancy. Working your pelvic floor muscles can also help improve sex and prevent it from being painful after delivery.
What do the abs go through during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, your body is going through a lot of changes. things that you didn’t think would be affected as still being altered by this new life change. This includes your abs, as they are stretching and making room for your growing baby.The six-pack muscles are commonly known as the rectus abdominal muscles, and there are two to sections of these on either side of your stomach. These are connected by a connective tissue called fascia, which stretches as your stomach grows causing the two sections of muscles to separate. Your muscles need to stretch like this to allow your baby to grow within your uterus. It’s a natural process and often isn’t a cause for worry. These muscles will move back together after labor as your body recovers. However, sometimes the muscles don’t go back together on their own and create a coning effect. This is called Diastasis Recti and it will need to be rectified with help of a professional. If untreated, it can cause urinary incontinence, chronic back pain, and pregnancy pooch.You can avoid Diastasis Recti by conducting only pregnancy-safe core exercises rather than your usual ab workout.
Ab Exercises to Avoid during Pregnancy
We’ve been talking a lot about how there are some exercises that you shouldn’t use while pregnant, but what are they? You shouldn’t carry out any exercises that put too much strain on your intra-abdominal muscles, especially in the second and third trimesters. Yes, this includes the fan favorites such as crunches, pushups, and planks. As you get further into pregnancy, you might begin to see your stomach forming a cone shape when you use your core to sit up from a laying down position. This cone shape should be avoided at all costs. If your muscles are doing this during an exercise, stop immediately and put it on the ‘exercises to be avoided list’. Coning can be a clear sign that there is too much pressure on your intra-abdominals, increasing the risk of Diastasis Recti. Some doctors even recommend sitting up by rolling on one side before pushing yourself up so that you don’t put too much pressure on these muscles.
Not even a few crunches?
As a society, we have been programmed to believe that crunches are the be-all and end-all of ab workouts. However, there are many other ways to work your core rather than using crunches. Crunches work the six-pack muscles and can put too much pressure on them, increasing the risk of Diastasis Recti. As the six-pack muscles don’t help during labor, working them is completely pointless during pregnancy.Instead, you should be working more on your back, side, and pelvic floor muscles. These will aid you much better during pregnancy and labor than any crunch would.
What do we mean by pregnancy pooch?
Postpartum pooch doesn’t sound very appealing, but what actually is it we’re referring to? With Diastasis Recti, the two hemispheres of your six-pack muscles stretch without going back together after your baby has been born. If your muscles don’t go back together, they leave a gap between them which causes the issue commonly known as the mommy pooch. It is simply a soft, jelly pooch on your stomach that stays there once your baby is born. It can make you look a few months pregnant and is something that many women want to avoid. Not only does it prevent you from bouncing back to your pre-pregnancy body, but it can also cause back pain. It’s not a sure thing that you can avoid Diastasis Recti with exercises during pregnancy, but you can certainly prevent the issue from occurring as drastically. Let’s look at these exercises in the next section.
Prenatal Ab Exercises to Prevent the Postpartum Pooch
Each of these exercises is safe to do during pregnancy, but you should talk to your healthcare provider if you haven’t been exercising regularly during pregnancy or are apprehensive about starting.
Start on all fours in a tabletop position, ensuring that your back is flat. Your wrists should be directly underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips. As you take a deep inhale, arch your back to face your chest forward. Your stomach should be dropped towards the floor as you look upwards. Now exhale as you round your back, drawing your belly button into the spine while hugging your baby with your muscles. The inhale pose is called ‘Cow’ and the exhale is the ‘Cat’. Repeat this process as many times as you’d like while maintaining good posture.
2. Bird Dog
Like Cat/Cow, start on all fours in the same tabletop position. Reach your right arm towards the front of the room at the same time as reaching your left leg towards the back of the room. Engaging your core muscles will help keep your balance. Pull your right elbow and left knee together underneath your stomach and try to touch them together. Extend them back to their starting position. Repeat this process for 30 seconds on each side, preventing your form from suffering as you fatigue. Work as many rounds as you feel comfortable with, balancing it out on both sides.
Lay down on your back, as long as you can get back up without any issues. Engage your pelvic floor and draw your core upwards. Your knees should be bent with your heels pushed into the floor. Use your legs and bottom to squeeze your hips upwards off of the floor so that only your shoulders, head, arms, and feet are touching the floor. Remember to keep your core engaged throughout, meaning that your back is not arched throughout the process. Hold for 10 seconds before slowly releasing and lowering yourself back onto the floor. Repeat the bridge pose 10 more times. You might like to have a pillow between your knees to help keep your pelvic floor engaged, allowing you to work for two muscle groups at a time.
4. Pelvic Tilts
Pelvic tilts can be done by imagining that you’re hugging your baby with your core muscles. This is a standing exercise, so have your feet shoulder-width apart with a straight spine. Inhale deeply before exhaling slowly. As you exhale, lift your pelvis slightly upwards towards your ribs. It might be helpful to imagine that you are zipping your belly up from your pelvis.Hold this position for 10 seconds or as long as you can before relaxing. Repeat this 10 times. Pelvic tilts can be quite difficult to describe, so imagining either zipping up your muscles or hugging your baby with your core can help achieve this exercise.
5. Reverse Plank
Sit down with your legs straight out in front of you and your hands slightly behind you. Zip your belly up while hugging your core muscles in as you use your arms and glutes to lift your bottom off of the ground.Keep your shoulders away from your neck to maintain strong form, and don’t allow your core to become disengaged. Hold this pose for 20 seconds before slowly lowering back down. Repeat 10 times.
6. Vacuum Twists
Vacuum twists are rather similar to pelvic tilts that we looked at above. So, get into the pelvic tilt position and add some small twists to the mix. Only twist your core, keeping your hips facing forward at all times. Zip up your core muscles just like the pelvic tilt exercise and, while keeping your core engaged and in this same position, twist from side to side 20 times. Repeat this exercise with 20 twists for three sets. Make sure you’re not over-twisting your core.
Tips and Tricks to Remember
Now we’ll quickly go over some tips to ensure that you’re exercising safely during your core workouts. Make sure you follow this advice to keep you and your baby safe as well as getting the most from your workout.
Keeping Your Core Engaged
If you’re doing all of these exercises without keeping your core engaged, you’re not going to be experiencing anywhere near the same amount of benefits as you would if your core was engaged. So, you need to find a way to activate your core and keep it engaged throughout the entire exercise. The best way we have found to do this is to imagine hugging your baby with your core muscles and lifting them up. There is a difference between sucking your stomach in and engaging your core. Sucking in is drawing your entire stomach in while engaging your core4 is drawing your muscles in and lifting the muscles up. Practice the following before completing your core exercises so that you know how to properly engage them. If you’ve already completed the exercises without engaging your core, do this anyway to see if you can notice the difference. While sitting down, draw your lower belly in, up, and around. This will engage your transverse abdominal muscles. Again, think of it as lifting and hugging your baby with your abdominals. It will take some time to learn how to engage your core throughout your entire core workout. However, you can practice engaging your core whenever and wherever you are, which will make it easier for you to grasp. Here is some of the best ab workout equipment if that helps you.
Getting Up from a Lying Position
We mentioned earlier that getting up from a lying position can cause coning and therefore increase your risk of Diastasis Recti. However, you can’t go the remainder of your pregnancy without lying down! So, how do you get up safely from bed, a couch, or the floor after exercise? The best way to do it is to roll onto your side then push up from your side, standing up slowly. This puts less strain on your fascia and will help to prevent Diastasis Recti. When lying down, lay on your side before rolling onto your back.
We hope that these exercises will help you in your pregnancy to keep your core strong and working with you, rather than against you. Make sure that you focus on your deep core muscles rather than those to work your six-pack.
Remember, you can work on that after your baby is here! Right now we’re focusing on the mommy pooch and preventing it. Or you can just get some fantastic leggings in the meantime, I mean either Lulu or any of these tummy control leggings are awesome!