The body goes through many wonderful changes when you are pregnant, massive collagen changes to be exact. This opens the door to changing your soft tissues and your body’s alignment after pregnancy! Yes…if you move and carry yourself wisely early in postpartum through 18months, you can make a positive impact on your body!
Before you get pregnant, you should start an exercise regimen or daily movement practice if you don’t have one already. Daily exercise will improve the chances of your body bouncing back quicker and you feeling stronger in your body overall. Conversely, if you are a high-level athlete or practice extreme sports, you may want to back off to a less intense exercise program, as this can be inflammatory and lead to poorer outcomes for you and your baby. If you have never exercised before, you can start with a brisk walk in the park or dancing to your favorite music in your home for 30 minutes per day. You can progress to a more intense workout like running 3-5miles or add a weight training program. Whatever you enjoy should be what you do - studies have shown that choosing an exercise/movement practice you enjoy will bring you more health benefits!
When we stay active each day, our deep muscle system is more likely to be primed and engaged. Our deep muscle system, also known as the “stabilizers,” consists of the muscles that support our joints, pelvis, and spine. Alternatively, the superficial muscle system consists of the muscles that move us, our “movers.”
Often, we must include stabilization exercises in our regimen to ensure proper tone and preparedness in the deep muscle system.
When the stabilizer muscles are primed and engaged, they bring support and health to our physical system (including bone density). They can make you look taller, more toned, flatter through the belly, more neutral in posture and alignment, and improve control of your breathing.
When we perform regular stabilization exercises that bring balance to our deep and superficial muscles, breathing diaphragmatically throughout, then we can create a beautiful symphony.
For example, your deep transversus abdominis is the deepest stabilizer muscle of your core, while your internal obliques and rectus abdominis are the movers of the trunk/core. The transversus needs to be on most of the time - it should turn on a split second before you perform a movement. The timing is crucial to allow for proper support and to protect your spine, pelvis, etc., for that task. The superficial rectus abdominus is the mover muscle, and while it can give you a 6-pack, it can’t support your spine, pelvis, abdominal organs, etc., in a deep way. Therefore, it is important to perform exercises that work both the stabilizers and the movers.
Abdominal Exercise Series to Try
You should perform transversus abdominis first by lying on your back with knees bent, feet on the floor. Breathe through your diaphragm, expanding the back and sides of your lower ribs. As you exhale, draw the skin above your pubic bone in and up toward your spine. Keep that deep transversus abdominis contraction engaged as you continue to breathe for roughly 2 more breaths (10sec). Then release fully and relax. Reset the cue and perform 10 repetitions.
For the superficial core muscles like the rectus abdominis or obliques, you can do a bicycle crunch or the Pilates 100’s. It is best if you focus on breathing throughout, never bearing down, and perhaps even pre-setting your transversus abdominis simply to stabilize the core before you increase the load. This may be too challenging directly postpartum, but it may be appropriate to incorporate a few months postpartum. It is strongly advised to see a postnatal exercise specialist or women’s health physical therapist to advise you properly. More exercises are featured in my book, The Wise Woman’s Guide to Your Healthiest Pregnancy and Birth.
Better Body After Baby
Now that we laid the groundwork on how to have a balanced, toned, tall structure, you are probably wondering, but HOW can I have a BETTER-THAN-BEFORE-BABY-BODY?? Well, believe it or not, collagen has a lot to do with this! Yes! We have this amazing window of opportunity postpartum. After our body was pumped with the hormone relaxin for months, our collagen was altered, and we stretched and changed shape. Guess what - it takes about 18months for our collagen to fuse back into its prior (or new) orientation. So, if you practice good posture, move wisely in a balanced fashion (superficial and deep muscle groups), exercise keeping both stabilizers and movers in mind, and maintain a healthy lifestyle (see my previous article), you can absolutely change the shape of your body for the better! It may take 18 months of adopting this new posture and movement for it to stick, though, so stay with it!! After all, you feel great doing it anyway!
As you engage the deep stabilizers and work the movers wisely, your collagen will reorient to where the new tension patterns are. So, if you gently and consistently exercise key muscle groups, they will firm up more.
Did you know that the transversus abdominis is the primary core muscle to get your belly flat?
YES! And if you hold yourself in proper posture (especially while breastfeeding and doing loaded activities like carrying a baby), you will be working your transversus all day long. Unlike movers like the bicep, the transversus abdominis is involuntary and never gets fatigued. It gets its cue from our diaphragm, the main breathing muscle, so always remember to work on your breathing- a central focus in my book since it transformed my practice and results with my patients.
The ancient Greeks believed that if a woman took care of herself after giving birth, she could propel her health to an even greater level. And it can happen for you too!
WRITTEN BYPatricia Ladis