Having a baby is very exciting and VERY overwhelming. I remember when I was 7 months pregnant, I felt like I had been pregnant forever and wondered if I would ever have a waist again. Now that I'm 4 months postpartum, it feels good to have "my body back" and the freedom to move, workout and lay on my stomach but I don't quite feel "back to normal" yet. For me, the 2nd pregnancy took a toll on my tummy and I'm still struggling with the pooch. I keep telling myself each day I'm making progress and with each set of abs I'm getting that much stronger. I remember starting to workout at 6 weeks postpartum and literally could not hold my head up to do a crunch and wasn't able to do a plank on my feet so I took baby steps to brace my tummy, engage my core, & build strength.
Having strong abs is more than just feeling comfortable in a bathing suit (while that is a major perk), it is about keeping my horrible lower back pain at bay. When I was younger I used to have such terrible pain starting in my lower back and shooting down my legs that I could only sit for 20 minutes at a time.
I am pretty lucky to have a husband that is an excellent Physical Therapist- I always joke that part of the reason I fell in love with him (other than his tall, dark & handsome looks) is because he helped make my back pain go away. He happens to write a weekly article for the Hanford Sentinal based on the idea that "movement is medicine" and offers tips and advice on different topics. He recently wrote an article on exercises for postpartum moms so I thought I would share...
The 5 Most Important Exercises For New Moms by Christopher Telesmanic, DPT, OCS
The feelings that can overwhelm you when holding a newborn baby are indescribable, but all too often, mixed in with some of those emotions is a little – or a lot – of back pain. Most women experience some back pain during the later stages of pregnancy, but expect that it will resolve once they give birth. This isn’t always the case, however, as some pain can linger – if this sounds familiar then read on.
Even in an uncomplicated pregnancy, the normal hormone changes, the expected weight gain, and decreased levels of activity can all contribute directly to back pain. The spine becomes increasingly overloaded and unstable and therefore predisposed to pain. For more complicated pregnancies, like those with the diagnosis of Diastis Recti, Symphisis Pubic Dysfunction, and Post partum Pelvic Pain, the pain can be different, but should be treated in a similar way.
The most important muscles to focus on in order to address this dysfunction are the pelvi floor muscles, the transveres abdominus and the Obliques. These muscles in particular act to provide stability to the hips, pelvis and spine which creates a foundation from which your arms and legs work. The 5 best exercises to do to target these muscles are:
1. Abdominal Bracing: Begin by lying face-up on the floor. Brace your abdomen by contracting your entire abdomen as if you were preparing to get hit in the stomach. This is your starting position. From here, perform different movements such as raising one or both arms overhead or extending your legs while keeping your back flat against the floor
2. Pelvic Tilt: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor or propped on a ball. Brace your abdomen and tilt your pelvis back by pressing your lower back into the floor. Hold this position for five seconds then repeat. [It's me.. this may seem boring but I promise it is effective. Connect your breath to your movements. You can also tilt your pelvis up, or "tuck" up, these tiny movements will engage your deepest core muscles.]
3. Yoga Boat: Sit on the floor with your knees bent. Brace your abdomen, slightly lean your torso back while lifting your feet off the floor. Lift until your shins are parallel with the floor, your back is straight and your hips are flexed to ninety degrees. Extend your arms forward to a comfortable position to help maintain your balance. Hold here for at least thirty seconds. [ I'm inserting my thoughts here… To begin- keep your legs bent, parallel to the floor and each time practice straightening your legs more and more until they are straight. Then point your toes, yikes, I did not show that nicely.]
4. Dolphin Plank: Place your elbows on the top of a stability ball and extended your legs out behind. Brace your abdomen and hips, straighten your back and hold the position for at least thirty seconds. This exercise is basically just a standard plank but you’re adding in the instability of the ball. [If I may insert my 2cents again, start with a regular plank on your knees and gradually build to plank on your toes, then onto the ball… remember baby steps]
5. Side Plank: Lie on your side with your elbow under your shoulder. Stack your hips and feet, stabilize your core, and lift your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line. Hold here for at least thirty seconds. Repeat on the other side. Add ten to twenty leg lifts to the side plank to further improve hip strength and stability
As with any new program, but especially one that you are starting after a pregnancy, take your time and gradually progress yourself into these exercises. Pick two or three to start performing on a regular basis, and if they are tolerated well, add to the program incrementally until you’ve tried all five.