How to Restore Your Core Postpartum | By Lara Catone
As a yoga teacher and doula, I have discovered that healing the core postpartum does not require hundreds of kegels and crunches. In my experience, the body does much better when slowly building on a solid foundation. This begins with relearning your body after the changes of pregnancy and childbirth.
Your core consists of your diaphragm, the muscles of the abdomen and low back, and the pelvic floor (the hammock of muscles at the base of your pelvis that stretch from your pubic bone to your tailbone).
Here are step by step instructions on how to feel these muscles and begin to bring them on board in all of your daily movements.
Breath Awareness - The first step in regaining integrity in the core postpartum is to simply reconnect to it with your breath. These are the very first exercises you can begin right after having your baby. There are two types of breathing to practice.
Pelvic Breathing - Gently inhale into the bowl of your pelvis. Notice the bones of the pelvis and the muscles in between. See if you can feel a slight expansion as you inhale and a relaxation on the exhale. There is no need to add any squeezing or tightening, just sense the muscles.
Belly Breathing - Gently inhale into the low belly. As you breathe in, let the belly soften and expand. As you exhale, allow the belly to relax back to its resting state. Note: Many people are used to sucking their bellies in when they inhale and pushing them out when they exhale. It may take a bit of practice to learn to reverse this way of breathing. You can think of softly blowing air into your belly, like blowing up a balloon on the inhale and the air leaving on the exhale.
Find Transversus Abdominis - Your transversus abdominis (TA) is your own inner belly band. It is the deepest abdominal muscle and wraps from the low back around to the front of your midsection. It is a large muscle that runs the length from your low ribs to your hip bones. The TA supports all of your abdominal organs and your posture.
Sit up tall with your back against a wall or straight back chair for support. Inhale into your belly as you exhale. Imagine an inner corset wrapping from back to front, and hug these muscles toward your midline as you draw your belly back toward your spine. This is different than the habit of sucking your belly in that many women are used to. Instead, the belly button draws back, and the ribs and hip bones movetoward the center. It's a hugging in rather than a sucking in.
Posture - Now that you've found your TA, you can use it to support you as you move around in the world, and you will strengthen your core simultaneously. Engage your TA about 25-30% of the time while sitting, feeding your baby, and walking. While lifting things or standing up from sitting, engage your TA as much as 60-70%. Build up to using your TA more and more over time, and continue to breathe into your belly and side waist. Avoid the pitfall of over stiffening and not breathing.
Walk - Walking is one of the best exercises for toning your pelvic floor, and when you bring your TA on board, you'll also be building abdominal strength. You will also be getting some cardio and enjoying fresh air. A good pair of sneakers with arch support will make all the difference. Walk around barefoot as much as possible when you are at home and around your yard.
Squat - The squat is the queen of pelvic floor exercises, so you can ditch all of the kegels and start squatting each day! Here's a way to come into a squat that is easy on the knees. Stand with your feet a little bit wider than hip distance, and allow your toes to turn out about 45 degrees. Engage your TA, bend your knees enough to keep the spine straight as you fold from the hinge at your waist and bring your hands to the floor. Then bend your knees completely, dropping your butt toward the floor. This will take you into a full, low squat. Be sure that the toes and knees are pointing in the same direction. If your heels do not touch the floor, fold up a yoga mat or blanket and place it underneath them.
Postpartum recovery is a gentle and patient process. Be sure to balance any exercise with lots of rest, water, and a variety of healthy foods. Time is one of your best partners in restoring your core. Instead of focusing on what your body used to be, celebrate the subtle changes toward strength and health that happen over time.