Your body changes drastically during pregnancy. Yet after giving birth, it doesn't quite bounce right back. All of the growing and nurturing you've gone through the past nine months can really take its toll on your muscles, skin, joints, and hormones, just to name a few. Perhaps most affected, and the most drastic and noticeable pre and post-baby difference can be found within your core, making it super important to strengthen and rebuild your core postpartum with some simple post-pregnancy exercises.
Brides spoke with prenatal, postnatal, and core exercise specialist Erica Ziel for expert advice on how to rehabilitate the region that worked so hard as a home for your baby.
Essentially, what happens to your core during and after pregnancy?
Aside from the obvious stretching and growing, Ziel explains that, "Your muscles, fascia [the layer of dense and fibrous connective tissue which surrounds individual muscles], and skin also stretch." When you focus on the fascia, she says you gain more control over the changes while they are happening, thus improving how you feel during pregnancy. As for after, having worked on the fascia during pregnancy, you just might have a smoother recovery postpartum, too.
The Most Common Struggles for Moms
According to Ziel, many women are "shocked" at how long it can take to "get their body back" after a baby.
"The expectation that you should be fully recovered and back to your pre-baby body in three months is not realistic, nor is it healthy." So, she tells her postpartum clients these three things. "1. Stop comparing yourself to other women or celebrities; 2. Be patient and show yourself grace and love; and 3. You CAN be stronger and more fit after baby."
She warns that going too hard too soon can cause unpleasant and potentially dangerous medical issues including pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence, and back pain. Ziel says, "Learning how to safely and effectively strengthen your core after baby while gradually increasing your activity level is the key to success!"
She emphasizes that, "It is NEVER too late to heal your body." So even if your baby is a bit older, don't stress. In fact, Ziel has seen women in all stages of life "drastically improve their bodies, confidence, and quality of life" through her memberships.
Timeframe For Healing and Toning
One of the more frequently asked questions regarding postpartum recovery is about the timeframe. Ziel explains that time is all dependent on recognizing that everyone's body is different. "Giving your body time to heal while also learning how to properly strengthen your core in a way that you’ve probably never been taught can lead to incredible lifelong body awareness, knowledge, and a better quality of life," she says.
What to Avoid
Whatever you do, Ziel stresses to stay away from abdominal crunches. "Absolutely NO crunches during pregnancy or those first months postpartum," she warns.
Also, she recommends avoiding moves that can cause incontinence. "If you are doing an exercise and you pee your pants—even just a little—that’s an indication that you are putting stress on your pelvic floor. Prolonged stress can lead to severe pelvic floor dysfunction, so be sure to stop these exercises immediately if this happens."
"If you notice any coning of the belly (seeing a ridge down your midline), that’s an indication that the exercise is causing too much intrabdominal," she further notes. "This can contribute to diastasis recti which can drastically slow down your recovery."
Thankfully, she provides modifications for nearly every exercise in her Pre+Postnatal Membership to help strengthen your body, safely and effectively. Then, once your body becomes strong enough, "You can begin incorporating these exercises back into your daily routine," Ziel says.
Key Post-Pregnancy Exercises to Try
For women looking to jumpstart the process of rebuilding their core, Ziel shared some of her favorite key moves you can do at home, right now.
Pelvic tilts are good for helping you to find and connect with your deep core. Your deep core includes your pelvic floor, which is a key player in your overall core strength. If you aren’t comfortable on your back, you can always do these standing.
1. Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
2. Exhale as you visualize drawing your pelvic floor together and lightly upward through your body.
3. Inhale, allowing your pelvis to float back to start.
Hip rolls are great for creating movement in your spine and strengthening your core, hamstrings, and glutes. An easy modification is substituting hip rolls for standing cat-cows.
1. Begin with a pelvic tilt as you exhale and continue to lift your hips, rolling up one vertebra at a time.
2. Inhale and hold at the top.
3. Exhale to roll back down with an emphasis on wrapping your ribcage.
Standing Cat Cows
These leave your back feeling amazing and also help strengthen your core.
1. Stand behind a chair with your hands on the chair.
2. Exhale as you begin a pelvic tilt and continue rounding your spine upwards.
3. Inhale as you lengthen your spine.
Ziel also recommends walking as a form of gentle cardio that will strengthen your hips, legs, and core. "During your walk, think about lengthening tall through the top of your head, keeping a light connection in your core to support your pelvic floor and back," she says.
An expert in her field, Ziel's best advice is classic. "I love the mantra: slow and steady wins the race. I don’t want you to be afraid of movement, but I encourage you to educate yourself, learn about your body, and increase your body awareness because these skills can dramatically benefit you now and for the rest of your life! "
Being a new mom is far from easy and quite literally every aspect of your life, including your body, has undergone a rapid transformation. In all aspects of new motherhood, and in regards to your fitness, Ziel says, "When you have discouraging moments, take a look at the amazing precious human being that YOU created! YOU birthed! YOU are doing everything for! AND give yourself love, grace, and acceptance."
She adds, "Remember, where you are today isn’t where you’ll be in three months, six months, or two years from now. It’s all about trusting the process."