You were asked to gain 15 – 35 lbs. over the course of nine months. Around 6 weeks postpartum, your body is considered “normal” in the fact that everything is back in its place. Your blood volume, uterus size, swelling etc. have all returned to their original size/place. But you are left with loose muscles, extra fat, fluid retention for breastfeeding and sometimes some cellulite that did not reside on your thighs prior to getting pregnant.
A lot of this happens rather quickly, but as you can see your body is going through a lot of changes. Weight loss comes from: amniotic fluid, placenta, blood volume, breast tissue, fat storage, swelling & urination and the uterus involution (the uterus returning to its normal size). If you had a C-section, as you recover from major surgery, your body is doing a lot of healing.
While cardiac output increases blood volume by 30 – 40 percent and your heart rate speeds up 10 – 15 bpm by the end of your 2nd trimester, ALL systems decrease in activity within 2 – 3 DAYS of your baby’s arrival. All returning entirely normal by 6 weeks postpartum. Women have a much higher blood volume during pregnancy, higher hormones … all of this does not vanish overnight. You might feel a “crash” within several days of giving birth.
Notice how hard your body is working in the first few weeks postpartum, it is a delicate time for your body. And throw in a newborn’s sleep schedule or c-section on top of that!
You can resume exercise once your doctor gives you permission:
Vaginal deliveries — this usually happens at the 4 week postpartum appointment.
C-Section deliveries — this usually happens at the 6 or 8 week postpartum appointment.
*Post c-section you will need to engage your core in non-traditional ab exercises – you will find these in our Prenatal & Postnatal Exercise Guide.
It’s important to gauge your expectations in getting your body back. Around 9 – 12 months postpartum you might be back to your pre-pregnancy weight. Anything before that is simply unrealistic. You can read more about that in our Prenatal & Postnatal Exercise Guide.
Your body is remarkably adaptable, and your recovery to pre-pregnancy hormone levels, uterus size, and so on is a postpartum miracle. Your core muscles are just as adaptable, but you have to use all abdominal muscles to make them bounce back. You cannot expect them to bounce back unless you – by, you guessed it, doing core exercises. We don’t expect to run a 10k race by not running…so we can’t expect our tummy muscles to bounce back by not exercising.
Crunches work the rectus abdominis, while the transverse abdominis is often not cued. Using the transverse abdominis muscle is a big part of your postnatal abs. The TA is a thick layer of muscle that runs from hip to hip, wrapping around the torso from front to back. The muscle fibers of the TA run horizontally, similar to a corset or a weight belt. These muscles are your true core muscles, and strengthening them will give you power and tone your entire body.
During pregnancy your transverse abdominis and pelvic floor support that baby. So wouldn’t it be wise to work those muscles to get your stomach to go back to the way it was?
Vaginal deliveries with midline episiotomies, especially 4th degree (1st being smallest) can create dysfunction of the pelvic floor, which also interrupts core function. Several of the tools and instruments that doctors use to assist you in giving birth, vacuums and forceps, for example, can cause PF dysfunction.
Whether you have a vaginal delivery or a C-section the pelvic floor and the TA act as a sling to your baby. Which is why you need to train these specific muscles to get back the integrity and strength of your core before returning to traditional abdominal exercises.
Below you will find an effective core workout to help your core muscles after pregnancy. Whether you had a c-section or vaginal delivery these exercises will help you create a flat, strong stomach. Don’t push too hard too soon and get your doctor’s permission before performing! Note: As much as we want to focus on the core, your body needs aerobic (cardio) + full body strength exercises. You can find these in our Postnatal Workout Library.
TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS BRACING
Setup: Begin lying on your back with your knees bent, feet resting on the floor, and your fingers resting on your stomach just inside your hip bones.
Tighten your abdominals, drawing your belly button in towards your spine. You should feel your muscle contract under your fingers. Hold this position, then relax and repeat. If this exercise is brand new to you, keep your back flat against the floor, without titling your pelvis, and breath throughout the exercise. Do this exercise frequently throughout the day to train your brain to contract the TA in functional positions (lifting your child, unloading laundry, driving in the car, etc.) Perform for 30 – 60 seconds.
TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS SIDE BRACING
Setup: Begin lying on your side with your knees bent, feet resting on the floor, and the fingers of your top hand resting on your stomach — just inside your hip bone.
Tighten your abdominals, drawing your belly button in towards your spine. You should feel your muscle contract under your fingers. Hold this position, then relax and repeat. Breathe. Perform for 30-60 seconds.
BENT KNEE FALLOUTS
Setup: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet resting flat on the floor.
Tighten your abdominals. Without letting your hip bones move, slowly lower one knee out towards the floor – only as far as you can without your pelvis moving. Slowly return to starting position. Alternate with other leg, repeat. Brace your core so your pelvis is stationary. Perform for 30-60 seconds.
Setup: Begin lying on your back with both legs bent and your feet resting on the ground.
Tighten your abdominals. This will engage your deep core muscles to lift your hips off the ground into a bridge, hold. Lower by rolling down one vertebrae at a time, then repeat. Your body should be in a straight line at the top of the movement. Keep your hips level throughout the exercise. Perform for 30-60 seconds.