Core Strength in Pregnancy: It’s Deeper Than Your Six-Pack

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Megan, at about three weeks pregnant, running a 10K with her husband

I’ve always been active. And I’d say I’m still active, but in a different way, now that I’m a pregnant mom of a preschooler. However, once I realized I’d be spending 9 months with a blessing blossoming in my tummy, I knew I had to be a bit more intentional about my movement. I was diagnosed with a small “split” in my abs postpartum, but the doctor said not to worry about it. And I didn’t … until three years later, when I realized it wasn’t going to go away with an additional 20 pounds pushing on it!

 

Serendipitously, about 6 weeks into my pregnancy, I read a blog post about diastisis recti, or the technical name for that ab split. Bethany Learn, the author of the article, is founder of an amazing tummy- and mommy-safe online gym. Within just a few weeks of faithfully doing her workouts, my abs are no longer split, and are in prime shape to carry my next baby! She was gracious enough to do a Q&A for Mothering.com readers, about the importance of core strength during pregnancy.

 

 

MM: So, Bethany, why is core strength so important during pregnancy?

 

Many moms these days are looking for natural ways to help their bodies heal and become strong again after birth. We also want to improve future births and and prevent the need for intense healing by avoiding traumatic pregnancies and births in the first place. As the founder of Fit2B™ Studio, a dramatically different online exercise portal that specializes in preventing and assisting in the healing of core traumas such as diastasis recti, hernia, prolaspe, pelvic floor weakness or hypertonicity, chronic lower back pain — all while being family friendly and affordable — my biggest passion is to stand in the “gap” for those whose core needs aren’t being met by the traditional fitness industry.

 

In short, your core assists in holding your baby and your body in the proper alignment throughout pregnancy to facilitate the best positions both of you need for safe, non-traumatic birth. Your core — specifically your transverse abdominus or God-Given Girdle that wraps allll the way around your midsection — is your uterus’ biggest helper to squeeze your baby out. A strong, healthy core means a baby in the right spot ready to come out plus a faster, more effective pushing phase in labor, and often less episiotomies and other surgical outcomes.

 

 

MM: What is diastisis recti and how does it happen?

 

If your deepest core muscles are too weak to hold your body in neutral, natural alignment during pregnancy but also throughout all of life, the line of fascia that runs down the middle of your abs takes a lot of pressure from your insides and is likely to thin out and pull apart. Diastasis Recti (DR) is when the two sides of your abdominal wall move apart from each other in the front. Your belly might make a tent-shape when you sit up. When you press into your belly, your hand sinks right in {even below the “extra love” on your tummy} instead of meeting a resistive wall of muscle. You might even be able to feel organs and a gigantic jumping pulse, which means your linea alba (the connective tissue or fascia I was just talking about that holds your abs together) is so thin that your core is really no longer doing its job at all! Check your belly for a DR and learn more here {click}

 

 

MM: OK, so core strength is important! But is it OK to work on our abs during pregnancy? 

 

Movement is beneficial and necessary during pregnancy. It’s all in how you define “exercise” and “working your abs” that creates potential problems. It’s hugely important to strengthen the core before, during and after pregnancy, but most people turn directly to traditional crunches, sit ups and planks that bulge and stress your diastasis more, because that’s what they see in media and those moves are the only fodder that most personal trainers are taught … I know because I was one of them! It’s definitely okay to “work the abs,” but the attention needs to be on alignment and your deepest core muscles, including your transverse, diaphraghm, multifidus and pubococcygeus. Fit2B Studio provides routines that “work” the whole body, yet center on TummySafe principles that help maintain core integrity, rather than shred it apart!

 

 

MM: For those of us who are pregnant and know we already have a split, what now?

 

If you already can tell that your abs feel split apart, please don’t run straight to a surgeon because {hello} surgeons sell surgery. Many medical doctors and naturopathic doctors are now turning women toward specialists like Kelly Dean of The Tummy Team, whom I’ve trained under. Kelly can help you heal your gap without invasive surgery. I’ve had members close their diastasis while utilizing my program even during pregnancy! (MM: Like me!) You can read my Q & A about your abs during pregnancy here.

 

 

MM: What are the top three things pregnant women can do to avoid DR?

 

Walk. Strengthen your transverse abdominus. Align thyself. Wait, did the fitness chick with a fitness site of indoor routines just say to walk?? Yup, because it’s really the best thing ever. The alignment expert who I stalk — Katy Bowman of The Restorative Exercise Institute — said in a workshop I attended called “Beyond Kegels,” “Walking facilitates all the mechanisms necessary for life.” When you swing your arms and legs and propel yourself forward while walking, everything gets naturally flexed and stretched from the inside out. Alignment plays a huge role in your organs’ positions and your baby’s position. And a strong transverse will help keep pressure off your linea alba during strange moves (i.e. twisting around from the driver’s seat to hand your tantruming toddler a sippy cup of water while still keeping one hand on the wheel and your eyes on the road. Please do pull your navel in when you do that)

 

 

MM: I love it! Seems like common sense ideas that have been lost over time, as we’re “progressing” with new technology, eh? So last question. For the mom who says, “My baby’s born. Now what? Should I wait 6 weeks before any kind of exercise?” 

 

No! If you have a normal, vaginal birth then you can and should re-activate your transverse abdominus and pelvic floor just THREE DAYS after delivery! If you’ve had a surgical birth, then the advice among postnatal rehabilitative specialists is to wait 10 days to allow for stitches to heal well enough. At that point, you should start small, short and gentle. Fit2B Studio’s “Start Here” section has five routines you can gently recommission your abs and “deeper delicates” in functional ways after they’ve been working so hard in such a stretched-out fashion for 9 months or more! The faster you call your core home from vacation, the sooner you get your body back!
MM: Thanks, Bethany! You are helping so many moms — myself included! Keep up the great work.

 

If you’d like to read my story about healing my DR with exercise and alignment, or grab a discount code for Fit2B Studio, you can do that here!

 

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Bethany Learn has two kids (praying about another one) 6 goats, two cats, one chihuahua, 10 chickens, and a 7-acre farm. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Exercises and Sport Science from Oregon State University, and has maintained a group fitness certification for 18 years. She’s trained under Kelly Dean, licensed physical therapist of The Tummy Team, learning how to tailor her programs to meet the needs of those with diastasis recti and pelvic floor issues. Her hobbies include crocheting braided rugs out of upcycled t-shirt yarn, race-walking with two teams, and caring for her small herd of dairy goats.

 

 

 

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Megan Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, blogger, and author, rediscovering her love for exercising.  She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year to empower women to make the best choices for their families.