Our bodies go through a lot of changes during pregnancy and postpartum recovery. One of the questions I get asked a lot by new mom’s is: When can I go back to working out my core? The answer is complicated because it is very specific to your own body. General core weakness following pregnancy is to be expected. One, your ligaments are a little bit lax due to hormonal shifts from pregnancy and breast feeding which can contribute to some instability. This combined with the fact that your abdominal muscles were stretched during pregnancy can lead to significant weakness. In some women the stretching of abdominal muscles can lead to a condition called Diastasis Recti, which is a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle (also known as your six pack muscle). This separation of the muscle causes a decrease in the stability of the core and can worsen if a woman returns to core exercises without activation of our stabilizing muscles.
As a general rule following pregnancy any exercise or movement that causes “doming/tenting” of the abdominals is something we want to avoid or modify in order to protect your core. The doming or tenting is caused when the pressure in your core is more than your stabilizing muscles can support. This will then push up on the separation and you will see a small bulge around your six pack muscle. Exercises that cause the most stress to the separation are things like sit ups and crunches. Now, just because these exercises cause a lot of stress doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do them; it just means you might have to modify them as you are getting back into exercise!
The core, pelvic floor and diaphragm should work together as a team. When one of those systems gets out of whack, as is common after pregnancy or delivery, having a Physical Therapist evaluate you can help assure you are doing things properly. So if you have any concern or question about if you have a Diastais Recti or you just want some more information how to start getting back into exercise give one of our women’s health PT’s a call and we’ll get you on the right path!
-Kate Dolan, DPT