In addition to the new bundle of joy in your arms, there’s a lot to adjust to after having a baby. This includes a stomach that’s just sort of sitting there and stomach muscles that are feeling a little weaker than usual after your last months of pregnancy. Getting your body back after giving birth takes time, and the first step is getting your physician’s okay to start exercising again. After your body has had time to recover post-delivery, you can start strengthening your abdominal muscles.
Checking for Abdominal Separation
The first exercise you should do once your doctor has given you the okay for post-pregnancy exercise is check for abdominal muscle separation. During pregnancy, your abdominal wall can weaken and separate, a condition known as diastasis recti. Test for this condition by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place the pinkie side of your left hand just above your belly button with your palm facing toward you and your right hand on your upper thigh. Take a deep breath in and breathe out as you lift your head and shoulders and move your right hand toward your knee. Use your left hand to feel for any separation in your abdominal muscle. If you can fit more than three fingers in the separation, you may need to wait to train your muscles or perform less-strenuous exercises, according to BabyCenter. The gap should close in about four to eight weeks post-pregnancy.
The pelvic tilt is an abdominal strengthening exercise that does not put excess strain on your post-baby stomach muscles. To perform, lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Focus on contracting your abdominal muscles and lift your pelvis toward your head, creating a “C” curve with your lower body. Hold for three seconds, and then lower. Repeat three to four times, adding repetitions as you are able.
Leg slides are another abdominal postpartum exercise that tightens the tummy. To perform, lie on your back with your feet on the ground and lift your toes, leaving only your heels on the ground. Breathe out and contract your abdominal muscles and slowly slide your legs out to almost straighten them. Take a deep breath in as you bring your legs back toward your starting position. Repeat three to four times.
Exercises to Avoid
While stomach crunches may be the go-to exercise for most abdominal training programs, they aren’t ideal for post-baby exercise, according to Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University, who was interviewed in “Parents” magazine. That’s because the crunch targets the rectus abdominis muscles on the front of your stomach, which tend to be overstretched during pregnancy. Putting too much strain on these muscles post-pregnancy could strain the muscles, meaning you may not experience the strengthening results you were hoping for.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.