It can feel like you’re doing all the right things. You’re eating well, you’re doing cardio, you’ve even got an ‘ab’ routine.
And yet somehow, your stomach muscles don’t seem to be quite doing their job right ever since you had kids.
You don’t really know why.
You just see a protruding belly (and maybe some occasional back pain or bladder leakage) and feel frustrated.
But you know what? It isn’t your fault.
There are key steps we are meant to follow in postpartum exercise. And if we don’t, these issues don’t get better.
And with the fitness boom and “6 pack abs” somewhere along the way women have stopped being taught what to do to fix this problem.
I definitely wasn’t taught when I had my baby. I left the hospital feeling overwhelmed and rather ill-equipped and my tummy was the last thing on my mind.
But when I tried to go for help - I couldn’t find it. So I used my 15 years in orthopaedic rehabilitation and started the journey on my own.
Since then I have worked with literally hundreds of women to regain their abdominal function and tone post baby (even years post baby) and here are 3 major things I see missing for women who don’t have abdominals that are working well:
With all the “fitness ab exercises” out there, most of us aren’t used to connecting to our transverse abdominis muscle. Instead we use our rectus abdominis - which is the 6 pack muscle that runs down the front of the torso. (see image below)
This is the one that does all the crunches, the v sits, the ab bicycles, and the sit ups. Most people also overuse it during planks (but that’s a whoooole other topic).
This muscle is for flexing (bending) the spine - a.k.a - crunching; and also for bracing (think about tensing up the abs like someone is about to punch you and notice where you feel it).
The transverse abdominis however, is designed to lift your abdominal contents both up and in. It’s nickname is literally the corset - because that’s one of it’s primary functions. It wraps around the entire torso (which means it helps with back pain too).
Now here’s why it’s totally normal if yours isn’t working well right now….
When we’re pregnant, the transverse abdominis stretches to make way for the baby, and essentially switches off.
Once you reach the second trimester you can’t really feel it working anymore. It doesn’t want to pull everything up in and in while you’re growing a baby. It wants to lengthen and make room.
This is normal and exactly what is supposed to happen.
After birth though (this is the step most of us miss), we are supposed to then reconnect to our pelvic floor and the transverse abdominis -because they are designed to co-contract. That means one isn’t supposed to work without the other.
So this is the part that is meant to co-work with the deep core muscle we just talked about.
As you draw the pelvic floor in, the transverse abdominis should activate to lift everything up and in. And once you learn how to do this correctly, you’ll noticed that you don’t get as a good an activation of that deep core muscle without the pelvic floor.
These days we are taught to clench the pelvic floor in isolation, which is what I would call “acute rehab”. During the first 6-8 weeks post birth, it’s necessary.
1 - control
2 - integration
Working any muscle in isolation is limiting. If you have ever had rehab on any other part of your body, you know that it’s important to train it back into movement as soon as you can - and train it correctly. The abdominals are no different.
90% of the 3000 women we surveyed last year didn’t know how to activate their pelvic floor adequately in order to prepare them for being able to move leak free, pain free.
This is one that is often talked about, because an unhealed separation can literally cause a visual protrusion of the belly, especially when the torso is compressed (like when you sit down and slouch).
Diastasis Recti (DRAM) is when the connective tissue down the front of the torso (the linea alba), that runs in between that 6 pack muscle , stretches to make way for the baby.
As it stretches, the left and right side of the rectus abdominis literally move away from each other - creating an ‘abdominal separation’.
1 — accidentally doing exercises that make separation worse : which is anything that uses the rectus abdominis as the prime mover before it’s healed (think crunches, sit ups, v sits).
2 — the first 2 things we talked about above.
I have seen women heal DRAM many years after birth, so don’t let how old your kids are stop you from seeing if it can be taken care of.
It’s never too late to heal and strengthen your abdominals.
If you’ve been blaming yourself because ‘nothing has worked’ so far, maybe it isn’t you - maybe it’s been your training.
“I had tried a bunch of programs, and while I got a bit of improvement, I always ended up feeling disappointed because my back pain and poochy belly always came back. I persisted with the 3 levels of this program and now my stomach is flatter than before I had my first son 15 years ago. I feel strong and secure through my whole body now."
Kate, 41, Teacher
The Postpartum Method is a 3 level program that takes women through the correct healing sequences needed for their core and pelvic floor.
It then progresses to developing whole body strength and fitness so that the results last. It is the most comprehensive program currently available.