Wow! Let me just say I never anticipated just how weak my core would be after delivering my beautiful baby girl. For weeks I felt like jello, and looked a little like it too! Ladies don’t be fooled…you are much stronger PREGNANT than you are after delivery. After delivering my nearly 10 pound baby and ridding my body of all that associated with it my abdomen was a mess. I’m pretty sure I had intestines floating around for weeks and my organs were all in shock trying to make their way back to where they should be. All those ligaments that have been stretched out for the past 6 months were getting some relief (finally no more pain!), but still affected by relaxin they were nowhere near where they should be. Now in order to understand the concept of abdominal rehabilitation after delivery there are a few things you must know first. a) What is relaxin, and b) Basic abdominal anatomy and c) What to do before you hit the gym!
What is relaxin hormone?
Relaxin was discovered in 1926 in pregnant guinea pigs. It was shown to cause the pelvic ligaments to relax, allowing the body to accommodate the strain of pregnancy and ease the passage of offspring through the birth canal. The hormone was later demonstrated to have a role in the softening, or ripening, of the cervix through collagen remodelling. Relaxin is produced in the corpus luteum, the placenta, and the uterus in females, as well as in other reproductive structures; this varies by species. (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/496940/relaxin)
Relaxin hormone is responsible for many injuries during and after pregnancy as it is present in your body for up to 6 months after delivery! It is important to remember this as you continue your journey of health in order to take extra caution and prevent setbacks due to injury. Your ligaments and joints are loose, particularly in your back and pelvis causing instability and contributing to pain and misalignment. That extra flexibility you gained during pregnancy can work against you when you start training again, so my biggest advice is to not overdo it!
Abdominal Anatomy Overview
Your ‘abs’ are actually composed of 4 different muscles, they are arranged in layers stretching in different directions across your abdomen. Your rectus abdominus is the muscle that most people associate with a 6 pack. This is where your diastasis will be if you developed one during pregnancy! See my post here for more information. Then you have your external and internal oblique muscles, your external oblique form that nice V shape you see on the cover of Men’s Health, and the internal oblique muscles run the opposite direction providing added stability, torque, and assistance with side bending. Lastly there is the transverse abdominus which in my case is the most important to be aware of postpartum. This is the deepest muscle of your abdominals. It wraps all the way around your midline in a horizontal fashion acting essentially as a corset keeping everything together. As you can guess, with all that stretching and movement in there during pregnancy this deep core stabilizer is incredibly weak postpartum and makes even simple movements, like a squat or pushup, extremely difficult. You truly do not realize how much you use these stabilizer muscles in everything you do until you lose them!
Before you hit the gym…
Lastly, I will review some things to keep in mind before you hit the gym…this may sound a little intense but I really really want to get my point across because I have seen too many people causing permanent damage while trying desperately to lose that baby weight.
1) If you are like me and feeling good after a few weeks you may just want to jump back into what you were doing before you got pregnant…STOP RIGHT NOW! Your body needs a much needed break after all that torture you put it through! Wait the recommended 4-6 weeks postpartum before working out again or you may find yourself dealing with unnecessary postpartum complications such as bleeding, pelvic pain, incontinence, or worse. This is granted you had a regular delivery, C-section recovery is obviously more challenging and as always, everyone should consult their doctor or midwife before starting any new exercise program.
2) Remember to take it slow, if it hurts, stop, think about it, and modify. Start with a simple walk, personally I couldn’t believe how challenging even walking is after not doing anything for a while!
3) Your baby and your health come first. If you aren’t sleeping, barely eating and trying to go hard at the gym you are going to compromise not just your milk supply (if you are nursing) but also your sanity. Be kind to yourself.
4) If you have any lingering impairements from pregnancy especially diastasis recti, hip instability, pelvic floor dysfunction, healing stiches, broken tailbone, etc, etc. make sure you check with your doctor first and take the proper precautions during your workouts! Remember, even after you are cleared to workout your body is still healing and is very easily injured. I highly recommend hiring a trainer/kinesiologist/physical therapist educated and experienced in postpartum recovery. They will be able to guide you in doing proper exercises and modifications to avoid injury and gradually get back into a solid workout routine.
5) Lastly, CORE CORE, PELVIC FLOOR & MORE CORE…that is what you need to work on before even attempting any heavy lifts, strenuous movements, jumping, or anything else putting strain on those poor abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. Do you want to be incontinent and have a mummy tummy forever? If the answer is no then start doing those kegels and stay tuned to my next blog post for some exercises to do everyday!,