When we hear the word core, many of us think of the six pack muscles, but our core actually consists of our entire trunk, including our back and pelvis, not just our abs. When we talk about our “inner core” we are not talking about our six-pack muscles which are the rectus abdominus, but instead are referring to the Transverse Abdominus. The Transverse Abdominus (“TA” - the corset muscles that run horizontally and hold in our organs and act to pull in everything else around our midsection).
During pregnancy the TA and pelvic floor muscles together create a “sling” that holds your baby. As your baby grows these muscles are stretched out and become loose and weakened. After you have your baby it is important to rebuild our TA and pelvic floor. Standard core movements such as crunches focus on the rectus abdominus, or six pack muscles as opposed to the TA, and if performed incorrectly can cause damage to a healing core. Before moving into such exercises it is important to first learn how to identify your inner core and rebuild it.
You need to activate these muscles during your workouts to help rebuild and strengthen them. This will build a strong foundation for the core. Also, performing exercises here you contract your TA and stabilize your core throughout the movement will help improve Diastasis Recti in the postnatal period. Doing exercises that create further intra-abdominal pressure before DR has healed can widen a diastasis.
Avoid exercises that create intra-abdominal pressure until your TA and pelvic floor have been strengthened and the abdominal wall fascia has been allowed to heal. Even if no DR is present focusing on strengthening the foundation of the core before moving onto exercises that target the rectus abdominus will help maintain the integrity of the inner core, improve posture, reduce pain, and allow you to achieve a flat belly.
Performing abs exercises that create intra-abdominal pressure, such as planks and crunches without activating the TA properly can prevent healing of abdominal fascia, worsen an existing DR, and cause a protruding lower belly instead of a flat one.
Even if it has been a long time since you had your last baby, if you never worked on strengthening your inner core, or if you have been performing exercises that create intra-abdominal pressure and only focus on building the six-pack muscles, you could still be suffering from a weak inner core and the effects of that such as a lower belly that pooches out or even a diastasis that has never healed.
So, the core exercises that we should be performing in the postpartum period will focus on learning to activate our TA and then will help us to progressively strengthen our entire core starting from the inside out. This type of core focus will be beneficial to all mothers, regardless of the length of time since you had your last child.