By Clare Palmer
The weeks following pregnancy and childbirth can be exciting and challenging at the same time, and many women feel pressure to regain their pre-pregnancy shape. Images of celebrities who appear to snap back into shape straight after giving birth can be intimidating and overwhelming, but new mums should not feel pressured to look a certain way shortly after birth and in the months that follow.
Embracing what our wonderful bodies have done in creating a new life, and ignoring the pressure to bounce back into shape as soon as possible, is easier said than done. During pregnancy, the body goes through a huge amount of changes. It takes about six weeks for the uterus to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size.
Diastasis recti is a common condition which effects most women to a lesser or greater degree during pregnancy. The connective tissue (the linea alba) which joins the two halves of the rectus abdominis (the top layer of abdominal muscles), from above the belly button downwards, stretches to accommodate the growing foetus. It takes patience and time for the rectus abdominis muscles to re-connect following pregnancy.
Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) is caused when the ligaments which join both parts of the pelvis become less stable during pregnancy. It can cause pain in the pubic area, lower back and groin, so it is advisable to seek help from a physiotherapist if you are affected.
A gradual, progressive exercise programme over a period of weeks will help you regain your strength and get back to pre-pregnancy shape. It is important to get the go-ahead from a GP following the 6-week check-up. It may take more time after a caesarean section, so it’s even more pertinent to get clearance from your doctor.
Start with gentle exercises given by a qualified exercise professional, avoiding any moves which forcefully cause the abdominal wall to bulge forward, such as sit-ups and crunches. Repetitive bulging will cause the rectus abdominis to separate further. Also, resist moving on to more challenging exercises too quickly.
Work on strengthening the transversus abdominis (TVA), the deepest layer of abdominal muscles. Their fibres run horizontally, forming a natural corset around the torso. The TVA work in conjunction with the pelvic floor muscles (and the multifidus muscle located either side of the spine) to stabilise the spine and pelvis. Toned TVA muscles help flatten the tummy and narrow the waist slightly. When they are engaged correctly, the pelvic floor and multifidus will also be contracting, and visa-versa.
A qualified exercise professional will teach you how to isolate these muscles and restore their recruitment pattern before starting to strengthen them (you cannot strengthen a muscle your brain cannot activate).
Following a sensible, nutritious diet (taking into consideration calories for breastfeeding) is also key for getting back into shape. Remember that taking your time to get back into shape following pregnancy will reduce unnecessary stress during this amazing time in your life. Please don’t allow yourself to be pressured into hurrying this process.
Clare Palmer is a qualified Pilates instructor teaching a variety of classes and one-to-one in the Bromyard area, as well as further afield in Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
She has two children, aged 9 and 5.
Tel: 01885 482 279 or 07941 707 789
Facebook: Pilates with Clare Palmer
Founder and editor of FitNet.
Previously gymnastics coach, massage therapist and personal trainer with 20 years of experience. Former gymnast and dancer.