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Abdominal exercises are very important postpartum, especially in the early stages when your uterus and abdominal muscles are contracting. If you are breastfeeding, your body is getting some extra help to get back to normal because the breastfeeding hormones also signal uterus contractions. There are some ways you can help your uterus contract and go back to normal size, and there are also some exercises that will help your abs to the same! The first stage is the uterus contracting and decreasing in size, followed by your abs repairing and recovering from being stretched out. There are some very important exercises I can go over to help your core come back.
Just because your uterus is back to normal, doesn’t mean your abs should be too.
In the early weeks and month or so postpartum, your uterus is contracting and shrinking. The more you breastfeed, the more uncomfortable contractions you will get, which in turn means your uterus is headed back to where it started. I never felt the contractions with my first baby, but with my second and third they were very uncomfortable. I just kept reminding myself it was good because my uterus was healing itself. I was an on-demand breastfeeding mom, who also coslept and breastfed through the night, which really helped my uterus shrink back pretty quickly. Once your uterus is back to normal, your abs have more space to continue coming back together. The process for the abdominal muscles is much different than the uterus.
Your abs don’t shrink, but come back together after separation.
The uterus is like a balloon deflating. Your core is more like a jacket with a zipper in the middle. The zipper has been undone, with the open stretching larger and larger through pregnancy. After baby arrives, specific exercises can help your abs come closer and closer together to help get that zipper to zip back up.
Now, it is important to note that the “zipper” in this case is the fascia or tissue between your abs. If this has been stretched multiple times in multiple pregnancy, or super far from twins or a large baby, it may not be able to regain the strength it once had. This depends on your genetics and age mostly. The fascia itself my lose some elasticity, leaving you with a finer or so gap between your muscles. This isn’t a big deal, and perfectly normal after pregnancy. It is the larger gaps that linger for months and years after babies that are really in need of some attention. To avoid this type of gap, here are the most important exercises you can do postpartum to heal your core.
I have a full, in-depth video of these exercises you can watch, as well as explanations and lists below!
Vacuum breaths are very simple to perform, and you can do them while you are in the shower! Simply stand and practice inhaling and filling your lungs with air. Then, as you exhale pull your abs in and hold. The key is to really think about sucking your abs in like they are being vacuumed.
Tilted Vacuum Breaths:
These are vacuum breaths while leaning over a kitchen counter, windowsill or wall to add a little resistance. With a slight tilt, you can build more strength without the falling out that happens during a plank. Planks are great for advance ab work, but after just having a baby, our abs are not strong enough to hold everything together.
Balancing Vacuum Breaths:
Continuing with the vacuum breaths, stand and lift one leg while doing your breath. Hold your leg up with the contraction so more core muscles are engaged. This will help develop the supporting muscles surrounding the abs that were separated during pregnancy.
These are classic for postpartum recovery for a reason. By lying on your back you can focus more on the abs themselves and practice pulling them in. Take a deep breath and pull your abs in as you exhale. At the same time tilt your pelvis up without using your glutes.
Heel slides take the pelvic tilt a little further and help strengthen your pelvis as well. Take a deep breath in, as you exhale tilt your pelis and pull your abs in. While holding slide both heels. This should all be in one breath.
Bridges are important to building core strength as well as supporting hip and glute strength. Start by doing your pelvic tilt, but instead of tilting your pelvis, push yourself up in a bridge position. Hold at the top. Inhale and exhale while still holding your bridge and pull your abs in at the top Then inhale as you slowly lower down to the floor.
These abdominal exercises need to be done 5 days a week consistently.
If you are struggling with walking yourself through these exercises, you can try my full program with more videos that walk you through the movements as if you are in a Pilates class. I take you through the reps and all the moves you need to do for three weeks. There is a tremendous advantage to simply having a program to follow, but you can start with just these moves and still get very far. If you have severe separation, a program may be a better way to go.
Also, remember that losing extra weight makes a HUGE difference in the pooch!
You won’t be able to see much improvement if you have extra weight around your midsection. I have a specific diet for breastfeeding mamas that helps with weight loss without losing milk supply. This protein powder is also amazing for breastfeeding mamas because it helps with sugar cravings! In my program, The Postpartum Cure, I have everything you need in an app, so you can repair your core and lose the weight while breastfeeding!