Healthy exercising will give you a lot of benefits, but there are other factors that also play a significant role in strengthening your body, especially your core. We all strive to get our ‘mom tummy’ as flat as possible. We are always looking for that miracle ab exercise or diet that will fix it, but unfortunately, it’s never that easy! Getting back our pre-pregnancy tummy requires an individual approach, since every postpartum body is so different. There are a lot more elements to consider than just doing a “100 crunches a day”. In this article I would like to draw your attention to some of the factors that contribute to strengthening your core. No matter how many exercises you do on a daily basis it won’t help you to heal it if you don’t take into account these other factors.
I’m a postpartum self-care coach, so you can imagine that I do everything I can to support my body to be healthy. What I mean by that is, yes, I do exercises for my body, including my core, to keep it healthy and strong. But the actual exercises I do are not only those that I do on my yoga mat.
These are the factors I want you to think about:
(1) Body alignment – poor alignment can contribute to the problem that you already have or even develop new ones.
(2) Breathing habits – unhealthy habits like sucking in your tummy to fake flatness can mess up the whole breathing process, not to mention to push your organs where they don’t belong.
(3) Diet choices – it’s not healthy to lose weight in early postpartum.
(4) Wearing tight clothes (to hide that tummy) – those tight clothes can contribute to that stretch of your connective tissue on your tummy, to worsen the feel and look of your abdomen.
All of these factors matter when you want to get your body back healthy.
So, what can we do about these?
Below I’ll discuss each of these factors in more detail and give you some tips on how to take these factors into account when we exercise.
1. The alignment of your body matters.
When we are in a class practicing Yoga or Pilates or any fitness routine, we’re paying attention to our body alignment, at least we’re trying. Why? Because we target a specific muscle group and we want to make sure that what we are working on (for example abs) is working. Also, we’re keeping the proper alignment to make sure we don’t injure or don’t contribute to past injuries.
And this is all very good. But what I think most of us (including myself in the past) aren’t thinking about is our body alignment when we are moving and performing our regular day to day activities. Activities like lifting your baby, vacuuming the floor, reaching up to the top shelves in a grocery store, etc.. Those movements are exercises too. We just haven’t trained ourselves to pay attention to it. When those daily “exercises” are performed with a “wrong” alignment it can definitely contribute to problems like “mom tummy”, straining those connective tissues on your belly muscles (also known as Diastasis Recti). And no matter how many “crunches” you do a day, it will be really hard to get what you’re trying to achieve.
Also if we do move our body in the wrong way many times a day for the past 35 years (or take your age), our body adjusts to it and accepts it as normal.
And the way we move may not feel bad, it actually may even feel nice, but it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It contributes to our “mom tummy” problems. Whenever your alignment is off, your body compensates, shifts and moves your weight, resulting in pains and aches.
So, the first thing you need to do is to be aware of that. This doesn’t mean you have to be thinking before every single movement you’re about to do. This would drive you crazy! But you need to be aware of your body and how it “holds” itself with gravity is important.
Here are the directions for alignment I give when working with moms one-on-one or in my group classes.
On the mat.
Place your feet hip width apart and flat on the ground.
Your weight should be distributed evenly throughout your foot, so in profile view (looking at you from the side), your legs are perpendicular (or 90 degree) to the floor.
Your pelvis is neutral, which often means that your hip bones are directly under your lower ribs.
Keep your tummy soft (which means – do not suck it in).
Chest should be open. (which means – do not slide your shoulders forward)
Shoulders and spine are neutral
Chin is parallel to the floor.
When sitting on a chair:
Your feet should be wide, in line with your knees
Your sitting bones are in contact with the surface your sitting on
Knees are a little wider than you hips
Toes are pointed forward
Feet are flat on the floor
Your shoulders should be relaxed and aligned with your ears (don’t slide them forward or back)
Chin should be parallel to the floor.
(While I don’t recommend sitting for a long period of time, our life is filled with sitting activities. Especially, when you are a mom and your feet are so sore and legs cannot hold your body anymore, since you were up all night. Sitting might be the only time when you can have some kind of rest.
In this article, I show you the position to seat on a bench. But I recommend you always move your body as much as possible, preferably mindfully. ;-))
These are two healthy examples of positions that we can do on and off the mat.
But of course, when you go back to your house chores you forget about this alignment, because it’s not your “fitness practice” that you paid for ;). We leave these alignments in the fitness class and we don’t pay attention to our alignment in our daily life. Don’t worry, I’m totally there with you too! I don’t always remember to “fix” my alignment, but I practice fixing it as much as I can remember, hoping that one day it’ll become automatic to me.
My main advice here is to pay attention to how you move throughout your day and where in your body you feel tension. Practice the alignment above while you’re standing still (like cooking or waiting in line in the grocery store, etc.).
2. Breathing habit.
Have you ever paid attention to what kind of breathing you do throughout your day? Just in a “normal” day and state of mind. How is your chest and belly moving? Do you fill up your lungs to the top or are you more of a shallow breather? Have you noticed if you suck in your tummy to make it look flat and therefore your breath is short? I never ever asked myself those questions before I started practicing yoga. I’m really happy that I do it now, as it totally connects to my well-being and, surprisingly, to my body appearance.
Let me explain.
When we were born, naturally we knew how to breathe, filling up our lungs and letting that diaphragm muscle freely open and close. The key word is “freely”. Now imagine when you’re ”holding” your tummy in and holding your breath, or breathing shallow. For a few minutes (for a self-portrait ;)) it doesn’t harm. But if you do it on a daily basis, it can create tension inside (called intra-abdominal pressure) that further pushes your organs where they’re not supposed to be and stretches your linea alba (the connective tissue that holds your tummy muscles together).
This also happens if you wear a bra that is too tight, or if you round your back and “close” your chest which doesn’t allow the proper flow of oxygen into your body. (not to mention that internal organs also need sufficient amounts of oxygen too to work efficiently). This results in the intra-abdominal pressure pushing on the connective tissue (on your tummy) and further stretching it out, so then in most cases it will look like “mummy pooch”.
Now, bringing proper alignment to that.
Imagine that your whole torso is a tube. And this tube needs a free flow of oxygen at all times. It also has a pressure inside in order to get air flow into the lungs. So, when you’re standing with “proper” alignment, the air flows easily and supports all your tube’s insides as well as the walls.
Now, imagine you bend your knee and therefore you shift your weight towards one side.
Notice how that “tube” (your torso) changes its shape? It’s kind of folded on one side and (diaphragm cannot open fully and freely) therefore there isn’t an easy flow of oxygen anymore. And further this pressure (that is inside) pushes in a wrong way, to the wall of this tube. It creates tension and further weakens the wall. Now this “wall” is your connective tissue on your abdomen. So, breathing matters, as it contributes to the pressure inside (intra-abdominal pressure) that creates a healthy (or not healthy) air flow.
Side note here: when you are doing your exercising or lifting something you should breathe and totally activate your core. (Check out my blog on postpartum yoga breathing technique). But please don’t confuse core activation with sucking your tummy in!
When we are in proper alignment our core muscles are working, even if you let your tummy out relaxed. So the key here is to not suck in your tummy to fake flatness but rather just change the way you stand or sit.
3. Diet Choices.
Fat Loss. Yes, that stubborn fat in our tummies. Oh boy… I have so many different feelings on this subject. First of all, IT IS NORMAL! Our body was storing and cultivating this fat for 9+ months in order to be able to grow a baby, protect and accommodate this baby with everything it needs when growing inside us. But, for some reason ( thanks to social media) we moms freak out if our belly fat does not melt away after we give birth.
Naturally, it’s not healthy to lose fat in early postpartum.
But because we want to look like celebrities or Queens of fitness, we tend to dream about getting this “gorgeous” skinny-flat-tummy body, and we want it today! I’m guilty too, don’t take me wrong. I do whatever is in my power to healthily lose weight, improve my tummy and overall body appearance.
But it’s important to remember that part of being a mom is to be proud of yourself and proud of your body! It went through so much physical, hormonal, emotional changes to grow and deliver a human being. So, we should be really proud that our body did this! We shouldn’t shame our body for looking a certain way.
Our body is not meant to be skinny after we had a baby, as our body needs that fat to generate milk and energy, and capacity for healing. Our belly is not meant to go flat fast after having a baby, as there is work that needs to be done within your tummy, such as your organs needing to re-arrange themselves, (and there are a lot of components to that). There are also pathologies and injuries that contribute to our mom belly, like Diastasis Recti, pelvic floor dysfunction, etc.
Side note: We, as moms, really need to lower our expectations in regards to our body appearance. It’s absolutely not healthy to ask your body to lose all that baby weight and get your tummy flat in early postpartum.
With that being said, I totally agree, that healthy eating should be a habit of every person. I don’t like recommending any particular diets (unless it’s an early postpartum diet that you can find in my FREE Guide for postpartum). But I just want to emphasise here that eating ice-cream and chips will not help you get that “gorgeous” looking flat-tummy body. You know that yourself. I’d say that you should always eat healthy, lots of hydration and fiber and eliminate the intake of junk for sure.
Focus on getting healthier rather than skinnier.
Second of all, once you start moving your body and taking care of it, the weight loss comes naturally and it’s the healthiest way.
4. Wearing tight clothes.
And last one, very quickly – please throw away your skinny jeans! Tight jeans, pants and belts contribute to the problem with abs. The intra-abdominal pressure inside your trunk weakens the connective tissue on your tummy that pushes it to strain even more. Furthermore, wearing those skinny jeans weakens the connective tissue (worsening Diastasis Recti), which will not look or feel good at all. And even if you don’t have diastasis recti it can be the first step to its development. (for further reading, Katy Bowman has a wonderful book called Diastasis Recti (this is not sponsored. I genuinely love this book).
Personally, for me, I love working out in “loose pants” or if I buy leggings, I buy a size bigger so I feel minimal tension in my belly.
After having a baby, you want your tummy flat and your body skinny. But there is a lot more to that than just joining the gym. It takes day-to-day training on our posture adjustments, freely breathing learning, diet changing and throwing away those tight clothes ;).
I know it all sounds too difficult, but honestly, once you start your program (any kind of program you do) and start paying attention to your body sensations and feelings and comfort and challenges, you will learn very fast what’s good and what’s not so good for your body.
And maybe body acceptance will get emotionally easier for you as you will understand how important and wonderful your body is.
Send me an email, or book a call with me. We can chat about specific issues or just a friendly girl-chat – it will cost you nothing.
I hope you have a wonderful day!
P.S.: If you want more info on alignment and natural movement, two great reference books are “The Roll Model” by Jill Miller and “Alignment Matters” by Katy Bowman. (these are not sponsored. I’m a genuine fan of these authors).
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