The Truth About Abdominals During And After Pregnancy
By Tiffani Bachus
As a mother of three children, I know first hand what a body goes through to have a child. Your midsection stretches and grows to an unbelievable size. It's an amazing process...but what tends to follow is the fear that your abs will never go back to their original size. For some women to have a flat tummy would be a dream following childbirth. While others desire not only to a flat tummy but the "ideal" rock-hard abs. Mothers read on!!!! I believe that with hard work, proper eating, and the right information, your dream abs can be in your future.
Changes in Pregnancy
Some women experience diastasis during pregnancy, a separation of the two halves of the rectus abdominis muscle in the middle of their belly. Diastasis can occur at any time during the pregnancy. While the separation usually heals on its own over time, it's very likely that when one begins strenuous abdominal exercises before the diastasis has healed this problem can be exacerbated. To check for separation, lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor (like you are going to do a crunch). Raise your head and shoulders off of the floor and place your finger tips in the hollow space 1 to 2 inches below your bellybutton, fingers pointing toward your feet. Lift your head as high as you can and see if you feel a ridge protruding from the midline of your abdomen. Visible signs of diastasis include; "stomach bulge" and "pooched belly". If you experience diastasis after childbirth, first and foremost don't start ab exercises the minute you get home from the hospital. Give the abdominals a chance to repair on their own. See the section entitled Abdominal Exercises Post-Partum below for further tips and exercises to help close the separation.
Abdominal Exercises During Pregnancy
Abdominal crunches while lying on your back are fine during your first trimester if there is no discomfort but avoid lying on your back after the forth month. During pregnancy, your goal is to keep your core strong which will help prevent back pain. Begin with contracting the deep abdominals (transverses).
1. Standing or sitting cross-legged with your back against a wall. Inhale, expanding your belly and filling your lungs. Exhale, pulling your navel in and up to the back of the waist. Avoid tilting your hips. Start with one set of five reps and gradually increase to 15 sets.
2. Get on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Keep your elbows and back in a neutral position. Inhale, pulling your belly button up towards your spine and hold for five seconds. Make sure your back is not rounded or swayed (keep a neutral spinal position). Exhale and release without letting your back sag. Start with one set of five reps and gradually increase to 15 sets.
Abdominal Exercises Post-Partum
It takes 9 months to have a baby, and although you may be anxious to get back your pre-pregnancy figure, there is no reason to rush. It typically takes six weeks for the pelvis, hips and connecting muscles to realign. The following exercise can be done starting the day after child birth. This exercise is very beneficial for women that experience diastasis. Please check with your OB if you had a cesarean. 1. While lying in bed, bend both knees and hands on top of your belly. Keeping your pelvis in neutral spine (avoid tilting posterior), inhale, expanding your belly and filling your lungs. While you exhale pull abdominals in and wide as if to tighten an airline seat belt low across the bones of your pelvis. Repeat 5-10 more times. 2. After six weeks and when you are ready to advance lie on your back and place a towel or band around your abdomen. Hold the left side of the towel or band in your right hand and the right side of the towel or band in your left hand. Perform a crunch while pulling the towel or band tighter across your abdomen. Repeat 5-10 more times.
Do Genetics Really Play a Role?
Yes, genetic predisposition plays a role in ab shape and definition and where fat in stored in the body. Some people refer to their body shape as "pear" and "apple" to describe where they store fat. Pears tend to store fat below their waists, usually on their hips and thighs, and typically have a small waist and flat tummy. Apples store fat above their waists, around the mid-section. If you had lean, toned abs pre-pregnancy, you have a better chance to return to that state after having children. However, it will take regular aerobic exercise, strength training for the entire body and a healthy calorie-controlled meal plan. If your body type carries more fat around your waist and torso, developing six-pack abs will be much more difficult. The body fat level required to get six-pack abs for you may be lower than you can sustain with your current lifestyle and/or lower than is healthy for your body type to function.
My Own Success in Achieving Lean and Tone Abs
I must admit I have good genes for the ideal washboard abs. My body prefers to store fat in other areas other than my tummy. However, having multiple pregnancies has left my midsection not only weaker but the skin more stretched and less elastic. After childbirth my first goal is to improve my core strength, I follow the postpartum ab exercises above. I gradually increase my cardio training and top it off with a good weight training program. I put a high emphasis on NUTRITION! During my pregnancy and after! I stay within a 25-35 pound weight gain during my pregnancies. www.womenshealthchannel.com/nutrition/index.shtml When I compete in Fitness competitions, my diet becomes cleaner and I eliminate refined sugar and processed foods.
I also lower my total caloric intake and drink plenty of water. I always concentrate on a good core and ab workout (4 days/week), continuing my weight training (3 days/week), increasing my aerobic workouts (30-60 minutes/day, 5 days/week) and I add interval training (30 minutes, 2-3 days/week). This allows me to lower my body fat percentage to an athletic level. Yes, it's hard work and a lot of dedication! By the time I step on stage my abs are in terrific shape! Not all women are willing to take it to this level. I always go into the process saying "the ideal body is a healthy body". I try not to get caught up in the shallow world of appearances meaning everything. I choose to compete and display hard work not only in a fitness routine but in my physique. I'm no longer a 20 year-old without children, but I'm proud to say I'm a mom and an athlete!