Postpartum Crunches: When and How To Do Them Safely

Postpartum Crunches: When and How To Do Them Safely

If you’ve done any research on postpartum core strength or diastasis recti, you’ve likely seen conflicting information on crunches. 

“Never do them again!”

“They are the only/best way to heal your core!”

Confusing, no? 

Well, like most things in life, the answer to “Can/Should I do crunches?” is…complicated.

So, let’s talk about crunches.

When to avoid them, how to know when you are ready to get back to them, and how to do crunches in a way that won’t damage or re-injure your postpartum core.  

WHEN TO AVOID CRUNCHES

 

A common recommendation for postpartum women is to avoid crunches altogether. 

Where does this advice come from? 

Newly postpartum women often have a separation of their abdominal muscles (diastasis recti) and a lack of coordination and muscle tone in their core/pelvic floor muscles. 

 

Not sure if you have a diastasis? Here’s a self-test video. 

 

This lack of muscle coordination makes doing a crunch with proper technique almost impossible!

Proper crunch technique requires that you engage your deepest layer of core muscles (the transverse abdominis) and your pelvic floor as you crunch. 

 When those muscles are engaged, your core will have a very flat appearance as you crunch (there won’t be any doming or raised area in the middle).

If those deep core muscles aren’t working, when you do a crunch it puts extra pressure on the weak connective tissue of the abdominals (making a diastasis worse) or pushes pressure downward into the pelvic floor muscles (which can contribute to prolapse or pelvic floor dysfunction).

That increased pressure out on the belly is also the reason that, for some postpartum women, crunches can make a pooched belly appearance worse.

So, If you can’t engage your deepest core muscles effectively (the transverse abdominis and the muscles of the pelvic floor), then you want to stay away from crunches until you have better control over those muscles. That will allow you to protect your pelvic floor and connective tissue from the pressure inside your abdomen.

If you know you have abdominal separation or need help getting your muscles firing in a coordinated fashion, Heal Your Core With Yoga is a great place to start with rebuilding those core muscles from the inside out. 

Once you’ve got your deep core muscles and pelvic floor coordinated and strong do you still need to avoid crunches?

No, You’re ready for crunches! 

PROPER CRUNCH TECHNIQUE

Once you have those muscles working, let’s make sure you are doing a crunch the RIGHT way. Poor crunch technique can cause problems!!

The core and pelvic floor naturally engage when you breathe out. So we will use that natural engagement to your advantage! 

 – Lying on your back, breathe in deeply.

 – Then, on the exhale, engage the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis and imagine a corset wrapping around your belly as you lift your head and shoulders off the ground. 

 – When done properly, your abdomen should look flat from side to side. This is a sign that the transverse is firing! 

 

Issues to watch for: 

DOMING: If your belly looks like it is doming (highest in the middle and lower on the sides) this is a sign that you aren’t maintaining transverse engagement (and an indication that you are putting pressure on your linea alba, the connective tissue at the center of the core).

Stop doing crunches until you have gotten the muscles strong enough to prevent doming.

 

PRESSURE IN PELVIC FLOOR: If you feel pressure or heaviness on your pelvic floor as you crunch (or immediately after), this is a sign that your pelvic floor engagement isn’t sufficient for the amount of pressure being placed on it during the crunch.

This could be because your pelvic floor is weak OR it could be that you have an overactive pelvic floor.

Either way, you’ll want to make sure you address this issue before continuing with crunches.

 

So, do you have to give up crunches forever? No! 

You just need to make sure that your body is ready for crunches and that you are doing them in a way that protects your postpartum body. 

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

Core Considerations for Pregnancy

Core Considerations for Pregnancy

One of the most frequent emails we receive is from expectant mothers asking how they can support their core before baby arrives. Whether you’ve had diastasis in a previous pregnancy that didn’t heal before becoming pregnant again, or are pregnant for the first time, here are five things we suggest.

 

 

FOCUS ON THE BREATH

 

The core and pelvic floor muscles contract and relax with the diaphragm (that giant breathing muscle under the lungs).

Starting or maintaining a deep breathing practice in pregnancy can help you maintain core health during pregnancy (and re-establish it faster after the baby arrives!). A huge part of postpartum core rehabilitation involves re-establishing good breathing patterns so why not work to KEEP those good breathing patterns during pregnancy??

As a bonus, deep breathing also helps our back and hip muscles relax (What pregnant woman couldn’t use that?!) If you are pregnant, we suggest doing deep breathing every single day.

As baby gets bigger, it will get more difficult to take full deep breaths because the baby blocks the diaphragm from dropping down fully,  but just do your best.  

 

BONUS: All that deep breathing will also make you feel more relaxed! 

 

So practice deep breathing. Your body and mind will feel better for it, and you will reinforce the strength of your core and pelvic floor. 

 

STRENGTHEN YOUR DEEP CORE

 

 

We also suggest working on engaging the deepest muscles of the core while pregnant (the transverse abdominis). When women ask us ‘can I strengthen my core while pregnant?’ we answer with a resounding yes.

While the data shows that practically all women will have some abdominal separation in the 3rd trimester, you can reduce the severity of an existing gap while pregnant and generally work to improve overall balance and strength of your core during pregnancy.

 

One of my favorite exercises for finding transverse abdominal engagement while pregnant is hugging the baby up and in (watch the video for a demo of this). 

 

Come to hands and knees, and find a neutral spine where you are not sagging in the middle.

 

When you inhale, let the belly relax. As you relax the core, also relax the pelvic floor.

 

When you exhale, gently engage your deepest core muscles and imagining hugging the baby up toward your spine. It’s that simple. 

Breathe in and let everything relax, then exhale and hug that baby up and in again. Practicing this daily helps reinforce the strength of the transverse as baby grows. 

 

Please note: our goal during pregnancy isn’t to keep those muscles rigid or to have a 6-pack. These muscles need strength, but also need to relax/expand in order for the baby to have room to grow. We want muscles that can both engage and relax fully.

 

PRACTICE GOOD ALIGNMENT

 

Proper alignment is extremely important during pregnancy.

Typically, as the belly grows larger we tend to throw our weight forward. This results in weakness in our gluteal muscles and that typical “pregnancy” stance…belly out, large arch in the back and, often, a waddle in the walk.

This alignment strains your core! Your abdominals are already weaker because of the growing baby. When you stand and walk with your belly hanging forward, this puts even more pressure on your already weak core and can make a diastasis worse! Shifting your alignment can help reduce the strain you are putting on your body. 

So what is proper alignment for standing while pregnant?

Back your hips up so they land over your heels. Just the hips, not your whole body. Thighs and hips shift back, and the upper body doesn’t move much. This simple move counteracts that belly hanging forward position and helps turn on the glutes. 

 

 

WALK!

 

Now that you’ve found good alignment…get walking. Walking can help prepare your body for delivery and strengthen your glutes. This will help keep your hips happy and help you hold good alignment (which minimizes strain on your core).

When walking, notice your feet, Try to keep your feet parallel (rather than turned out). This will help keep your hips happy!

 

NOTICE YOUR THOUGHTS

 

Just as significant as breathing and alignment, is your mindset. Our thoughts impact our body in a very real way. The placebo effect works because our mind believes it is receiving healing. 

 

I want you to move through your pregnancy feeling positive and confident in your body’s ability to carry and deliver this baby. Start visualizing, on a daily basis, your body healthy and vibrant through your pregnancy, as you give birth (however that happens for you), and in the postpartum period. 

 

Really imagine your body being whole and well, now and in the future. This visualization work has an impact on the way your body responds to these big events. 

Pregnancy is a beautiful, natural process. AND it creates muscular imbalances in the body. We can minimize those imbalances by being mindful of our thoughts and actions. 

 

 

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

3 Simple Post-Baby Core Strengthening Exercises

3 Simple Post-Baby Core Strengthening Exercises

Post-baby core-strengthening exercise need to be easy and approachable.

Below, I list three of my favorite, easy, post-baby core strengthening moves.

BONUS! the first two can be done immediately after your baby is born (as soon as you feel ready).



These moves target the transverse abdominis muscles, the deepest layer of muscles in our core. 

Post-Baby Core Strength Exercise 1: Lower Transverse Engagement

3 simple core strengtheners

This first exercise is great for when you just had a baby and are spending lots of time lying in bed nursing.

  • Lying on your back, bend your knees, and place the feet flat on the floor.
  • Notice your breath and allow it to deepen.
  • Place the heel of your hands on your ASIS bones (those bones at the front of the hips) and let the fingers rest on the low belly.
  • As you inhale, let everything relax.
  • As you exhale, you are going to imagine your ASIS bones drawing together toward the middle of your lower abdomen to engage your low belly. (Watch the video if you are confused!)

With some practice, you should feel the soft part of your belly (also known as your lower transverse) firm up slightly as you exhale.

You may also feel the pelvic floor engage, co-contracting with your lower transverse.

If you don’t feel that, don’t worry about it. Just keep practicing and focusing on relaxing on the inhale and engaging with the exhale.

Post-Baby Core Strength Exercise 2: Seated Transverse Engagement

3 simple core strengtheners

In the second exercise, we will focus on transverse engagement while seated.

  • Seated on a chair, find a neutral pelvis position where your sit bones connect to the chair.
  • Slide yourself back against the back of the chair so that your core doesn’t have to hold you upright. 
  • Again, we are going to use our breath. As you inhale, let the belly relax.
  • As you exhale, think about those transverse muscles that make up the ‘corset’ of your body engaging which will pull your belly gently inward.. They wrap from the back of your spine all the way to the front. And reach from your ribs down to your public bone.

As they engage, you should feel like you get taller and longer not like you are crouching or crunching.

Finding this feeling can take practice so, give it some time!

Post-Baby Core Strength Exercise 3: 90/90 Breathing and Transverse Engagement

3 simple core strengtheners

For the third exercise, I want you to return to your back. If you have a yoga block at home, grab that and bring it to the floor with you. This Technique is called 90/90 breathing because your legs create 90 degree angles at your hips and knees.

  • Take your legs slightly wider than your knees and internally rotate your legs just a bit. If you have one, take the block between your knees.
  • Now, find your breath.
  • As you inhale, everything relaxes. Try to inhale very deeply to prepare for a nice, long, exhale.
  • As you exhale, draw the pelvic floor up first. Continue exhaling and draw those hip bones together to engage your low belly. Keep exhaling and move the engagement even higher into the middle/upper transverse. Eventually, you may even feel like your upper transverse abdominals pull your ribs down so they come in line with the hips.
  • Then take a deep inhale and relax everything, and begin engaging again on the exhale from the bottom up again. Pelvic floor, low belly, mid belly, upper belly, ending with a big inhale.

If this simple version is very available to you, you can try giving the block a bit of a squeeze on the exhale to increase engagement.

A quick safety note: if you feel any pressure down on your pelvic floor while doing the 90/90, ease up and work on balancing or strengthening your pelvic floor first.

There they are! 3 simple core-strengthening exercises.

Keep in mind…with postpartum core-strengthening there are two factors to consider.

The first is general strength, which we focused on in these exercises today. This creates an excellent foundation for your core-health. However, it isn’t the only piece. If you ONLY focus on core strengthening exercises, your core will only be strong when you do those types of movements. You will be missing a key part of core health.

The second, often overlooked, factor is core function. You want to make sure that your core strength translates to functional movements like twisting, reaching, and bending. Functional strength allows you to move through your day with strength and ensures you don’t damage your core through every day movements.

Yoga is an amazing tool for both general and functional core strength because it takes your body through a full range of movement under controlled conditions.

When we combine these two factors – general and functional core strength – your core will be strong in ANY situation or position you throw at it.

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

Core-Safe Baby Carrying

Core-Safe Baby Carrying

One key to healing your core after pregnancy is your alignment. I often discuss how three key alignment changes (hips over heels, neutral pelvis, and neutral ribs) minimize intra-abdominal pressure and turn on the deep core muscles.

But for many new moms, a common question arises: how can I maintain alignment and healing while baby-carrying or baby-wearing?

Holding a squirming bundle in our arms, or in a carrier, throws off our posture and strains our core.

So let’s discuss how to do this in the most core-safe way.

How to Baby Carry In a Core-Safe Way

The Newborn days

In those first few weeks, when your newborn has no head control, you’re likely using your hips to support the weight, and rounding over to keep them secure. It’s very hard to maintain good alignment in this newborn stage!

The good news…This only lasts a couple months. Don’t put extra pressure on yourself in those early days.

Once Your Baby Has Head Control

However, once baby has a little more head control and is getting heavier, it’s time to become more mindful of your body position.

Holding in Arms

Our tendency is to throw one hip out to one side (usually the same hip every time) and let the baby rest on the shelf of our hip bone. This position is less than ideal.

It makes it hard to engage our deep core muscles and increases outward pressure on the abdominal connective tissue. This increase in pressure is particularly harmful if you have diastasis- recti or a prolapsed pelvic floor.

We can ease that pressure by keeping the hips square. When you pick the baby up, use your arm to hold the baby (as much as possible) rather than the hips. When one arm gets tired, switch to the other side. You can also take them in front with both arms as support. At first, this feels hard and strange. With time, you will build arm strength and it will become easier.

As your baby becomes a toddler, try to use the piggy-back method when they need to be carried. This allows you to keep alignment and squared hips while giving tired toddler legs a break.

Baby Wearing

For those of you using a baby carrier, here are a few tips that will help you maintain alignment and minimize intra-abdominal pressure.

As soon as baby is big enough, move them to the back instead of carrying on the front. This allows you to use the natural protection of the bones in the back, the ribcage and spine, to avoid straining the core.

If your baby isn’t big enough or isn’t ready to be on the back, make sure that while you front carry you don’t shift your hips forward as you get tired. Instead, lean forward slightly and take breaks often.

Regardless of whether you wear your baby in front or back, makes sure that the straps are fitted properly. You want the baby nice and snug against your body and the waistband snug around the hips. When the straps are too loose, we tend to move into poor alignment to compensate.

In general, make sure you take breaks as often as possible to avoid fatigue in your muscles.

Even though it feels like you will be carrying that heavy child around forever, I promise you, those days will be behind you soon enough! Your core (and entire body) will appreciate the time and attention you put into proper baby carrying during this season of your life.

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!