A postpartum body has a lot going on.
A weak core and pelvic floor creates a whole host of compensations in other parts of the body…weak glutes, tight hips, and a tight back, to name a few. (If you haven’t already, you might want to check out last week’s post on exactly what happens in your body during pregnancy)
In the words of some of my students, it’s easy to feel like “Pregnancy trashed my body.”
And easy to feel overwhelmed at where to begin fixing the issues.
With the core? With the back? With the hips?
But I’m here with some good news.
The answer is pretty simple.
You start with your breathing.
Getting your breath working properly restores much needed muscular balance to your postpartum body. Restoring this balance is a HUGE first step in preventing (or healing) postpartum issues like abdominal separation (diastasis recti), leaking pee (incontinence,) and pelvic organ prolapse.
Let’s dive in (Plus, I’ve got a great free resource for you to help get your breath system working).
The Relationship Between the Breath and Core
Our breath system is extremely sophisticated and has a huge impact on our muscular balance.
The system includes our:
- And pelvic floor
Take a look at that diaphragm! It’s huge! Not only does it span our entire chest but it attaches to the ribs and the spine.
When the breath is working properly, every inhale expands the ribs and drops the diaphragm down. When the diaphragm drops down, the belly expands and relaxes, and the pelvic floor expands and relaxes. The movement of the diaphragm and ribs also relaxes the mid-back muscles and the psoas (a hip flexor that attaches at the ribs!). Basically, every inhale allows a whole lot of tight muscles in the body to relax fully.
On an exhale, the diaphragm lifts up, the core naturally engages, and the pelvic floor engages and lifts. This natural action of breathing creates a healthy resting muscle tone in the core and the pelvic floor.
As you can see the core and the breath are DESIGNED to work together.
Healthy breathing = healthy core. Funky breathing = Really hard to have a healthy core.
Breathing in a Postpartum Body
But what happens in a postpartum body?
Well, to be blunt. For many women, pregnancy jacks up the breathing system.
Plain and simple, the diaphragm stops working effectively. Which means the core isn’t working effectively either.
This loss of diaphragm functioning can’t be helped. There is just no room for it to drop down into the body because the baby is taking up that space.
So you start compensating. You start using the lift of your shoulders to bring air in. This often results in the diaphragm pulling up into the body on an inhale RATHER than dropping down.
Basically the diaphragm completely switches directions! Which makes you lose all of the natural core strengthening of the breath.
Now in a perfect world, our bodies would magically switch back to good breathing after the baby is born. But, for some reason (that I haven’t figured out yet), this just doesn’t seem to happen.
Postpartum women, particularly those that struggle with core and pelvic floor weakness, tend to continue to breath in this funky way even after the baby is out.
Let me show you an example from one of my students.
See that hollow space under her ribs. If her diaphragm were dropping down on an inhale, that space would fill up and inflate. But hers does the opposite. The space deflates and becomes almost like a vacuum! That signals to me that her diaphragm is lifting up on the inhale. And that her core isn’t receiving the benefits of the natural deep breathing system.
So the first thing to do after having a baby is to retrain the diaphragm to work effectively. The breath is the best place to start your healing.
Once the breath is functioning well, so many other things start falling into place!
How the Breath Fixes a Body After Pregnancy
Restoring the natural breath patterns brings the core and pelvic floor back online.
When the core starts working it allows the back and hip muscles to stop working so hard. (And remember that good inhale helps relax those muscles too).
Getting the breath working begins to rehabilitate the body by bringing proper balance to the muscles!!
So the answer to the question ‘where do I start?’ You start with the breath.
I know this is not always what women want to hear. They want to jump back into high intensity stuff. But if you skip over the breath piece and move into high intensity stuff before you’ve retrained the diaphragm you are building your house on a non-existent foundation.
If the breath isn’t working properly, the core isn’t working properly. And doing activities without core support is a recipe for disaster. It’s worth spending a few weeks on the breath so you can spend YEARS doing the other activities you love with a healthy core.
Start with the breath. Get the breath down. And then you can confidently move into all of these things that you love doing.
If you’d like to practice this, I’ve got a free breath training tutorial which will help you reset your breathing and get your diaphragm working again!
Free Breath Training!
Naturally engage your core and pelvic floor with breath.
Build core strength all day, every day.