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.
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.