When you hear "core strengthening" what comes to mind? For me, it's an image of someone with a defined six-pack doing 100 crunches on a ball, grimacing, and holding their breath. You may have seen blogs and articles targeting postpartum moms and encouraging them to work on their abs to gain core strength again through exercises that target the rectus abdominus muscles.
Approximately 2/3 of women develop diastasis recti during pregnancy, a separation of the two sides of the rectus abdominus along the linea alba. Pregnancy isn't the only reason why a person might develop a diastasis, but it is a common cause. If you have developed a diastasis from pregnancy, the first step of gaining core strength afterward is to connect with deep core stabilizer muscles and retrain your body to return to ideal alignment, NOT to work on your six-pack muscles.
If you have a diastasis, these are things you want to avoid:
-Rounding forward down through the spine or "scooping" your abs
-Any movement where you lift your head up using your abs while you are on your back.
-Any exercise where your feet at at "table top," or out in a classic Pilates "V."
-Lifting or bending and twisting with a rounded spine (emptying the dishwasher, for instance, or getting the car seat in/out of the car).
-Avoid full range of motion during cat/cow-type exercises.
All of the movements above can increase the separation of your rectus abdominus muscles ("six-pack muscles"), and you don't want to be doing a targeted strengthening of those muscles if they are not in the proper position. Strengthening them won't make them come back together. Wait until the gap closes again before thinking about working on a six-pack.
Try to focus on these kinds of movements and exercises instead:
-HINGE from your hips instead of rolling through your spine. Put your weight in your heels and use your glutes and your hamstrings to pull yourself up.
-Draw belly in toward spine when picking things up. Maintain neutral spine (don't tuck pelvis).
-Use your hands to support the front of your belly if your internal organs press out when lifting/bending.
-Log roll out of bed, to get up from the floor, etc.
-Do simple pelvic curls instead of deep abdominal scooping
-Side-lying abdominal work (targets the obliques) is fine, as are exercises that engage your transversus abdominus and your other deep stabilizer muscles.
-You may want to consider abdominal binding in your initial postpartum period to help support your core and encourage those muscles to come closer together again.
If you find that at three to six weeks postpartum you still have a separation wider than 2.5 finger-widths, please request a referral for women's health physical therapy from your provider. Significant separation can lead to long term back pain and core instability, and increases your chance of injury. Mamalates classes are diastasis-recti-safe, so they are a great place to start whether or not your separation is severe enough to warrant PT.
Our next mamalates series class starts February 29 at Live Well Studio. Are you ready?
Not sure if you have a diastasis? Check out the video below. Do you have more questions? We can help.
Join us for a workshop-style mamalates experience!
Mondays 9:30-10:45am January 11-February 15 at Live Well Studio
Over a six week period, participants in the mamalates series workshop will be lead through a progressive series of movements and exercises specifically designed for childbirth recovery and deep core strengthening after pregnancy. Suitable for women six weeks postpartum and beyond, participants will learn movements that enhance core stability while reclaiming ideal body alignment after pregnancy. After completing the series, participants will have increased strength, alignment, and stability in their core, and gained a deeper appreciation for their post-pregnancy body.
Mamalates Series is specifically designed to be safe and beneficial for women with diastasis recti (abdominal separation), recovering from c-section or childbirth injuries, and pelvic floor weakness. After pregnancy and childbirth, the mamalates series prepares you to return to your favorite physical activities and exercise routines.
You do not have to be recently postpartum to participate; women in all stages of life are welcome to attend and will benefit from this gentle progression of Pilates-inspired movements.
Pre-mobile babies are invited to attend, but are not required!
$95 for six week series
Early bird price $69 if registered by January 1
Corvallis, Oregon has a great birth community. Oregon's laws support both home birth midwives and midwifery care in-hospital. The birth community state-wide is active, long-standing, and reaches across social and economic differences. We have a local doula network, a birth network, two birthing centers within an hour's drive, and another birthing center (hopefully) coming soon to Corvallis. "Who's your doula?" is a question pregnant women in this area are used to hearing. The full spectrum of childbirth education classes are accessible in town or just a short drive away. The hospital in Corvallis is used to women coming with a birth plan. There is a culture of support around pregnancy and birth.
After the baby is born, there are a ton of things to do with wee ones. We have mama-baby play groups almost every day of the week, and a plethora of possibilities for outdoor play with young babies and toddlers. You can even take your baby to an early childhood education class, starting from birth! There are so many things for babies in this town, I can't even come close to listing everything (but check this out).
So what's lacking in our birth community? Postpartum support for moms. Rachel Brinker has seen this gap for years, and in May she officially launched her business, Corvallis Proud Mama Support Services, to help address the need for in-home support for new moms and their families.
Unless she is under the care of a direct-entry midwife, a new mother typically won't see her healthcare provider for another six weeks after she leaves the hospital. She and her partner (if she has one) get the message that they are expected to handle life with a newborn on their own. If it gets to be too much, they might feel like it's because of a personal failing rather than a societal one. It's easy to see how these feelings of not being "good enough" or "strong enough" could set a new mom up for developing postpartum depression. But caring for a newborn baby as an isolated two- (or one-) parent unit is a relatively new idea, and one that does not best serve women, their partners, or their babies.
Breastfeeding support for struggling moms is available from lactation consultants and peer support groups like La Leche League, but that support is limited to online/phone communication or traveling to an office with a sore post-childbirth body and a newborn in tow. For some women, these hurdles are big enough that they decide to "make do" and not seek out help. Trying to "make do" without support for the breastfeeding mom and baby can increase a mom's stress and anxiety levels as she struggles to feed her baby, and can lead to a shorter duration of breastfeeding than she had originally hoped for.
Additionally, many women experience pelvic floor issues like incontinence and and abdominal weakness or instability after having a baby. These issues can easily be exacerbated by daily acts of mothering (lifting and carrying a baby around with less-than-ideal alignment, sitting a lot to feed and soothe a baby, babywearing, etc.) but they may not have been told by their providers how to protect their bodies and help it heal well from pregnancy and childbirth. Did you know that 53% of women have a diastasis recti immediately postpartum and 36% still have one at seven weeks postpartum? Do you know how to move safely and effectively if you do have a diastasis so that you don't make it worse?
And did you know that no, actually, you do not have to pee your pants every time you sneeze for the rest of your life? There are things you can do (Kegels are part of it, but not the whole answer). Many women retain the mindset from previous generations that incontinence is "just how it is after you've had a baby." Did you know there is just a thing as pelvic floor physical therapy and that in other developed countries, it's the standard of care that every woman leaves the hospital with a prescription for it?
Perhaps the biggest gap in our birth community is the fact that support groups for women who are experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, have been inactive in Corvallis for quite a number of years. Even the support group in Albany has recently been cancelled.
All of this points to the general lack of postpartum support in our culture at large, not just in Corvallis. Traditional cultures all around the world honor the postpartum period as a unique and temporary time that requires intensive rest, shelter from the outside world, relief from day-to-day responsibilities, and support-both practical and emotional-from others who are knowledgable and experienced in what to expect during this time, But in contemporary U.S. culture, it is rare that the parents of a new baby will have that kind of support in place. Rather, the typical postpartum scenario is that relatives come to visit from out of town for a few days after the baby is born (possibly making more work for the parents rather than less), and after that...well, there's not much. Of course friends can be a great support if they've read up on how to be helpful to parents with a new baby. But sometimes it doesn't work out that way.
Recent research supports what women already know; having practical and emotional support postpartum, receiving adequate childcare education, and making maternal sleep a priority helps prevent postpartum depression and anxiety. Studies also confirm that when mothers feel supported by their partners, it's one of the best predictors for successful breastfeeding. Guess which professionals provide all this kind of support--helping partners know how to support the breastfeeding mom and baby, assisting with practical support around the home, being available on-site to answer questions about newborn care, and helping parents get more sleep? Postpartum doulas. We are experts in what's "normal and typical" in the postpartum period, for babies, for breastfeeding, for moms, for partners. We support you through the transition to having a new baby. Having that professional presence can make all the difference.
We have a culture of talking to pregnant women about All The Plans: where they plan to birth, how they plan to birth, who will be in the room, whether they'll be revealing the gender of the baby before the birth, what color they are painting the baby's room, whether they'll be using cloth or disposable diapers, which prenatal yoga class they're going to, and on and on. If we care about the mental health and wellness of new mothers as much as we care about pregnant women and new babies, we need to add another topic to those conversations.
"Who's your postpartum doula?"
Proud Mama Support Services is the only doula service in the Mid-Willamette Valley that focuses exclusively on postpartum support. This means we are not on call as a birth doula or midwife for other client's births. This means more availability for postpartum support when you need it.
Exciting things are happening here at Corvallis Proud Mama Support Services. We are putting our mission into action. We are committed not only to support parents in those early days with in-home care, but also to addressing the lack of support for postpartum issues such as postpartum body recovery and postpartum mood disorders. We are very pleased to announce that a WellMama postpartum support group will soon be starting again in Corvallis, with Rachel of Proud Mama Support Services and some fabulous mental health professionals at the helm.
And as we've written about before, Rachel will begin teaching a mom + babe (pre-mobile babies only) mamalates core recovery class for moms and pre-mobile babies at Live Well Studio on Thursdays from 2:30-3:45, starting on September 24. Click here to learn more about group core recovery classes as well as private mamalates sessions.
So the next time your friend, acquaintance, or patient announces she's pregnant, don't forget to ask her, "Who's your postpartum doula?" New parents need support in their homes, and that's what we provide. We are proud to be extending our amazing culture of support around birth to the postpartum period and working to make our birth community the very best it can be!
Join Proud Mama Support Services as we launch Mamalates mom+babe weekly group classes in Corvallis!
When: Thursdays, starting September 24, 2015
Where: Live Well Studio
Who: Women six weeks postpartum and beyond. Babies are welcome in class (pre-mobile babies only, please).
This class is designed for core recovery after childbirth, and can be beneficial and safe for issues such as c-section recovery, pelvic floor disorders, and abdominal separation (diastasis recti). Even if months or even years have passed since having a baby, mamalates can help bring you back into optimal alignment, increase flexibility and core stability, and bring more ease into your daily movements.
Come reclaim your core with us!