As a new mom you want nothing more than to get back into your skinny jeans and feel like yourself again. The elusive flat tummy touted by all the celebrities, fitness websites and weight loss commercials is the biggest money maker in the fitness industry.
But most of the programs out there focus on working the outermost abdominals – the coveted six-pack muscles – and they forget about the deep abdominals – often called the "corset." They also fail to consider the participant, in this case a new mom whose body has gone through many changes and who, while desperate to get her prebaby body back, is just not ready for the "AB Ripper" or "Tight Tummy" boot camp series.
Indeed, you have just grown a baby inside you and then gave birth to that baby either vaginally or by a C-section (which is major abdominal surgery) – boot camp is the last thing you need. Instead, honour your body, support your healing and slowly rebuild from the inside out.
Align yourself: Pregnancy causes major shifts in your centre of gravity, posture and alignment. Relearning how to stand, how to sit, how to carry your baby all seem silly and far from helping you achieve a flatter tummy. But without proper alignment, your core simply cannot do its job. Stacking your rib cage over your pelvis is key. Stand sideways and look in a mirror. Most likely your pelvis is shifted forward with your butt flat and your rib cage living behind your pelvis. Let's undo that: Start by imagining a string attached to the top of your head that is being gently pulled up to the ceiling. Feel your neck lengthen, your chin draw slightly down and back. Feel your midsection lengthen out of your pelvis, letting go of any tension your have in your glutes and nod your pubic bone ever so slightly forward. That's better. This posture allows the inner core to align and work together – I call it "core-operation."
Connect with your inner core: Now that you are aligned, your inner core can do its job. Strengthen it with a simple breathing technique called the "core breath." Sit on a stability ball and align yourself as you did while standing. Feel your perineum on the surface of your ball and find a gentle curve in your low back. Place one hand on your side ribs and the other hand on your belly. Close your eyes and connect with your perineum on the surface of the ball. As you inhale, breathe into your hands and feel a sense of fullness in your perineum. The ribs, belly and pelvic floor all expand as your draw air in through your nose. On the exhale feel the pelvic floor lift, the belly move inwards and the ribs soften. Inhale to expand. Exhale to engage. To heighten the activity of the pelvic floor and the inward movement of your belly (which will flatten your tummy) purse your lips and blow and imagine sipping a milkshake through a straw with your vagina – I know, crazy, but it works. Done daily for one to two minutes can help you achieve the tummy of your dreams. (You can also do this lying down in the early days postpartum).
Stop the crunching insanity: In pregnancy, the connective tissue that holds the two six-pack muscles in place stretches and weakens and leaves most new moms with a condition known as diastasis recti. The forward curl up motion of a crunch places huge strain on this weakened abdominal wall. This causes pressure to shift downwards onto the pelvic floor, which is also in a weakened state. The strain of a crunch on the weakened abdominal wall also causes the tummy to protrude or dome which is opposite to what you are after. Crunches also encourage forward head posture. Think of how many hours a day you are either breastfeeding, carrying your baby, texting, or slouched on the couch taking a breather (which you totally deserve by the way!). If you spend the majority of your day hunched over with rounded shoulders and a forward head, does it make sense to do an exercise that just creates more of this posture?
Standing, sitting and moving in alignment coupled with a core breathing practice will retrain your core from the inside out. Gradually you can add on more advanced moves like planks and pushups but vow to never do another crunch again!
Kim Vopni is known as The Fitness Doula and is an authority on helping women get through birth in one piece. Based in Vancouver, she is a certified pre/postnatal fitness consultant, co-founder of Bellies Inc and owner of Pelvienne Wellness Inc offering innovative products for a better birth and recovery. You can follow her on Twitter at @FitnessDoula