Originally written for www.stuff.co.nz published 16 April 2019

Things are never the same after childbirth, and that includes your ‘core’.

While there’s no official medical definition of ‘core muscles’ its generally accepted that we’re talking about those muscles around the trunk – all the abdominals, the diaphragm, pelvic floor, and those muscles around your back. How these muscles function can have effects all through the body.

How you feel around the midsection after childbirth depends on lots of things, from the kind of birth you had, to strength before pregnancy and how it was maintained during pregnancy. This tissue has been continuously stretched for up to 10 months, so it’s not surprising that neural links to that area are affected, requiring a conscious effort to ‘find’ them again.

Before you start pumping out the crunches and planks to get these muscles working again, consult a women’s health, post-natal or pelvic floor specialist as these exercises could make things worse, especially if you have a diastasis recti, that all too common separation of the superficial ‘six-pack’ rectus abdominis.

However, here’s some things that may get help you ‘wake up’ those core muscles and get them connecting to your brain again.

 

Nutrition:

Ensuring a nutritious diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, good protein, fats and water not only gives you better quality energy but will help your muscles be more responsive and function more efficiently.

If you eat foods that cause digestive upsets like bloating and discomfort, it will make it more difficult for your brain to connect with those surrounding abdominal tissue – no one wants to hang around and experience pain, and that includes your brain.

 

Stress:

There’s no question adjusting to a new family is stressful and that some things, like interrupted sleep, can’t be avoided.

However, there’s other stresses that may be easily reduced or minimised, improving your health and recovery and increasing the responsiveness of your muscles to movement and exercise.

Your body treats all stress the same. The same hormonal release occurs whether the stress is real or perceived and whether that stress is mental/emotional, physical, chemical or environmental.

Consider some easy changes can help reduce your overall stress load:

  • replace chemical-based cleaning products or cosmetics with more natural alternatives when you run out of your current supply
  • choose organic produce if you can
  • take a few minutes each day to focus on slow breathing into your belly. You can change your stress or ‘fight and flight’ response to a relaxation response in as little as 3 minutes of slow breathing

 

Movement and sensation:

Sensory activation of the midsection area with light strokes can help to draw the brain to the area, encourage circulation and reconnection with the tissue.

Post-natal exercise specialist Lynda Lovatt also emphasises the importance of engaging your pelvic floor to help re-establish connection with the deep abdominals. “When you place your fingers just inside your hip bones and engage your pelvic floor with a gentle squeeze, you’ll feel your deep abs contract, without any tension in your six-pack muscle or butt”.

When you start your exercise routine, take your time and go slow. Walking and day-to-day activities are a great start but listen to your body. If in doubt, check with a women’s health specialist before launching back into your pre-baby routine or join a programme specifically for post-natal women where you can be monitored and guided to engage the right muscles at the right time.