Abdominal tone and natural back support is something that we all tend to take for granted.
But pregnancy stretches the muscles that help us to achieve this and often leaves us feeling a long way away from our pre-pregnancy figures. Once our body has gone through pregnancy and childbirth, most of us strive to return to that pre-pregnancy state, where our muscles are toned and tummy's look how they did when your little bundle was still just a sparkle in our eye.
Before pregnancy your “core” tends to be well toned and is functioning to it's full potential. These core muscles form a cylinder of muscle around your lower back and your abdomen. They comprise of your diaphragm, on top of the cylinder, your pelvic floor which forms the underneath of the cylinder and a muscle that acts like an internal corset forming around the outside of the cylinder, this corset muscle is called transversus abdominis. These group of muscles normally work by maintaining a low level contraction with any movement you make, to give support to your lower back and pelvis, and also help you to achieve a flat tummy.
During pregnancy all the muscles that make up your core have to lengthen to provide room for your growing baby. The corset muscle and pelvic floor stretches. The six pack muscle, rectus abdominus, also has to stretch, it has a band of fascia called the linea alba (a less stretchy form of soft tissue than muscle) down the centre of your tummy which is pulled apart as your bump grows. After childbirth there is normally a gap in the linea alba between the centre of the six pack muscle which people may feel when they put their fingers around their belly button, this is called the diastasis recti. Unfortunately, this often never fully recovers and mums are left with this small gap, but in the majority of women it is not a problem and they return to normal function.
After childbirth the muscles then have the room to return to their normal position. However, it is important to remember that the muscles have been stretched and have therefore lost tone. This decrease in tone can then lead to the possibility of low back pain and pelvic pain, as well as a less toned tummy. The return of normal muscle tone can take a lot longer than people may expect and it is important not too rush into high level exercise as this is not the best way to recondition your body after pregnancy.
The technique to improve the normal function of these muscles is to do some core stability and pelvic floor exercises. Although it is important to train the pelvic floor muscles and core muscles individually, they also work together as well. Physiotherapists can advise you on the right kind of exercises to engage these muscles correctly and how to return to exercise safely. It is important that if you are tempted to do lots of abdominal work to re-tone your tummy, like sit ups for example, that you are aware of how to do them correctly without encouraging any further split between the six pack muscle. If you are unsure whether you are doing this right, or want to know more about how to return to exercise after childbirth, then it is best to gain professional advice. Another good way to gain knowledge of how the core works and how to exercise safely is by finding a good Pilates class, preferably run by a Physiotherapist or specifically trained clinician.
But it should be stated that regaining your pre-pregnancy tone is achievable and isn't anything that you should be too daunted by - it just takes a little time, patience and effort and more importantly, making sure that you are doing the right things.