Recently at a birth circle meeting we opened up about an often un-discussed topic of the pelvic floor and core health postpartum. The two go hand in hand, but we often gloss over the pelvic floor. Many women (and I am speaking from personal experience here) think that after a baby, you just don’t have the same kind of pelvic strength or bladder control that you once did. Let’s just say adios to jumping jacks, trampolines, running, and we can definitely forget about uncontrolled laughter without needing a change of clothing! But I learned, this does not have to be the case!
The words “strengthen your core” are thrown around quite often in relation to many things whether it be working out, helping with low back pain, or gaining your body back after the birth of a baby. To really understand what it means, we first need to understand what actually happens to the core and pelvic floor during pregnancy, and why it truly is a crucial component for healing postpartum.
As your belly stretches and grows over 9 months, the abdominal muscles (your 6-pack) and fibers between them are stretched to their max. You pelvic floor, which you can think of as a hammock, is dealing with the increased weight and pressure of supporting everything in upper body, plus a growing baby! As you can imagine (or feel!) things get a over stretched, saggy and lose their tone during pregnancy. Then our body goes through labor and delivery, which is like a marathon of work on those overstretched, tired areas. Once the baby is born, those muscles don’t just ‘tone up’ again on their own. It is important to heal these areas to avoid organ, bladder and rectal prolapse, help improve balance and posture, as well as gain strength for every day life!
The personal trainer/yoga instructor leading the discussion mentioned two simple exercises that are great for core and pelvic floor strength. They are hug crunches (standing or laying down) and, everyone’s favorite, the classic Kegel! When you strengthen your core, you naturally strengthen your pelvic floor. When you strengthen your pelvic floor, you naturally strengthen your core. They go hand in hand. The most important part of these 2 exercises are your posture while doing them! You need your spine straight, tailbone tucked in, belly button drawn in toward the spine, shoulders back, head up. Here is a quick explanation of the exercises:
Lay flat on the floor, with knees bent, low back pressed against floor and belly button drawn in towards spine. Wrap your arms around your belly like you are giving yourself a hug. As you curl up, contracting your abs (NOT using your neck or upper body at all), you squeeze your arms and give your abs a squeeze at the same time. This is physically pulling the abs together down the middle while you are contracting and strengthening those ab muscles. *It can also be done standing if needed, you just feel less muscle contraction while crunching.
In simple terms, the best way to explain how to do a kegel is squeezing the muscles you would squeeze in order to stop midstream when you’re going to the bathroom. You can hold the ‘squeeze’ for different varying intervals, for different lengths of time and as many times a day as you can. This helps to contract and lift the pelvic floor, which in turn will strengthen those muscles. The most important part of this is posture. When you tail bone is actively tucked under, your belly button is towards your spine, it is the most effective way to do a kegel.
The exercises are not difficult, you can even do most of them without anyone else knowing you’re doing them! What is important is consistency! It requires daily effort and intention. Which means you should be able to see (and feel) results within just a few weeks. So put a note on your bathroom mirror to remind yourself, or every time you’re at a stop light, during commercial breaks of your favorite shows, while you’re preparing meals, or any time you feel that nagging back discomfort…do your exercises! Your abs and pelvic floor will thank you! And hey, you may even be able to jump on a trampoline again one day!!
This post was contributed by Dr. Meggen Briscoe Haselhorst of Milestone Chiropractic in Fredericksburg. For more information on Chiropractic and its health benefits or to make an appointment with Milestone Chiropractic, call 540-656-2885 or visit their website.