Core Issues

I was never so acutely aware of "my core" as I was after pregnancy and childbirth! The "core" is defined as "a central and often foundational part", and as "a basic, essential and often enduring part".  Of course I knew that pregnancy was going to change my body and my life forever, but as with many things involved with having a baby, I was completely surprised by the severity of the physical changes in my body and by just how difficult it was to get back into shape postpartum.

I am and have always been a fitness obsessed avid exerciser. I had envisioned myself as one of those women who continues a regular exercise routine throughout pregnancy, and after my 6 week recovery period postpartum, I would get right back into it. My fantasy of whipping my body back into shape was harshly squashed by reality, which was that I found exercise extremely difficult during pregnancy. Not only did I not have the energy but exerting myself beyond a slow walk left me feeling nauseous and in need of a nap! Complicated by other factors such as gestational diabetes and anemia, I found myself just working on surviving pregnancy rather then gracefully soaring through it while doing squats and planks. Post birth exercise was much easier for me to accomplish physically, but between breastfeeding, being awake much of the night and the general demands of caring for another human being, I found my energy level and available time to be extremely low.  Exercise was a priority for me because it was crucially beneficial for me emotionally and mentally, not only physically.  So I began a semi-regular low intensity exercise routine. After months of postpartum exercise I saw little benefit in my core strength and stability and after some research discovered that I had a core issue that I had not heard of before, Diastasis Recti.

Women's bodies go through intense changes to compensate for their growing baby.  Although this transformation of muscles, connective tissue and bone placement is necessary during pregnancy, it can make things a little tricky for us after birth.  In the few weeks postpartum, our connective tissue is still stretched and a bit lax. It is important to take care not to over stretch or tax our joints during this period.  One of the main concerns for postpartum moms is their core (or lack there of)!  Pre-pregnancy, I had never heard of Diastasis Recti, but every postpartum woman should. Diastasis Recti (D.R.) is a condition in which the two sides of the rectus abdominal muscles are separated by at least 2.7cm.  It is normal for the two walls of the abdominal muscles to separate during pregnancy. About two-thirds of pregnant women have D.R., but a continued separation postpartum can lead to unwanted complications such as back pain, constipation, incontinence and in some extreme cases, hernia.

In an attempt to gain strength back in their core, women will unknowingly engage in exercises or activities that make D.R. worse and prolong their recovery. Some fitness trainers will prescribe exercise routines that are inappropriate for postpartum women because of their lack of knowledge and experience with D.R.  Before beginning an exercise regime, please talk to your doctor about D.R. and seek advice from fitness professionals who deal specifically with postpartum women.  Small moves done in the correct way can correct your core issues!

Correctly strengthening my core has made me much stronger physically overall.  It is important to realize that our bodies will be forever changed by the miracle of childbirth, but that doesn't mean that we can't be happy with our outcomes!

By: Jamie Ross, MS, LMHC

Mental Health Counselor and Certified Personal Trainer