Your (Strong) Pregnant Belly
In my last blog post, I wrote about how it's safe for healthy pregnant mamas to do core-focused poses. While it's also just fine to opt out of core work (or anything else you want to opt out of while pregnant), if you feel inclined to move and to strengthen in specific ways, core work can be included in your movement practice. But what poses are best? What poses are safe for you through all three trimesters? What might feel the best and aid you most in post-birth recovery?
In general, static poses (rather than dynamic movements) are going to be a better option. When you're working in stillness, you can turn your attention to core engagement and alignment rather than worrying about performing any sort of movement.
Focus On The Deeper Core
Prenatal core work should be focused on the deepest layer of the core (the transverse abdominis) rather than the more superficial layer (the rectus abdominis). To engage at the deepest layer, once you're in a static core pose (like the ones described below), try lengthening your tailbone slightly (a tiny, tiny little tuck of the tailbone), and aim to pull your belly button toward your spine. (Yes, I know: there's a baby between your bellybutton and your spine. Even though engagement will be limited, you can still engage your abdominal muscles.)
As you explore static core poses, you're always looking to feel the work of the pose in the front and side planes of your body. If you try the poses below and you feel them in your low back or hips, try modifying. If you can't move the sensation from the lower back to the front and side body, opt out.
Finally, don't do crunches or any crunch-like movement or pose. If your head and knees are moving toward each other, you're doing a crunch. There are much better ways to build core strength during pregnancy.
Three Great Poses for Keeping Your Pregnant Belly Strong
Kathryn, 36 weeks, makes these three poses look easy. Don't let her beautiful smile deceive you: these are challenging! Be sure to breathe, and don't stay in each pose for long. Try 3-5 breaths.
Bird dog is a fantastic static pose for core engagement and strength. From hands and knees, extend your left arm forward. Engage your core, focusing on pulling your belly button toward your spine. For a sweeter version, extend your right let, but keep your toes on the ground. For a spicier version, lift your right leg about hip height. If you choose the spicy version, pay attention to sensation in your lower back. If you feel like your straining in any way or if you feel like your lower back is "crunching" in order to do the pose, try the sweeter version or opt out. Once you've held one side, switch and extend the opposite arm and leg.
Plank is an obvious core pose. The advantage of doing it pregnant is that you can practice a a gentler knee-down version and focus wholly on drawing your shoulders down and feeling your core muscles work.
Lean-back is a prenatal version of boat. Keep your feet on the ground and bend your knees as much as you'd like. Take your legs as wide as is comfortable to make room for your belly. Sit up tall, and find a long spine and good posture. Keep that. Pull your belly in and start to lean back. Don't go very far! Stop at the first core sensation. Hold there and breathe, keeping your focus on engagement. If you feel this in your lower back, try decreasing the angle of your lean back. If that doesn't fix things, opt out.