Your Core, Postpartum
Whenever we teach anything related to movement for postnatal mamas, someone asks about core movements, safety, and diastasis recti (DR). If you don't know what that last thing is, count yourself lucky. Many mamas deal with "the gap" postpartum. DR is when the connective tissue (linea alba) between a central core muscle (rectus abdominis) stretches out and doesn't un-stretch itself after baby arrives. Self-check tests abound online, and you can also ask your doctor or midwife to check you, too. There's a lot of uncertainty about what having DR means, as not much research exists on the condition. It might correlate with low-back pain or pelvic floor dysfunction. (It might not, though, especially if it's not a very big gap. Don't panic if you have it!) But because of the uncertainty, if you know you have it, consult with a pelvic PT to come up with options to safely strengthen.
As you begin to move on your own, though, it's helpful to have a sense of what is safe to do postpartum. The moves in this post are safe for postpartum mamas with our without DR and they're safe for mamas who birthed vaginally or via Cesarean.
First, let's consider what to avoid: When doing any postpartum core work, avoid big twists in challenging poses (like twisting from high lunge), deep back bends (like wheel pose or bow pose), and all crunch-type poses or movements. Basically, you don't want to put too much stress on the core area. (Gentle backbends and twists are likely fine.)
Next, always work at the pace commensurate with where you're at in your recovery process. If you are doing a pose and feel unable to maintain core engagement, take a break from the pose. If you're newly-ish postpartum, go slowly and do less.
Finally, consider starting here. These are great, beginning moves to rebuild and restrengthen!
Engaged Mountain Pose
Stand tall, with your feet hip distance apart. Lengthen your tailbone and soften your knees, so your legs aren’t locked. Tuck in your lowest ribs, but don’t allow your shoulders to roll forward as you do. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale breath out through your mouth, engaging your deepest layer of core by pulling your belly-button toward your spine. This is a great first pose to start with in postpartum recovery!
Bridge with block
Begin on your back. Place a block or ball between your thighs. Lift into bridge pose, floating your seat, low back and rib cage off the mat. Press your heels into the mat and lengthen your tailbone, engaging your core. Inhale here, and as you exhale, squeeze into the block, pull your bellybutton toward your spine (engage your core more), and engage pelvic floor muscles (do a kegel). Inhale to soften all of those places of engagement; exhale to engage again. Repeat 3-8 times.
Supine Leg Press
Begin on your back. Lift your legs, stacking your knees over your hips and your shins parallel to the mat. Place your hands on your thighs. Press your low back into the mat and tuck in your lowest ribs. Take a breath in, and as you exhale press your hands in to your thighs (but resist and do not allow your legs to move.) Repeat this, inhaling to soften and exhaling to press, for 3-10 breaths. Keep your head and neck on the mat.
Happy strengthening, mamas! If you want more hands-on support, check out our workshops! We routinely offer Postnatal Reset workshops or Prenatal Reunions which feature postnatal yoga. Join us!