Women who have borne children usually continue life much like they did prior to pregnancy, except for the inevitable changes such as sleeplessness, carrying a small child who keeps getting heavier, carrying myriads of items just to go to the grocery store, prolonged sitting, and rolling shoulders forward while feeding the baby. Exercise may be less, self-grooming is certainly decreased in the early weeks or months.
Finding the time and energy and knowledge to rehab properly from pregnancy and childbirth are usually not feasible. Many post-partum rehab programs are too intense and do not take into consideration the accurate needs of the muscles and their degree of damage or atrophy.
If a woman has abdominal separation, special care must be taken to heal and restore instead of making it worse. For more information on how to discover whether you have ab separation and how to heal, see Tupler technique.
The most important muscles to strengthen are the transversus abdominis, psoas and the pelvic floor muscles. During each exercise you must take into account the position of these muscles. They must be flattened and contracted. If they balloon out during the exercise, you are not only not exercising the proper muscles but you are reinforcing the poor position and lengthened state of these muscles. For example, if you are doing planks but you are not keeping your abs flat, you are not properly rehabilitating them. If your pelvic floor balloons out because you are not paying any attention to it, it is not being retrained properly and you will not get the desired results. This is one reason it is difficult to rehabilitate the post-partum woman: no one can see all the important muscles to verify that you are doing the exercises correctly.
The transverse abdominis is the third and deepest layer of the abs. Because it is transverse, its direction of contraction is side to side, so it helps to tighten the waist. Planks, including with the hands elevated on a chair, especially with focused attention on drawing the pubic symphysis toward the spine, are a good way to begin. Crunches are not the answer.
Psoas strengthening is a big part of yoga, Pilates and Foundation training.
See my post on pelvic floor rehab.
However and whenever you are able to implement rehab after your child is born – even if he or she is several years old or older! – you will reap the benefits. Any amount of work you do to re-establish proper movement patterns will serve you well.
Just start something today!