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Fitness Articles  ›  Special Concerns

Rebuilding Your Core after Pregnancy

Lose the Pooch with These Exercises

-- By Sara Hambidge, Physical Therapist
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A common concern among new mothers is how to get rid of their jelly bellies and regain flatter, more toned stomachs. For some women, re-strengthening their core seems an easy task, but for most it is an uphill battle that takes many months, even years. With proper exercise and diet the process is not as hard as many think. In fact, depending on your delivery method, there are specific exercises you can do to speed up your body’s recovery.

How Early Is Too Early?
Many women want to resume intense exercise as soon after birth as possible, before their abdominal muscles or pelvic floor are ready. This may lead to incontinence problems and prolonged back pain, sometimes due to diastisis recti (a stretching of the midline of the abdominal muscles) that was not corrected. With proper training, and beginning as early as 24-48 hours after birth, you can avoid many problems and work toward rebuilding and toning your body the right way. If you’ve done a good deal of abdominal work and exercised throughout your pregnancy, this process will be easier, but if you were sedentary, you can still achieve good results.

Proper nutrition and a gradual return to other forms of exercise (walking, jogging, weight lifting) are just as important in restoring the body to its pre-pregnancy state. You’ll never see a “six pack” if a layer of fat is overlays it. Weight loss and fitness take patience, time, and discipline; if things are pushed too soon, other problems can arise. It can take 6-12 weeks to return to a pre-pregnancy state – sometimes longer – so don’t give up!

Always check with your doctor before beginning this routine, since all mothers and all deliveries are different. Restrictions may apply to you that prevent your doing these exercises immediately. Begin only when your doctor clears you, and always remember that patience and time will help - so don’t get discouraged!

The Importance of Breathing
Once the baby is born, your body undergoes a dramatic change in a very short period of time. The skin and muscles that were so taut over the belly are now loose and jelly-like and can lack the neuromuscular awareness to work properly. This is why it is so important to use breathing techniques that shorten the abdominal wall to its previous length. As you inhale, your chest and abdomen should expand; as you exhale, your chest and abdominal wall should flatten. This concept is important when retraining your core after birth. The muscles in your belly must shorten before they can be strengthened. Exhaling while pulling your abs in shortens and strengthens with each outward breath. Continued ›

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About The Author

Sara Hambridge Sara Hambridge
Sara is a graduate of Saint Louis University's physical therapy program. She practices physical therapy and enjoys sand volleyball, yoga, and Pilates.

Member Comments

    It took a YEAR before my core felt normal again after an emergency C-section. My son is now 3 and I'm only just reaching pre-pregnancy strength - not through being lazy either, I'm someone who enjoys exercise. - 4/20/2014 4:01:42 AM
  • what if the baby is 22 years old ? - 1/2/2014 1:12:19 PM
  • I wish I knew this when I was carrying. - 7/22/2013 4:45:31 PM
    I am 60 but need those exercises - cannot do hectic, heavy (arthritus etc.) but I do find the toe and ankle can be done around some limited movement and lying down the leg lifts and not quite bicycle but knees up too to a reasonable amount - try to work through pain here and there- not too much but enough to get far more supple this last year than I have for years following accident and enforced bed rest - boy did I get weak!Gradually making myself aim for those 13 steps 13 times a day - only managed once bit 7-8 usual when heart/arthritus says yes. Every little helps - I keep telling myself and I even congratulate myself out loud (no I have not quite lost the plot yet!) - 5/19/2013 7:06:47 AM
    OK ladies...these comments remind me of the 'pregnancy & birth' stories you hear when you are pregnant with your first child. Some are scary & depressing, while others are encouraging and reduce fears. I agree with Jeri. Secondly, I totally agree with Jibbie: after 5 kiddos, we do need to rebuild our cores. I have 5 great kids ranging from age 17 to 2 months old. First 3 I had in my mid to late 20s. Just doing activities with them kept a young momma moving. AT 35: 4th child I was able to take time for self, workout, water aerobics. He was an emergency c-section, I think because of being able to be fit, the recovery went well. With our fifth, at age 40, I had to have a c-section, unfortunately was not able to do all the great things I did with our 4th, so less tone. I have to admit it did make a difference in post pregnancy weight and do feel more of a pooch or a wimpier core. It DOES take 6 weeks to bounce back from a c-section. Treat yourself to no guilt for not working out. #1 - medically it is NOT recommended. #2 your body needs to heal , recover and hormones stabilize. I have to admit I did a little too much the 3/4 week after c-section....I felt as if I just got home from the hospital. A little scary, but after a week was feeling back on track. ~ So ladies..looking forward to strengthening our CORE! - 5/8/2012 12:04:34 PM
  • I have had 6 children, the last 2 a year ago. (twins) and a 2 1/2 yr old in nov 2009. I was a surrogate and my own kids are 22, 19 and 15, so I had forgot what the post pregnancy belly was like. I am slowly working it off, but I agree with others...there's no way I could have done any of those exercises after a c-section. Natural childbirth was a breeze compared to how I felt after surgery, and I had a birth center birth and went home 2 hours after she was born with my first surrogacy and had my own 3 at home. The twins are my only hospital, medicated birth. I actually hate that c-section scar more than anything else!! - 5/1/2012 2:37:13 AM
  • i wish I knew all this before, I would not have contemplated children until 50 !!!!

    I hate the C-section hanging skin, and never went back to the 5' 10' 120 lb I was before that pregnancy, :(

    I still do not understand people that go for elective C-sections. - 3/13/2012 6:57:04 PM
  • JERI83839
    at first I was motivated reading this article, my son is 9 months old and I have feel pretty depressed about my pouch... but then felt like i could do these exercises to start especially since i havent really worked out at all since like the middle of my pregnancy... and for a minute I felt like I could do this and really make a difference.

    BUT THEN... I read all of your comments! Geez... only like a few positive comments and they were all from the PREGNANT moms.... (I know I felt positive when I was pregnant too)

    I thought this site was supposed to ENCOURAGE others and help you keep that SPARK so that you were motivated to work out and live a healthy life and have POSITIVE self images...

    Whatever... I am still going to try the things in the article... Its worth a shot... and I can't afford plastic surgery - 10/24/2011 10:57:05 PM
  • I just stumbled across this article and clicked on it since I am currently working on getting my body back in shape after having a baby. While I can see starting to SLOWLY work back into an ab strengthening routine within a few days of a vaginal delivery, I was still on pain killers and having to use my arms and my husband to pull myself into a sitting position and has to roll and use my arms to get up out of bed due to my c-section. There was NO WAY I was doing any sort of ab exercises within a few days after my son's birth! It took me 7 weeks to not be in horrible pain getting out of a comfy chair and now 7 months later it has only been 1 month that doing pushups or situps hasn't felt like I was being torn in half! Oh, and I feel it necessary to add that I was in pretty good shape before I was pregnant and barely gained the 25 pounds my doctor recommended for my pregnancy. - 4/20/2011 9:49:23 AM
  • I wish I had known this after my deliveries. Can you still fix the widening of the muscles months later? - 4/11/2011 10:25:54 AM
    This is incredible! http://pregnancyp - 2/1/2011 4:13:07 PM
  • My "baby" is 19 years old. I probably should stop blaming him for my weight gain. But, seriously, I still have the post c-section belly overhang. Is there any hope for that? - 12/14/2010 9:19:08 PM
  • Part of me wishes I had known this when I gave birth--it's 22 months later and the jelly around my tummy is really depressing me. On the other hand, I really cannot picture myself actually doing these exercises while I was in the hospital recovering, or even the first three days after coming home. I was too exhausted and busy worrying about things like why I was such a miserable failure at breastfeeding and how often my daughter was pooping to think about exercise!

    I am a bit disappointed in the article because I was hoping there might be some longer-range suggestions for those of us who are still struggling with the baby jiggle months or years later. Instead, it cuts off just a few days after giving birth. Thanks, but... not a lot of help 22 months on. - 5/26/2009 9:50:15 AM
  • Thanks so much for this article! Prepping for pregnancy and coming out of it healthy and getting back to normal is a goal for many women. We need all the information we can get. Keep it coming! - 3/19/2009 11:05:55 AM
    I wish i knew this...i let me abs go and therefore they turned their back on me. HA HA..never fear i have not lost hope - 2/17/2009 3:30:15 PM
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