TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Strong Core And Pregnancy
The core is the center part of the body. These muscles are pivotal to the strength of the torso and the health of the body. The core holds all of the vital organs and the central nervous system. It includes the abs, hips, lower back, abdomen and pelvis. These work together harmoniously for better body functioning. When all these muscles are strengthened, overall balance and stability improve. This enables the body to bend down to tie shoelaces, pick up something or reach for a canister on the top shelf. Core strength is a necessity throughout life for both women and men.
A strong core can help manage the demands of carrying a baby. Having a strong core helps to deal with the changes in a mother’s body during each trimester. When undergoing an exercise routine to strengthen the core, consider the following:
When a baby bump grows during pregnancy, the mother’s center of gravity changes. Mothers increasingly rely on their backs for balance and support. This can lead to issues with the spine in the lower back if the core muscles are not stable. Good posture strengthens back muscles and the spine even with a growing bump. After birth, the added strength in the back is useful to carry a newborn.
Labor is more effective
Strong core muscles in pregnant mothers enable them to use leverage in various birthing positions more easily. There will be more control of the pelvic floor muscles making pushing and delivery more comfortable and more effective.
Pregnancy And The Core Muscles
Strong core muscles can prepare pregnant women for the demands of a swelling belly and the hardships of impending labor .
One of the functions of the belly muscles is to support to the lumbar spine and stabilize the joints around the pelvic area. The deep abdominal muscles, diaphragm and pelvic floor area enclose the contents of the abdomen creating a stronghold around the body’s midsection. These muscles often pull on the other muscles to engage a low-intensity hold that further establishes the stability of the core, aiding in every movement.
When the body changes to accommodate a fetus, muscles can start to go awry. As the growing belly of a pregnant woman stretches, the front muscles and the pelvis yield forward. This alters the ability to stabilize this particular section of the body .
Core Muscles During Pregnancy
The body is a fascinating structure. A woman’s body is flooded with relaxin when she becomes pregnant. Relaxin, a hormone, relaxes the ligaments of the pelvis, softens and stretches the cervix and relaxes uterine muscles.
Unfortunately, this hormone causes ligaments in the spine, the sacroiliac joints and the other core muscles to loosen.
Due to this, women sometimes feel pain in the hips. It can lead to instability of the spine and subsequent back pain. This is why it is important to start with a strong core before pregnancy.
Interestingly, men produce the relaxin hormone as well. It affects sperm mobility and subsequent fertilization.
The belly undergoes a lot of changes during pregnancy. The inner organs are displaced, and the belly button may evert. The abs (rectus abdominis muscles) are especially strained during pregnancy. The rectus abdominal muscles are a paired set of muscles. During the third trimester, the abs sometimes become separated. This is called diastasis recti. It is the separation of the connective tissues that lie in the two parallel muscles of the recti around the midline area of the belly. The separation of this particular group of muscles is not that painful, but it may compromise the belly and core’s structural integrity .
The most common symptom of diastasis recti is the development of a bulge or a pooch. Other symptoms include lower back pain, poor posture, constipation and bloating. It typically appears around the belly button. If the gap widens, a tear in the connective tissues can occur causing a hernia.
For those that develop diastasis recti, it is important not to strain. Refrain from lifting anything heavy, and limit the motions of standing up and down. When you do lift, lift from the knees. Now is the time to limit certain exercises. This includes crunches, planks, push-ups and any activity that includes being on the hands and knees. Avoid deep twists. Swimming and some yoga exercises (downward dog) may be also problems as well.
Typically, the opening shrinks after birth, but it can take as long as a year. A doctor can measure the width of the gap and may suggest physical therapy to learn gentle movements or a support belt.
Diastasis recti can occur in both newborns and men. Men can develop this condition as a result of performing incorrect exercises (sit-ups) or weightlifting.
Preparing Your Core For Pregnancy
A woman should start pregnancy core exercises as soon as she is thinking of getting pregnant. Pregnancy is not the right time to engage in strenuous core training programs. However, certain approved exercises can strengthen the core and belly before the delivery date. Strengthening the core muscles can help lessen muscle instability and separation and strengthen the abdomen and pelvic floor. Focus on strengthening the lower abdominal muscles by doing exercises like pelvic tilts. Crunches should be avoided once the belly starts to get larger, typically beginning with the second trimester of pregnancy.
Before and during pregnancy, the pelvic floor muscles should continue to be strengthened. Perform specific pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegel exercises. Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles helps support the bladder, bowel and affect sexual function. Kegel exercises can be done at any time. These pelvic floor exercises are the perfect exercise not only for pregnant women but anyone who has issues with urine or fecal incontinence.
Tips For Staying Strong During Pregnancy
Always check with an Ob-Gyn before embarking on an exercise program. Consider hiring a personal trainer that specializes in pregnancy. Remember, allowable exercises will change as each trimester is experienced.
Yoga exercises, especially body balance and or body flow exercises, are ideal for core stretching and strengthening. Mothers may have to vary or stop different poses as pregnancy progresses. Yoga affords lots of options for exercises to match your specific pregnancy trimester. Pregnant women should consider attending classes on a regular basis during pregnancy. Look for yoga classes that specialize in exercises for pregnant women.
Strength training can decrease lower back pain, lessen the chance of muscle strain, and lead to a faster and more comfortable labor. Abs exercise during pregnancy must be done using correct form. It is a good idea to work with a personal trainer experienced in the unique needs of pregnant women to learn how to exercise appropriately. Pay attention to breathing patterns while exercising. Holding the breath while lifting spikes blood pressure. Remember to always lift from the knees. Make sure to lift with the knees bent versus using the back. Heavy lifting should be avoided. Check with a doctor to see what strength exercises are appropriate.
Stay active and keep moving
Unless a mother develops complications during pregnancy, staying active is a great way to prepare for birth. Walking and stair walking is an easy way to develop a stronger core. As pregnancy progresses, it is essential to keep moving. If swelling occurs in the lower extremities, a health care provider might suggest staying off the legs and elevating them instead.
A woman’s body goes through drastic changes as pregnancy progresses. She may experience more than just an aching back, pelvis and hips. As the stomach expands, the shoulders may ache. Numbness and tingling in the arms or a leg can appear starting in the first trimester. This can be due to hormonal changes or water retention that puts pressure on the nerves. Sciatica occurs when pressure is applied to the sciatic nerve due to fluid retention or baby shifting. In cases of sciatica, there is often a sharp shooting pain down one leg and numbness and tingling in the affected leg. For questions about pain or new sensations, contact a healthcare provider.
Continue an exercise routine after giving birth. Form or join a mother’s support group. Each woman should progress at her own rate, but all women should practice gentle exercises to heal strained muscles and avoid exerting undue pressure. Go slow, perhaps doing each exercise only twice. Use a pillow to support the head and shoulders. Do not hold the breath, and breathe deeply.
Keeping A Strong Pregnancy Core
A strong core is one answer to a safe and successful pregnancy and delivery. It will also make it easier to carry the baby after birth. The body undergoes drastic changes during pregnancy. Increased intra-abdominal pressure can lead to intra-abdominal hypertension (pre-eclampsia) which can have devastating effects. Also, the workout may not remain fluid as pregnancy progresses. Sometimes, changes due to complications or body limitations may be required. Always check with a health care provider to see what exercises are best.
Abs Exercise During Pregnancy Resources: Better Health Channel; Pregnancy and exercise, April 2017.
 US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health; Guidelines for Physical Activity during Pregnancy: Comparisons From Around the World
Kelly R. Evenson, PhD, MS, FACSM, Ruben Barakat, PhD, Wendy J. Brown, PhD, MSc, FACSM, Patricia Dargent-Molina, PhD, Megumi Haruna, Ph.D., Ellen M. Mikkelsen, PhD, MPH, RN, Michelle F. Mottola, PhD, FACSM, Katrine M. Owe, PhD, Emily K. Rousham, PhD, SeonAe Yeo, PhD, April 2014.
 New Parent Support; Pelvic floor and stomach exercises in pregnancy.
 US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health; Diastasis recti abdominis during pregnancy and 12 months after childbirth: prevalence, risk factors and report of lumbopelvic pain, Jorun Bakken Sperstad, Merete Kolberg Tennfjord, Gunvor Hilde, Marie Ellström-Engh, Kari B, June 20, 2016.