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Can Crunches Flatten Your Post Baby Belly?

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So often women tell me, "I have been doing sit-ups for months and I can't get rid of this pooch".

I have a confession to make . . . I did not do one single sit-up to lose my "baby belly"!

Sit-ups are NOT the answer to a flat stomach post baby. In fact, the factors contributing to a flat stomach are numerous and include hormones, birth complications, body fat, diet, strength, and even sleep. Here we are going to talk most specifically about core strength.

First, the obvious but often ignored reality. . . .

A woman's abs undergo a great deal of stretch and strain during pregnancy.  You must have reasonable expectations as to the length of time it takes to get back into your skinny jeans.

However, I know moms who still struggle with the baby belly well past their child's first birthday.  In fact, women decades down the road could still be suffering from pain or movement problems related to pregnancy. Oh, the things we do for our children!

So what are we doing wrong?

Exercise is great for postpartum recovery to increase metabolism, improve strength, fight depression, and build stamina to care for your growing family.  However, engaging in any ab exercise, such as sit-ups, actually worsens the problem with postnatal conditions like abdominal separation (diastasis recti) or pelvic floor dysfunction.

In fact, I would say most women experience these conditions to at least some minor degree.  I mean, how could your abdominal and pelvic muscles really be 100% after the trauma they endured.

In order to protect these muscles, avoid any movement that places a strain on the midline or increases abdominal compression.  These are exercises that cause the belly to bulge outward as often occurs when you attempt a plank position.  You should be able to keep your belly button pulled in during all core exercises you perform.

So what's a Mamma to do?

Traditional exercises performed to get a "six pack" are not going to give you the flat stomach you desire.  You will need to focus on the deeper muscles of the abdomen and pelvic floor.

Think of these like a corset that goes from the hip bones up to the ribs.  Perform movements that would cause a tightening of this corset. Specific exercise to pull in that corset including pelvic tilts, toe taps, heel slides, sling leg stretches, and bridges.

Still not getting results?

Many women during pregnancy and postpartum need to see a physical therapist for guidance on pain, movement, and body awareness.  In fact, this is the norm in many other countries around the world.

If you think you may have an actual separation of the abdominal muscles, a physical therapist will help "close the gap".  You will need to start with guided, gentle core strengthening exercises that will pave the way for more vigorous abdominal exercises as you heal.

If you gave birth in the past several months, ask your physician or physical therapist for any restrictions you must follow.  Women who have had a recent cesarean section should be watchful of discomfort during exercise. Pain could indicate an exercise is being done too soon or incorrectly.

More than just a flat tummy!

Core (back, stomach, pelvis) weakness can make even the simplest task of carrying your baby, getting out of the car, or lifting groceries a painful chore.  Strengthening will give you a strong, stable base from which to perform all of your daily movements and exercise. This can alleviate many aches and pains and prevent injury in the future.

Remember. . . as we strive to "get our abs back", what we really want is to regain strength, eliminate low back pain, and develop a pelvic floor that doesn't leak.  The flat abs and skinny jeans are just a welcome side effect!

For more information on how a Postnatal Specialist can help you with your post-baby belly or back concerns, visit our website at the link below or e-mail amanda@peakpotentialpt.com