How can I flatten my belly after baby?
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
Hmm...maybe flatter isn't the most accurate and healthiest goal—how about getting my abdominals and entire core more powerful so I can care for my baby better? Or return to running sooner? Or get rid of my back pain faster?
While we would all love to have a flat stomach after having a baby, flat does not equal powerful. The desire to have a flat stomach is often intertwined with our self-image, which can understandably take a hit when we go through a pregnancy and birth, and improving our self-image can be multifactorial. As a physical therapist, I have found with my patients that the quickest path back to restoring self-image is not to focus on the flatness of our abdominals per se, but on their power.
That's not to say that our abdomens don't get flatter as we work on core power--they often do; but by focusing your attention on returning to doing what you love, the result is often much more rewarding! Consider this 3-pronged approach:
1. Define what it is you are having difficulty or pain doing, post-baby. Be as specific as you can.
Maybe your back hurts when you change your baby's diaper, or you leak when you cough or exercise; maybe your neck hurts after feeding or nursing your baby, or you can't pick your toddler up without pain. Or maybe you are just beat at the end of your day and you don't really know why. Choose one or two specific challenges that are impacting your life the most right now and write them down. Try to be specific (and bonus points if they are measurable!). Examples might include:
I feel great in the morning, but by 4:00 pm my back really hurts
I leak whenever I sneeze hard, or jog more than a block
My neck and shoulders hurt every time I nurse my baby
My hips hurt when I stand more than 15 minutes
My bottom feels like it is falling out when I stand more than 10 minutes
My c-section scar aches whenever I hold my baby more than 5 minutes
Specifically defining your physical challenge(s) now will make all your hard work on strengthening your core much more rewarding, as you will be able to clearly see your progress as you compare your yourself from start to finish. We all need that motivation!
2. Understand the anatomy. If you don't understand what muscles make up the core, then it is harder to get where you need to go!
What do we mean by core? Is it the same as abdominals? Should I just start doing a bunch of sit-ups? (Answer—no!)
There is a lot more to the core than the "six-pack" muscles. In fact, six-pack refers to the rectus abdominis, part of your outer core muscles. Post-baby, we need to first focus on the inner core—the foundation of our core strength. Your inner core for our purposes here is comprised of 4 sets of muscles which are designed to work in sync to hold everything together and give us the stability and support we need to do the things we love to do. These 4 muscle groups are: