Postpartum Fitness Part 1: What You Need to Know Before Jumping Back In

Christine McDowell is a personal trainer in the Annapolis area with a passion for helping her clients move better and get stronger. Contact Christine at

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or new to the fitness world, you’ve probably been anxiously awaiting the green light from your OB or Midwife to return to exercise. Mentally, you might be ready to jump into your Crossfit class, start training for that triathlon or get back to doing headstands in yoga. The body snaps right back, right? Not quite… The thing is, by carrying a baby for nine long months and bringing your little human earth-side, you have put tremendous demands on your entire body – especially your core. Although your doctor may give you the thumbs up at your 6-week check-up, I recommend taking it slow.

A Crash Course on the Core

Think of your core as the musculature connecting your ribs to your pelvis. These muscles wrap around the torso and run through and around the pelvis, keeping you upright and your organs in place. Beyond the superficial muscles like the “abs,” there are deep core stabilizers which include the transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and the pelvic floor. Like the frame of a house, these muscles create stability in your torso and pelvis and transmit energy to your limbs. The deep core stabilizers are always working in the background, the first to react to even the thought of movement.

Depending on your unique body and the needs of your growing baby, the core muscles can become overly stretched and/or tight during pregnancy and delivery and may stop working efficiently. These muscles are often forgotten but they are vital to keeping our bodies functioning properly. If you lose stability and strength in the core, your body will find it elsewhere putting unnecessary stress on the neck, hips, etc.

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Like I mentioned above, your deep core muscles are under tremendous stress during pregnancy and delivery. Throw in the demands of caring for a newborn and you have a recipe for some tired and overworked muscles which may lead to pelvic floor dysfunction. Many women do not know they have pelvic floor dysfunction. Here are some symptoms to look out for:

Urinary and/or fecal incontinence
Unexplained pain (neck, hip, knee, back, etc)
Pelvic organ prolapse
Pain during intercourse

If you are a new mom or experiencing any of the symptoms above, I encourage you to see a Women’s Health Physical Therapist. If you’re in the Annapolis area, visit AAMC’s Pelvic Health team or check out this link for a Women’s Health PT near you

Diastasis Recti

As your uterus grows, the connective tissue down the center of the abdominals, the linea alba, stretches to accommodate. If the linea alba is stretched too thin, the abdominals begin to separate. This separation is known as diastasis recti (DR). Although this separation is normal, if we do not restore tension in the linea alba we lose support in the core and risk bulging. This is not only aesthetically unappealing but functionally detrimental. We can begin to heal DR by improving alignment and core function and by choosing appropriate exercises. Don’t worry, even if you’re 5 years postpartum, it’s not too late to address DR! Your OB, Midwife or Physical Therapist can check to see if you have DR but you can also check for yourself and keep track of your progress.

Watch this tutorial by postpartum fitness expert, Jessie Mundell.

Check back tomorrow for some practical tips and exercises from Christine!