How does being pregnant and giving birth affect core health?
While pregnancy isn’t the time to focus on training your core muscles, you can still take steps to maintain your fitness and keep your midsection strong during your pregnancy. Embracing this approach can help keep your perinatal pelvic floor strong and increase your sense of control during labor. A strong core can also alleviate the pressure that carrying a baby puts on your back and support proper posture to fend off the lower-back pain.
Postnatal, your pelvic floor muscles, the base of your core that supports your bladder, uterus, and rectum, may be lengthened and weakened. A commonly associated symptom of a weakened pelvic floor is stress urinary incontinence (SUI), when physical movement or activity, such as coughing, sneezing, running, or heavy lifting results in slight to moderate urination.
“SUI is not an ‘injury’ per se, but it’s an indication of failure of the deep central stability system, or the core,” explains Julie Wiebe, PT, a Los Angeles–based physical therapist who specializes in helping women return to fitness after injury and pregnancy.
Peeing during activity is common for many women with a weakened pelvic floor — including women who have not given birth — but it can be prevented. (Surprise! The answer isn’t more Kegel exercises.)
These three core-strengthening drills are safe for pregnant women, though they can benefit anyone with a weak pelvic floor. Perform them three times a week, completing all reps of each exercise before moving on to the next.
- Sit on a stability ball, in good posture, with both feet flat on the floor.
- Engage and lift your pelvic floor away from the ball, as if you were trying to stop a stream of urine.
- Lift one foot under control a few inches off the floor and hold for a beat before returning your foot to the floor and switching sides.
- Perform as many reps you can with good form, up to 10 to 12 reps per side.
- Make the move more challenging by raising your arm straight up as you lift the opposite foot.
- Lie down on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor and hip width apart.
- Place a ball about the size of a small soccer ball between your knees.
- Squeeze your glutes and bring your ribs down toward the floor.
- Drive down through your heels to lift your hips up until they form a straight line with your knees and shoulders. Keep your ribs down.
- Lower your hips to the floor under control and repeat.
- Perform 10 to 20 reps.
Pelvic-Floor Breath Squats
- Stand up in tall posture, with your joints stacked and ribs down.
- Move your feet out to a width that feels stable in a squat.
- Inhale through your nose and lift your pelvic floor as if you are trying to stop a stream of urine as you sit your butt down between your heels.
- Exhale through pursed lips as you stand back up, relaxing your pelvic floor as you go.
- Perform as many reps as you can with good form, up to 10 to 15 reps per side.