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5 Postnatal Exercise Do’s and Don’ts to Strengthen Your Core

by Whitney Poma |

So, you are “cleared” for exercise after baby. Now what?

After that “all clear” I know it’s hard to fight the temptation to jump (literally) back into your old fitness routines or a new fitness routine that promises getting your body back sweat and soreness and dropping the pounds, but doing so could actually do more harm than good. Your body has been through a lot with pregnancy and childbirth. Like A LOT!! I know modern society likes to downplay or ignore the magnificent feat that moms go through to GROW and bring life into this world but ladies - this is a HUGE thing!! Returning to exercise after having a baby should be about making you feel like your best and strongest self, inside and out, and not about dropping the baby weight.


As a Pilates instructor that specializes in pre and postnatal fitness, I work with women before, during and after pregnancy to help them be strong, pain-free and handle the physical demands of motherhood effortlessly. My primary message to women who are returning to exercise after baby is to start small, build the foundations. So, I’m here to tell you start small, build the foundations. Doing so will make future exercise that much more effective. Because if you go too far too fast you risk serious and possibly lasting injury and then you have to take many, many steps backward or even have your future exercise options changed forever. 


The first 4 months after having a baby matter the most in building a solid base. Spend this time working on rebuilding your strength from the inside-out and avoiding exercises that create the following symptoms that suggest you are pushing yourself too far too fast. 

  • Incontinence/Leakage is a sign that your pelvic floor muscles and deep abdominals are not yet strong enough to handle the exercises you are doing. 

  • Pelvic pain, pressure or a feeling of heaviness in your pelvic floor is a sign of pelvic floor dysfunction or prolapse. If you have these symptoms, it is important that you visit a pelvic health physical therapist to assess what is going on and work with you to remedy the situation.  

  • Doming or coning through the middle of your abdomen is a sign of a possibly diastasis recti, or separation of the linea alba between the two sides of the rectus abdominus (6-pack abs). Diastasis Recti is actually normal for all women after pregnancy but doing the wrong exercises that create this doming can result in a prolonged or permanent diastasis that can lead to the low belly mommy pooch, back pain, and pelvic floor dysfunction.   

  • Low back or hip pain is pretty common as a new mom but if exercise causes you more discomfort in these areas then take that as a sign that you need to slow down or modify your workout routine. 

  • Exhaustion, out of breath, overly sore muscles is a pretty obvious sign that you’ve pushed it too far. Remember you are recovering from a major physical change and possibly major abdominal surgery as well if you had a c-section. Give yourself some grace and slow down so you can properly recovery.  


Here are 5 exercises I suggest to avoid until you’ve spent the time building your foundations. 

  1. Running! – Running within the first 4 months after giving birth can put added stress on an already strained pelvic floor potentially resulting in or exacerbating a prolapse or incontinence. Even after 4 months if you haven’t done what is needed to rebuild a strong pelvic floor and deep core muscles, leaping back into running could still result in these things. If you have any symptoms like leaking, pressure, feelings of heaviness then you probably aren’t ready to train for that first after baby 5k. 
  2. Plyometrics (jumping jacks, box jumps)– Same as running, these high impact exercises put pressure downward and outward on weak and injured pelvic floor muscles and deep core muscles.  Best to avoid until you have done the work to rebuild this strength and connection. 
  3. Planks or Burpees – I’ve got a theme going here. Planks and burpees can create additional intrabdominal pressure. Intraabdomiwhat? Basically, when you don’t coordinate your breath and movement you create pressure that pushes down and out on the pelvic floor and rectus abdominus – creating or exacerbating diastasis recti,  pelvic floor symptoms or even hurting your low back. 
  4. Ab flexion against gravity (Sit-ups) – I know ladies you want to get rid of that baby belly pooch and it seems like sit-ups would be the exact way to do that, but in all honesty doing these too soon and incorrectly can actually make that pooch worse, exacerbate a diastasis recti and cause harm to your low back. Check out the list below for a better place to start in flattening out your tummy. 
  5. Hot anything (Pilates, yoga, etc.) – Working out in a heated room relaxes your muscles and ligaments which may seem like something you want given how tight and sore you are from breastfeeding and baby carrying.  But you will still have the hormone relaxin surging through your body, especially if you are breastfeeding, creating laxity and instability in your joints. Adding the heat in these exercise can create additional instability resulting in injury particular in shoulders and hips. Best to do these exercise without the heat. 


If you are in a group class that includes any of these moves consider skipping or modifying until you no longer have symptoms. You will be able to progress back to these things when the time is right. But only after you create a solid foundation from the INSIDE-OUT!!

Mom working out with baby


Here are 5 exercises I recommend to start with instead.

Transverse Abdominus/Pelvic Floor Activation
Also known as Hug the Belly. #1 best thing you can do to restore your core strength after baby. 

  1. Wrap a band around your waist at your belly button.  
  2. Inhale and feel your ribs expand 360 degrees and relax your pelvic floor. Exhale and feel like you are drawing your pelvic floor in and up (Imagine your pubic bone, tailbone, and each sitz bone drawing towards the center then lifting like an arcade claw game)
  3. Peel your belly button straight back and away from the band while stitching your ribs together. (not a suck in or round forward)
  4. Do 10 – 20 a day
Leg Slides 
  1. Lay on your back in neutral spine with knees bent and each foot on a paper plate or wash cloth. 
  2. Inhale to slide 1 leg away. Exhale, feel the connection of the pelvic floor and low TVA first, then begin to draw the leg in. It’s important that you feel the connection a split second before you move.
  3. Alternate side to side 5 – 8 times, as long as you can maintain core connection and neutral pelvis.  Try not to rock side to side.
Hip Abduction/Adduction
  1. Lie on mat on your side with back of head, ribs and pelvis lined up, bottom leg bent and top leg long. Hug the belly to avoid collapsing into bottom side. 
  2. Float top leg up to hip height while keeping hips stacked.
  3. Complete 5 – 8 reps on each side. 
Mini swan with rib lift
  1. Lay on stomach with forearms under your shoulders. 
  2. Reach through the crown of your head to bring your gaze to the front of your mat and begin to  slowly peel your chest up. 
  3. Hold here and inhale 360 degrees letting the belly and pelvic floor relax. 
  4. Exhale, lift the pelvic floor in and up and begin to peel the ribs and belly away from the mat. 
  5. Repeat 5 – 8 times. 
Side lift
  1. Lie on your side with elbow under shoulder and back of head, ribs and pelvis lined up and both legs bent. Hug the belly to avoid collapsing into bottom side. 
  2. Exhale and lift hips straight off the mat. Inhale to lower down.
  3. Complete 5 – 8 reps on each side. 

While these exercises may seem small, they will help to rebuild your core from the inside-out and will aid not only in gaining back that flat tummy after having a baby but also  strengthen the most important muscles for you to be a strong and resilient mom. Because ladies, MOMMING IS HARD WORK! You need your body to work for you and not against you so you can feel great and keep up with the fun of your family.  So, let’s get you there!


For more exercises to begin with download my free 14 Daily Postnatal Exercise Guide. Or join the waitlist for the next 8-week Postnatal Core Kickstart Program where I go into more depth on everything here and work with you directly to help you regain your core strength and return to exercise postpartum. 


And for regular pre and postnatal exercise, motherhood and lifestyle advice, follow me on Instagram @conscious_core_caitlin.


About Caitlin:

Caitlin Hatzenbuhler, is a nationally certified Pilates teacher and owner of Conscious Core Pilates in California.  She started practicing Pilates after years of health issues and became a believer in the power of movement to heal and stay strong, centered and move with more ease through a crazy life as a mom and wife. In 2017, she left a demanding 15 year career in high-tech corporate marketing to pursue her passion for Pilates and become an instructor herself. Throughout her training she realized there was an important need to better help soon-to-be and new moms be strong, healthy and active. To fill this critical gap she now specializes in prenatal and postnatal Pilates to help discouraged moms connect with their core so they can keep up with the demands of motherhood, feel confident in their body and live vibrant and joyful lives.
IG: @conscious_core_caitlin


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