What is the Core and what happens to it after pregnancy and c-section?
Core. We hear this word often in fitness circles. There are several programmes that promise you a stronger core. And there are also postnatal programmes that make promises about recovering or restoring your core after birth. What is it we are talking about? Many people think our core is only our abdominal muscles. In fact, our abs are part of the core, but it includes other muscles in our trunk: pelvic floor muscles and muscles in the back and hips. The diaphragm is also a core muscle.
A balanced and developed core will:
- Keep our chest and pelvis stable during dynamic movement, meaning it will maintain good posture, balance and alignment.
- Provides a platform for arms and legs to move effectively.
- Plays an important role in optimal breathing.
- Contains and protects our internal organs.
How is the core affected by a c-section?
There are many changes in pregnancy that affect the woman’s core. I am going to list some of them but it is important to note that the core is a system and all the elements have to be in good shape and work together for optimal function.
Transversus abdominis. The deepest abdominal muscle. It is like a belt. We activate it when we draw our belly button towards our spine. During pregnancy, it loses part of the connection with the connective tissue in the abdomen. Also during a c-section, the surgeon will push down this muscle in order to reach to the womb. This muscle needs to be retrained as it is essential for pelvic and spine stability. It is sometimes called the “corset muscle” as training this muscle will give you a flat belly.
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that lays between our lungs and the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm contracts and goes down when we breathe in and relaxed and domes up when we breathe out. During pregnancy, as the womb grows, the ribcage expands to the sides and the diaphragm cannot go up and down as before because there is no room. In the postnatal period, sometimes ribs and diaphragm stay stuck in that position. This will create an imbalance in the body, lead to bad posture and improper breathing patterns.
Rectus Abdominis is the external muscle at the front of our belly that we usually call the “six pack”. During pregnancy, the growing womb will press this muscle and create a separation in the centre where there is a strip of connective tissue that is called linea alba that will stretch. This gap is called diastasis recti and it is quite common in pregnant women. However, after birth, sometimes this gap does not close, resulting in poor muscle connection and bulging belly. It will weaken the core, can cause back pain and affect pelvic floor performance. Diastasis recti are more common in women that have gone through a c-section as the connective tissue is cut during the process and muscles are pulled apart.
Pelvic Floor Muscles are a system of muscles that provide a supportive sling for your internal organs Many people believe that because you did not give birth vaginally, they are probably OK after a c-section and you should not be worried about them. In fact, the surgery can weaken the whole area and create adhesions and imbalances that can result in other problems from pain to incontinence. You should always check and retrain your pelvic floor muscles after a c-section.
What can we do to restore the core after a c-section?
Even though I have outlined different elements of the pelvic floor and what can be wrong with them after pregnancy and c-section, I need to emphasize that everything is connected inside our bodies. The core is a system and if one part is not functioning properly, it would reflect and affect a different element of it. Energy needs to flow freely within our body and that can only happen when there is a balance between our muscles and organs.
Massage and energy healing can release the restrictions and blockages in your body. It is important to treat those muscles that did not come back into position at the end of the pregnancy. There might be stuck and need some work to release them. Lifestyle habits can affect your healing in different ways. For example, if you are sitting feeding your newborn for hours like most mums do, you can end up with rounded shoulders and some restriction in your breathing.
It is important to note that stress also decreases our natural ability to heal. The stress hormone cortisol is very high in the postpartum period, so relaxation and proper rest are crucial. Even the proper hydration and nutrition have an important role in core performance.
When you are looking to regain your body after a c-section you need to properly check that all your core is working in harmony: your breath, your abdominal muscles, your pelvic floor.