Baby Got Back

Uncategorized Nov 04, 2021

“I want to get my body back.”  

This is probably the most common answer to: What are your goals for attending my postpartum exercise program?

As a Women’s Health Physical Therapist and Postnatal Pilates/Core Restore Specialist, I have worked with hundreds of postpartum women over the years.  Whether they had a vaginal delivery or a C-section or a VBAC, they are unified in their response.  They all think their body has gone somewhere, perhaps on a tropical vacation, and they are beckoning it to cut the vacation off early and head on home.  

And I get it.  I’ve had 3 children and I vividly remember poking at the jiggly belly flap that floated up to the top of the tub a few days after the birth of my first son.  I poked at it, and turned my head sideways at it, and then spent months trying to tuck it into a binder or my jeans or suck it as far back as I could.

After all, who wanted to sign up for my Restore your Core class when my stomach was off on a tropical vacation of its own.

I felt like a walking billboard for my small business and I couldn’t help but compare myself to those magazine cover photos haunting the checkout line and taunting me “Look over here at us, Carrie, we got our bodies back after just 6 weeks.”  

There it is.  That word.  Back.

Do we ever get our bodies back?  

I don’t think so.

In order to get them back, they would have to leave us in the first place, but they never leave.  They just change.  

All the same parts, just organized in different ways.  

And I believe we can get those parts stronger than they were before birth.  So instead of wishing to get our bodies back, let’s take another approach and celebrate, like Sir Mix a Lot did, the fact that Baby Got Back.

After the birth of my second child, I was obsessed with those DIY shows where they take a dilapidated old house and turn it into a masterpiece.  Maybe it’s because I was stretched out and sore and my body was feeling a little like the “before” picture of these fixer upper shows.  

And I was desperate for the big reveal.  If only my own “fixer upper” could be transformed into the “after” photo in just 42 minutes while I sat patiently on the couch feeding my newborn for the 8th time that day while attempting to entertain my toddler.  

While our bodies might be a lot like these fixer upper projects, let me be abundantly clear about one thing.  They are NOT tear downs.  Our bodies are not broken and they did not fail us.  They are constantly doing their absolute best to help us out and heal and rebuild.  

They just need a little guidance from us.  And some realistic expectations.

We are most overwhelmed with health-related crises when we don’t know what is going on.  Knowledge is power and once we surround ourselves with expert information, we can make decisions about how to proceed.

So what factors affect the way our bodies (especially our bellies) will look after birth?  

The single most important factor is……drum roll please…..genetics.  


Of course, the one thing we have no control over.

Some of us are blessed with collagen that stretches and miraculously returns to something resembling its previous form.  But most of us have collagen that stretches and flounders a bit.  It also matters how many times you stretched and retracted and how much weight you gained with each pregnancy.  

And this is a great time to talk about diastasis rectus abdominus, the fancy term for an abnormal separation of the rectus abdominus muscles.  

Scroll down for a video to do a self test to determine if you have this but if you answer yes to any of the following, there’s a good chance you have some degree of DRA:

 1) You notice a doming or coning in the abdomen when you go from lying down to sitting or when you lean back.

2) You feel like you still look 6 months pregnant even thoughyou are 6 months (or 6 years) postpartum

3) When you try to exercise to tone your body, you feel like your belly gets worse

4) You have back pain or urinary leakage

So Cosmo says you’re fat…well I ain’t down with that.” 

A lot of programs start with some sort of body cleanse to detox things and prepare the terrain.  I want to suggest the same thing.

But it’s a brain cleanse.

We need to flush out the images of what we think “normal” postpartum bodies look like.

Forget the Instagram influencers, the celebrities, the unrealistic image you’ve cooked up in your own imagination.  And scour the internet for pictures of REAL postpartum bodies.

Just literally type in real postpartum bodies and see where it takes you.  And then thank these brave women for reminding us that we aren’t alone and that photoshop and filters hide more than loose skin and stretch marks.  

They hide the real experience from the public eye and set us all up for failure.  Let’s lose these toxic thoughts that make us feel “less than” and make sure we are starting our recovery on the right foot.

“You can do sidebends and sit-ups” but why?

Your body has just grown another human and brought that child from the inside of your body to the outside world.  That’s hard work.  So the last thing your body needs is to be beat into submission by a class forcing you to jump and run and pound the pavement.

The very best thing you can do for the first 6 weeks is nothing.  

OK, maybe not nothing.

Gentle walks are great, gently contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor is probably indicated.  Getting the tiny, whispering muscles of your inner core to talk to one another is a good idea.  

But the words “mommy” and “boot camp” do not belong in the same sentence at least in the first 6 weeks.

Instead, consider wearing an abdominal binder to provide some extra support and remind your muscles where they belong, work on coordinating your pelvic floor and diaphragm by gently inhaling to relax these muscles and exhaling to gently engage them.  

And watch your body mechanics.  Build yourself a nursing throne, bathe the baby in the sink for as long as you can, set up a diaper changing station that doesn’t break your back.

After the first 6 weeks and when you are feeling ready, consider taking a class by a professional with a resume that makes sense.  Postpartum women are not just like men but smaller, or like regular women but weaker. They are a miraculous species that deserves the time and attention of a watchful eye and expertly designed exercises.  

The first 2 weeks of my Core Restore program are done sitting in a chair.  No joke.  I need you to learn to learn to breathe again.  Not just the desperate shallow breaths of a new mom trapped under a newborn, but real deep inhalations that allow your ribs to expand and your belly to relax and your pelvic floor to melt underneath you.  And effective exhales that gently help the ribs recoil, the deep abdominals to engage, and the pelvic floor to lift.  

Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds but it is the most important thing you need to master before you move on.  

Next we take your deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles (best friends) and make sure they know how to work without the help of one another before we let them play in the sandbox together again.  

Now we can move onto the mat and start to challenge your core a little more.  

For women without abdominal separation that skip right on over to my Postnatal Pilates class, there is no head-lifting or planking for the first 3 weeks.  Those positions have a tendency to increase your intra-abdominal pressure and that pressure will escape through the path of least resistance which, in a postpartum mom, is through the vulnerable connective tissue between the  6 pack muscles or in a downward motion putting pressure on the pelvic organs where they can move towards the vaginal opening or both.  It’s just not worth it.  I want to be sure all your stabilizing muscles are back online before we increase the challenge.

Now I’m not against an eventual return to more advanced exercises like crunches or planks.  And I’m not anti-Crossfit or Triathalons.  On the contrary.  But I am in favor of you doing things in the right order and for the right reason while making sure you are managing your pressures.

I don’t design exercises to get your body back.  And neither should you.  Your body never left.  It’s been by your side the entire damn time.  Say thank you for the curves that brought you new life and the legs that help you walk from place to place and the arms that can wave hello and offer hugs and bring comfort.  Your body has always been a miracle and nothing gives me greater joy than seeing a woman start to feel confident in her new body.  

So much that I want to chant: “Shake it, shake it, shake that healthy butt!”


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