After 40 weeks of being stretched beyond all belief, a mom’s belly can end up looking like a sad, deflated balloon. Worse yet, the muscles making up the core–the abdominals, back, and upper legs–are often weak and can’t help support the body well, especially when carrying heavy baby accessories.
Not only can exercising the core help tone up that mommy belly, but it can help alleviate the inevitable back pain that comes along with a weak core.
I am not a physician, and this post should not be used as medical advice. Please see your doctor for specific advice for your situation.
Why should moms care about having a strong core?
After giving birth to our babies, I think that most moms naturally worry about flattening their stomachs and getting rid of that belly pooch as quickly as possible.
But instead of just focusing on our outer appearance, I think moms should consider strengthening the core muscles in order to protect their backs.
I know this from experience.
When my youngest baby was about 18 months old, I decided that I needed to join a gym in order to lose the last of the baby weight.
I took a weightlifting class, and ended up injuring my back, not because of the class itself, but because my core muscles were so weak that they couldn’t support my body in the activities I wanted to do.
This injury led to years in physical therapy and chiropractic care, and didn’t really become better until I decided to put some work into strengthening my core muscles, like the doctors recommended.
How a weak core caused me years of back pain
A few days after my injury at the gym, I found that I couldn’t stand up straight without a lot of pain.
I made an appointment with my chiropractor, and it was there that I discovered that my pelvis most likely didn’t come back together properly after I gave birth.
Although I had seen a chiropractor through the second half of my pregnancy, and for a few weeks after the birth, we did not know that my pelvis was off, due to the fact that I had not had any x-rays because of the pregnancy.
While the chiropractor was able to help relieve some of my back pain with regular adjustments, my back would revert to its previous state over and over again.
After months and months of weekly adjustments, I decided to try physical therapy. Four months later, I was still no better.
While detailing my condition to my neighbor (who happens to be a physical therapist) at the bus stop one day, she offered to examine me as a favor.
She recommended I start taking pilates classes as a way to strengthen my core.
And then I returned to the chiropractor’s office, which had a new doctor, and she also told me that I needed to work on my core in order to stabilize that area of my body.
Why is it important to have a strong core?
Simply put, a strong core gives you balance and stability.
You might not realize this, but every movement you make goes through the core.
My trainer says this all the time, but I know that she is right.
When I had umbilical hernia surgery (another fun side effect of my pregnancy), I found that every time I moved, whether it was getting up out of bed, twisting, bending over…really anything…my abdominal muscles hurt!
And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that our bodies are different after pregnancy and childbirth.
Genevieve Shaw Brown, the author of the book The Happiest Mommy You Know (affiliate link), knows this all too well.
When she suffered with back pain as a new mom, she had to start seeing a chiropractor too. And that chiropractor told her that “physiological changes a woman experiences during pregnancy and after can actually cause her body to misalign more easily.”¹
But the bigger reason that it is especially important for moms to focus on core strength is because we often use our bodies in ways that cause imbalance, such as carrying our babies and toddlers on our hip, as well as those large diaper bags and baby carriers.
It is this imbalance that can make our backs hurt.
What are the muscles that make up the core?
You might think that the core is make up of only the muscles around your stomach, but it is much more. The core is made up of:
- the lower back
- and the upper legs…including the glutes and inner thighs.
So any training you do must involve all of these muscle groups.
The good news is that you are able to strengthen these muscles in just a few minutes each day, and not only will your back feel a lot better, but that mommy belly will start to flatten too. (Just remember that to lose fat from this area, you have to pair your exercises with cardio activity and a healthy diet.)
How can a busy mom train her core?
Building a strong core doesn’t have to take hours each day or membership at the local gym. You can work on your core while your kids nap or even while playing on the floor with them.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure you have your doctor’s go-ahead to exercise, especially if you are newly postpartum.
Although working with a personal trainer for a session or two in order to learn the exercises you need to know to build a strong core is great, you can also learn how to do it on your own at home.
YouTube is full of great videos on how to build a strong core, and they have many that were created especially for moms. This video from Jessica Smith is perfect:
Although this video features a workout without crunches, they are a really great way to work the abdomen, so don’t avoid them altogether.
You can really do these types of exercises anywhere…I often get in a few crunches, leg lifts or roll backs when I’m sitting on the floor playing with my kids. It doesn’t have to be complicated!
I hope this post has encouraged you to get serious about your core! Let us know: do you suffer from back pain or want to flatten that mommy belly?
¹“Take Yourself to the Doctor.” The Happiest Mommy You Know: Why Putting Your Kids First Is the Last Thing You Should Do, by Genevieve Shaw Brown, Touchstone, 2017, p. 136