Bouncing Back After Baby

So you’ve had your baby and now it’s time to do crunches, lots of ‘em, to get your abs back in shape again. Right? Well, actually no. In fact, exercises like crunches may do more harm than good in the initial postpartum period.

One of the problems with crunches, and its cousin, the oblique curl, is that these exercises primarily work the external layers of the abdominal wall. (The muscles that flex the spine to the front and side.)

After pregnancy these muscles easily overpower the relatively weaker internal abdominal muscle—the Transverse Abdominis, or TvA—during traditional exercises like crunches. This causes the abdominal wall to balloon outward, (Yikes!) which is exactly what you don’t want to happen after you’ve had a baby.

The secret to flattening the abs after pregnancy is to recondition from the inside out, by building strength and control in your TvA first. This muscle compresses the abdominal wall, draws the belly button closer to the spine, and is the body’s most important core stabilizer.

Here’s a terrific postnatal TvA exercise that is safe do right after delivery, whether vaginal or “C”, and will flatten your abs even if you’re considerably post postpartum!

Postpartum Belly Buster

1. Lie on your side with a small pillow under your head, knees bent, hips stacked, spine neutral. Relax your abdominal wall and allow it to expand. (Don’t panic: everyone’s tummy lies next to them after childbirth!)

2. Inhale deeply, then exhale slowly, hissing forcefully through you teeth. As you hiss, tighten your abdomen, pulling your belly up away from the floor, and into your body as much as you can. Keep your torso completely still, maintain the neutral position.

3. Hold the contraction for a few moments, breathing naturally. Take care that you don’t release your abs you breathe, keep them tight.

4. Inhale deeply, repeat the hiss/exhalation and try to increase the intensity of the abdominal compression. Maintain the abdominal contraction, breathing naturally.

5. Repeat the exhalation/hiss with abdominal compression a third time, trying to increase the intensity of the contraction even more. Once again, hold the contraction and breathe naturally.

6. Exhale, relax your abdominal wall allowing it to soften and expand naturally. (Don’t push it outward.)

7. Perform 4 repetitions to complete one set. Perform two or more sets daily.

After this muscle has become strong again, (in about three weeks or so) you can progressively add in exercises that work the external layers, while maintaining a flat abdominal profile. Using this method, you’ll not only whittle your waist and flatten your abs, but just as importantly, develop core strength and spine stability.

Training Tips

If you have difficulty breathing, it is because you are “sucking up” your diaphragm. Try to isolate the contractions below your belly button.

Remember, the TvA does not move bone. Keep you spine—particularly your upper body—completely still.

Use mental imagery. Imagine that you have on an old-fashioned corset which laces up the front, and it gets tighter and tighter as you compress your abdominal wall.

Helene Byrne, founder of BeFit-Mom at, is a pre and postnatal exercise specialist, fitness author, and publisher of the “Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning” DVD.