The Best Way To Engage Your Core Muscles For The First Time Postpartum

Share this!

Learn exactly the right exercises to first activate your core postpartum. After all the stress and stretching that your core has just gone through it’s super important to begin repairing and restrengthening the right way. 

Find out how to safely do that in this article by a specialist: Dr. Jena Bradley, DPT

how to start postpartum exercises safely

The Best Exercises to Engage Your Core After Childbirth.

You just had a baby, you are completely ecstatic about your precious little one that is resting in your arms but still in the back of your mind you can’t help but wonder what does my stomach look like now that I just gave birth? 

Does it just rapidly go back down to pre-pregnancy size, does my stomach naturally get flat again or:

will I continue to look pregnant even though I am not pregnant?

The answer is the latter. The muscles in your belly continue to look stretched, the fluid retention will stick around for quite some time and your uterus is still exactly the same size as it was when your baby was inside it. Not much changes after you give birth except for the fact that your baby and placenta are no longer in there.

A lot of postpartum women are discouraged by the site of their postpartum belly. They were hoping to instantly shrink back down into their normal pants size and be on their way. But the reality is, it takes time, and it takes work to gain your figure back to the way it once was before pregnancy. 

If you are wanting to learn more about how to engage your core muscles the right way after pregnancy, I want you to keep reading. In this article I will be going over my step-by-step process on how to properly engage the core for the first time postpartum based off of my physical therapy expertise.


What happens to the core muscles during pregnancy?

Have you ever wondered what actually happens to your stomach muscles when your belly grows during pregnancy? As your uterus slowly gets bigger and bigger with each trimester, your abdominal muscles start to stretch and even get pushed out of alignment. 

Typically our rectus abdominis muscles run in an up and down direction, a nice straight line. But when our belly grows during pregnancy, our rectus abdominis muscles and the inner layers of our core begin to get stretched and get pushed to the side due to the added pressure from our growing baby. 

Also, the linea alba, the soft connective tissue that is a straight line running directly through our belly button vertically, gets stretched as well, therefore our abdominal muscles have an increased tendency to separate during pregnancy (this is known as diastasis recti, which is very common in pregnant women).

RELATED: How to Best Prevent or Repair Diastasis Recti

Through proper exercise during postpartum recovery, this can be fixed and your abdominal muscles can be realigned to its pre-pregnancy position. 


How to Engage the Core Muscles for the First Time After Birth

I recommend first starting with light breathing exercises to help initiate the activation of the core muscles in a safe and nonstrenuous way.

In order to do this, you want to be in a seated position without back support. Either sitting on the edge of your bed or at the edge of a straight back chair would work fine.

The first exercise I want you to start with early on in your postpartum recovery is:


1. Winged Arm Breathing.

Winged arm breathing is a great exercise that not only helps with relaxation but also helps with diaphragmatic breathing. In order to perform diaphragmatic breathing properly, you must engage the transverse abdominis muscles

The transverse abdominis muscles are what wrap around your entire core, tightening your belly as a whole and keeping your internal organs contained. If these muscles are weak, the mommy pooch will be sticking around for quite some time. 

While sitting on a stable surface with plenty of arm space on either side of you, place your elbows at your side and your hands in front of your belly like you are praying. 

This is the starting position. 

The next step is to slowly breathe in while you expand your belly (like your belly is inflating with air as your inhale). Open your arms by swinging your hands to the side and keep your elbows tucked in at your side. 

To finish the exercise, exhale and let your belly deflate like the air is coming out of a balloon. The hands come together and return back to the prayer position where you originally started.

Repeat this 10 times for a 5 count of each breath. 

You’ll love doing this exercise twice a day to help with activating your muscles for the first time postpartum but also to help you relax during those stressful new mommy moments that a majority of moms have with newborns. 

milk boosting recipes ebook to increase supply with lactogenic food

2. Transverse Abdominis/Abdominal Bracing Activation

The previous exercise, winged arm breathing was not just an exercise for your abs but also for your diaphragm. This next exercise is specifically designed to target the transverse abdominis to its fullest potential. 

Begin by lying flat on the floor with both knees bent so that both feet are flat on the floor. Rest your arms at your side in a comfortable position. Perform a contraction with your belly muscles in a way that you are not moving much at all. The only movement that should take place is the movement of your pelvis bone in order to flatten you back. 

Draw your belly button in so that your back flattens and your hand can not slide underneath the “small” of your back. This is a way to test to see if you are performing this exercise properly. 

If for some reason you are having trouble and you find that your hand can easily slide under the “small” of your back, then you know you are doing it incorrectly. 

It may seem easy to do when reading this, but if it’s your first time contracting your abdominal muscles postpartum, you’re going to find it’s a lot harder than you think. 

RELATED: Physical Therapy Exercises to Repair the Pelvic Floor Postpartum

postpartum ab rehab live core strong

Reps, Sets, Frequency and Progression of the First Postpartum Ab Workout

It’s important that you take this exercise slow at the beginning and not overdo it initially. 

  • On your first day doing this exercise, I recommend holding the contraction for 8 seconds for a total of 10 repetitions.
  • In time, when you feel like your body is tolerating this exercise well, gradually increase to 10 seconds holds
  • and eventually to 15 second holds.
  • The longer you hold abdominal bracing, the stronger your transverse abdominis will become. 

Perform these two exercises once a day for 6 days a week, taking a rest on the 7th day.

It’s important to let your muscles recover, and trust me, you’ll need the rest when you are busy being up all night with your baby.

A great time to do these exercises is when your baby is doing tummy time every day. The both of you can do your exercises together!

When you are ready to progress and you have been cleared by your doctor to exercise at your 6 week postpartum check-up, I recommend you start with my FREE 30-Day Postpartum Ab Challenge. It starts off slow with 3 minutes of postpartum ab exercise the first week and by the time the month is over, you will be able to do 10 minutes of postpartum ab exercises without difficulty. Also check out my first book: Postpartum Ab Rehab available now! A 12-week step-by-step guide to fully restoring your core after childbirth to get the flat belly you are eager to have again!


Dr. Jena Bradley, DPT live core strong


About Dr. Jena Bradley, DPT

Jena is a mom of 4 darling little girls, a physical therapist and founder of Live Core Strong, a blog focusing on motivating moms to live a life that incorporates fitness and fun throughout their motherhood journey.  She aims to be the friend you always wanted to have who could guide you through the “fog” when faced with an “I don’t know what to do” mommy moment. At the most inconvenient time of her life, she embarked on a journey of sharing her story and expertise to inspire the next generation of healthy moms. You can learn more about Jena by visiting her blog, Live Core Strong.


More Postpartum Recovery Resources You’ll Love

Share this!

Similar Posts

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.