Pushing out your baby will be one of the most strenuous activities you will ever undertake. It requires strength and knowledge of your body, and it helps to strengthen the necessary muscles in order to use them most efficiently.
The benefits of working your abdominal muscles
Working your abdominal muscles safely during pregnancy will help you regain your lean look sooner after birth, and also ensure a more comfortable pregnancy as backache and poor breathing are less likely.
Many pregnancy-related symptoms have a lot to do with posture and well toned, strong abdominal muscles will enhance correct posture and assist the back in carrying the load of pregnancy.
The role of the abdominals during labour
The benefits don’t stop there. During the second, expulsive stage of labour, having strong abdominal muscles may alleviate the need for forceps or a vacuum when you know how to push properly. Being able to control your pushing and work with your body will also minimise the need for an episiotomy.
The muscles of the abdomen are layered longitudinally, horizontally, and diagonally and they stretch in pregnancy to accommodate the growing uterus. Weak abdominals allow the pelvis to rotate forward, aggravating the curve in the lumbar portion of the spine. Exercise the muscles to strengthen them, not to strain them.
The rectus abdominus is long, broad and runs longitudinally from the front of the pubic bone up to the ribs. This is the muscle that helps you curl your trunk when doing crunches or sitting up.
Modified sit-ups are excellent for strengthening these muscles.
Internal and external obliques
The internal and external obliques are the muscles that make up the waist. They run diagonally from the ribs to the top part of the pelvis crest. The internal obliques lie under the external obliques. They help you twist and bend sideways and can work independently or with the rectus abdominus.
The fourth and deepest muscle, the transverse abdominus, runs horizontally around the body. It supports and compresses the internal organs, and helps to hold your stomach flat. It works best when you are on all fours pulling your stomach up.
Together your obliques and transverse muscles balance and stabilise your torso by holding the spine up in place.
Remember, you cannot harm your baby by strengthening the transverse muscle. In fact your baby will be getting a massage and a little squeeze every time you work out. A strong transverse will be your greatest ally during labour as it does most of the work of pushing.
Modification of exercises during the second and third trimesters
Your abdominal exercises have to be modified during the second and third trimesters and checks for separation of the recti muscles should be done. This separation is known as diastasis recti. This occurs when the recti muscle separates painlessly to accommodate the expanding uterus. There is no cause for concern. It is just the body protecting itself from over stretching. It is important that you do no crunch type (sit-ups) abdominal exercises if this has happened to you. You will regain your tone after birth especially if you get back to post- natal exercise classes.
Go to page 2 to see instructions on how to work your various abdominal muscles