July 14, 2009

Your Abdominal Muscles Can Help You Push Your Baby Out

Many women think that the abdominal region is off limits during pregnancy, when in fact it is even more important to maintain strength and stability in the core to help support the exaggerated curves of the spine and the weight of the growing fetus. Also, proper abdominal strengthening will decrease the chances for the rectus abdominus (the “6 pack muscles”) from separating, which is called diastasis. Keep in mind that there is always a balance between strength and flexibility. While we encourage the moms-to-be to keep up on their abdominal toning exercises, we need to allow space for the abdominal muscles to stretch and release as the baby grows inside. Any muscle that is too toned, may loose its ability to stretch properly.

Another advantageous outcome from proper abdominal toning is teaching the expectant mother a beneficial way to push her baby out. By engaging her abdominal muscles, especially her upper region of her abdominal muscles she will more effectively push her baby out rather than relying on pressure and tension from her face, jaw and shoulders. We have all seen images in movies or on TV of a woman pushing her baby by holding her breath, puffing her cheeks and squishing up her face. Yes, this manner can work, but it is not nearly as effective (and timely!) as using the abs to facilitate the birth of the baby.

The abdominal muscles can be classified in two groups the posterior which includes the psoas and the quadratus lumborum and the anterior which include the flat muscles, the transverse abdominus, the rectus abdominus and the internal and external obliques. For the sake of not going into a whole anatomy lesson, I am just going to refer to the anterior abdominal muscle group, specifically the transverse abdominus .

The transverse abdominus is the inner most muscle, arises from the lower 6 costal cartilages, the lumbar fascia and the iliac crest. The fibers of the transverse muscles run inward towards the midline. You can think of this group of muscles as a natural corset, helping to stabilize the torso and maintain internal abdominal pressure. Unlike the other three abdominal muscles, the transverse abdominus doesn’t move your spine. You flex this muscle to pull in your belly.

Transverse abdominus muscles can be toned using an exercise involving deep slow exhalations of the breath. The pregnant mom comes on to her hands and knees. While trying to maintain a flat back, she inhales and releases the muscle tone of the belly and then exhales contracting the transverse and rectus abdominus. Many women want to “cat/cow” in the exercise, and it is more effective to try not to undulate the spine. Another way to think about this exercise is to image that with each exhalation they are tightening a corset around their middle and drawing their baby closer to their spine.

Another option for toning the rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus muscles is to do a similar action as described above, but upright against a wall. Some women feel that with the feedback of the wall against their back, they can better understand how to engage their muscles. It is suggested when doing this exercise at that wall, that you image that you have a ruler next to you. The ruler goes from 1-12 with the one furtherest away from the wall. As you contract the abdominal wall, try to bring the belly into the 8 mark on the ruler and as you release the belly, only allow it to move to the 4 mark. Each time the belly is drawn in, count out loud. 1-2-and so forth. This is a good way to make sure that the mother is breathing. You can start by just counting up to 20 and throughout time maybe move up to 75 or 100.

Beyond understanding how to strengthen the abdominal region, it is important to understand how not to exasperate the diastasis. While it is normal to have some separation of the rectus abdominus muscles during pregnancy, more extreme diastasis can be prevented from just a few mindful movements.

Be mindful about movements like:

o The way a woman gets in and out of bed or a chair, and how she lifts things can often increase separation.

o “Kicking up” to seated from a reclined position or pushing up to standing when seated.

o Moving from an upright position to a supine position without either using their arms to lower herself. Ideally they should be rolling to their side and then onto their back

o Lifting heavy objects (or small children) incorrectly

o Navasana which tends to “bulge the belly.”

All of these movements can be detrimental, as these actions usually cause a woman to push her belly out. That pushing out of the belly can in fact push the rectus abdominus apart can also cause extreme separation, as it can force the uterine wall to push between the rectus abdominus, increasing the separation between them.

I hope these helpful hints allows the mom-to-be more comfortable during her pregnancy and have a quick delivery. Happy pushing!




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