Pregnancy, Birth, and Your Core
I recently completed a course for doulas through Bellies Inc. This course was recommended to me by my friend Rachel of ‘Discover You’, who is a wonderful fitness trainer. I’m so glad she shared this company with me!
The course I did was all about the pelvic floor and diastasis recti, something that affects all women who experience pregnancy. Let me just tell you that they know their stuff! I highly recommend checking them out, as well as their products, for a truly methodical approach to pregnancy & birth, and how it changes your body.
Like I do with a lot of the birth information I learn, I like to make a blog post about it for 2 reasons.
1: it helps me to remember. I can much better recall information if I review it and relay it to someone else.
And 2: for all of you lovely readers to learn! There are so many different moving pieces in regards to pregnancy & birth; a lot of information that is important to know that maybe you aren’t aware of.
So this post today is touching on just a bit of what I learned in my course, and that is about how your core works in relation to the entire pre & post natal experience.
Your Inner Core
Your core is made up of 4 main facets. These parts are supposed to work together efficiently in anticipation of the body’s every move:
Breathing Diaphragm - the sheet of skeletal muscle that separates the thoracic cavity (heart, lungs, & ribs) from the abdominal cavity. It contracts & releases with each inhale & exhale. On every inhale, it lengthens & expands, and with each exhale it contracts & lifts. In a core that functions properly, the pelvic floor will contract & lengthen along with the diaphragm.
Transversus Abdominus - the deepest abdominal layer which runs around you like a corset. This is a key muscle for pushing baby out. It plays an important part of stabilizing the lower back & pelvis before movement. When the core is dysfunctional, it loses it’s anticipatory nature which sets you up for back and/or pelvic pain. It co-contracts with the pelvic floor. When you ‘engage your core’, you should first contract your pelvic floor, and then the transversus abdominus with it.
Multifidus - the group of short muscles on either side of the spine. They run from the tailbone or sacrum all the way up to the neck. They support & protect the spine. Weakness here causes chronic, dull, low back pain. Pain can inhibit it from functioning properly and thus creating weakness.
Pelvic Floor - the group of 3 layers of muscles that run from your pubic joint (pubic symphysis) to the tail bone & sitz bones. This area is filled with blood vessels & nerves. The nerves, muscles, and connective tissues keep you continent (able to hold your urine), provide support to your internal organs, stabilize the spine & pelvis, and contribute to sexual satisfaction. The pelvic floor plays a major role in birth.
Because it’s not visible, it’s often not thought of until a problem occurs. Pelvic floor dysfunction can happen from overuse (muscles that don’t relax, and so, are weak), from underuse (lack tone, and so, are weak), injury, poor posture, and alignment. The pelvic floor is the foundation of the core.
Your core is designed to support your spine, pelvis, and so much more.
However, thanks to modern life, we are as sedentary as ever which sets us up for a dysfunctional core. Our lack of activity, and poor posture due to so much sitting is causing problems not only in your core, but in birth. But by connecting with your core in pregnancy, women can better support their body through all the changes that come with pregnancy, birth, and post-partum, perform better in their labours, and optimize recovery. Doesn’t that sound great?!
The function of the core is directly tied to breath, which in turn is directly tied to posture & alignment. If your alignment is off, or you have bad posture, then your breath is not optimized and your core is not functioning how it should be. And if your core isn’t functionally working, it doesn’t matter how many planks or crunches you do. You can’t target what you’re trying to as effectively.
Since your centre of gravity shifts when you’re pregnant, it’s extra important to practice proper alignment. Women try to counteract the gravity shift by leaning back, pushing their hips out and clenching their butt. But these modifications are not optimal and need to be changed; they overuse the pelvic floor, put it in a less supported position, plus it weakens your glutes (and no one wants a pancake bum!).
Optimal positioning is: everything in a straight line. Rib cage over pelvis, tail bone untucked, gentle curve in lower back.
Connecting with your core starts with breath, as well as alignment.
Try doing ‘core breath’ to allow you to connect to the movement of your pelvic floor.
Exhalation = contraction & muscle activity.
Inhalation = relaxing & letting go.
This breath is key for giving birth since you need to learn how to relax & let go of your pelvic floor to allow baby to pass through the birth canal, instead of meeting the resistance of the pelvic floor.
A great time to utilize this breath is when doing perineal massage. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, when doing the core breath, try to keep the expansion of the pelvic floor going on the exhale too.
Use this breath as prevention (in pregnancy to maintain core function), and in restoration (this is the first exercise to do after baby is born to help restore form & function).
Okay, I think this is a good starting point in learning about how your core & breath affect your body during pregnancy/birth. I have lots more information up my sleeve but that will be for another day!
Did you do work to connect to your core during pregnancy? Let me know in the comments!