When Can I Do Abs After Pregnancy? [Realistic Expectations]

So you just delivered your baby and you don’t like how your tummy looks?

Or maybe you feel that your core has gotten super weak since getting pregnant.

But is it safe to do ab exercises postpartum?

When can you do abs after pregnancy?

For the most part, you can start to train your abs muscles a few days after delivery. But not with traditional ab exercises like sit-ups or leg raises.

Keep reading to learn more.

postpartum-abs

Disclaimer

***READ FIRST***

Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.

Ok, moving on.

Is It Safe To Do Ab Workouts After Pregnancy?

Yes, it is safe to do ab workouts after pregnancy. However, it is important that you take your time and do it right. 

You can’t just jump right into a traditional core routine. You should always start with some really basic core exercises.

How Soon Can You do Crunches after having a baby?

If sit-ups and crunches are one of your favorite exercises, you should be able to do them 6 weeks after a vaginal delivery and 12 weeks after a c-section.

I know that you want to return to your pre-pregnancy body as soon as possible. But doing sit-ups and crunches might not be the best for you, right away.

In fact, a lot of people believe sit-ups are not good for your spine.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to wait this long to start strengthening your belly!

However, it is important that you understand the anatomy of the core.

The Anatomy Of The Ab Muscles

The abs are composed of 3 main muscle groups.

The first muscle is the rectus abdominis

This is the six-pack muscle that everyone knows and loves. The rectus helps you flex your torso, and stabilize your spine.

As you can see, the muscle is divided into 8 different quadrants, right along the middle.  This midline is called the linea alba.

While the rectus abdominis is front and center, there are other muscles that you need to pay attention to as well.

abs

The second muscle are the obliques

These muscles are located on the sides of the rectus.

They are responsible for letting you rotate side to side and bend laterally.

They can also help resist movement in those planes.

The third muscle is the transverse abdominis

This muscle is deeper than the rectus and the obliques. It wraps all the way around your entire abdomen. It’s almost like a corset.

This muscle is responsible for compressing your abdomen in.  It is this muscle that helps you deliver your child!

So as you can see, your abs, or better yet your core, has many different functions.

The benefits of strengthening your abs after pregnancy

Even if you never exercised, it’s still a good idea to work out your abs postpartum.

Here are a few more reasons why.

You will be doing a lot of lifting (despite us telling you to avoid any heavy lifting.) Lifting your baby from the floor, from a car seat, or out of a crib.

A strong core can help ensure that your spine stays stable during these movements. This can help prevent muscle strains that lead to low back pain and neck pain.

A strong core postpartum can also help restore your posture. Pregnancy will naturally cause a shift of your pelvis known as anterior pelvic tilt.

By training your abs, you can help realign your pelvis and further reduce your risk of muscle injury.

Lastly, strengthening your core can help improve the changes that happen to your abs during and after pregnancy.

Wait.

What changes?

What Happens To Your Abs During Pregnancy?

When you get pregnant, your uterus begins to expand to accommodate your growing fetus. 

If you didn’t already know, the uterus is deep to all of your abdominal muscles. So as your uterus gets bigger and bigger, the muscles of your core also have to expand.

Your uterus goes from being the size of a lemon to the size of a watermelon!  So as you can see, all three muscle groups will stretch with the growing uterus.

A stretched muscle is a weaker muscle. So that’s why your core gets weak during pregnancy.

In most instances, your rectus abdominis will split right along the linea alba if it is stretched too far.

What Happens To Your Abs After Pregnancy?

After your delivery, what happens to your core muscles? Do they just compress back down to their normal size?

Well, no.

Even though the baby is out, your uterus will still be enlarged. It can take several weeks (6 or more) before it shrinks back down to normal size.

You will begin to start using your core muscles more and more which can help activate and strengthen them. But they will never be as strong as they can be while they are stretched.

This is especially true if you have a significant separation of your rectus muscles along the midline, known as diastasis recti. I have a post on 100 exercises you could do to fix diastasis recti.

This is why you must wait 6 weeks before doing any intense core training.

So that begs the question. What should you do in the 6 weeks leading up to your recovery?

What Kind Of Ab Exercises Can I Do Soon After Delivery?

So if you can’t do crunches, what should you do instead? You can begin with some basic core stabilization exercises.

Instead of doing exercises where your core is moving, you should do exercises where your core is stable.

That is the whole basis of static core training.

That’s not to say that you aren’t moving. In some of these exercises, your pelvis or your extremities will move, while your core stays stable.

When doing each one of these exercises, you should focus on keeping your ab muscles tight and engaged.

That is how you activate the corset muscle- the transverse abdominis.

For the first 2-4 weeks postpartum, I want you to do posterior pelvic tilts and diaphragmatic breathing.

Posterior Pelvic Tilts

This is a very simple exercise that you can do while lying down. All you have to do is bend your knees up and concentrate on bringing your belly button down towards the floor.

posterior-pelvic-tilt

This will naturally shift your pelvis back and activate your deep core muscles. Hold this position for a 3-count and release.

If this exercises causes pain or discomfort – do not do it!

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is another simple exercise you can do immediately after your delivery. This exercise will help activate your core muscles.

deep-breathing

You can do it lying down or sitting up. To start, take a deep breath by expanding your belly as much as you can. Try your best to not breathe into your chest (i.e, don’t shrug up). After you inhale, hold the breath for a 3 count, and then exhale slowly and completely.

By exhaling as much as you can, your core muscles will be activated.

If this exercises causes pain or discomfort – do not do it!

As time goes on, you’ll be able to do more and more core exercises. Your provider will give you more guidance as to what you can and cannot do.

During this time, I also want you to focus on training your pelvic floor. I have created an entire post on the best exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor after delivery.

4 Gentle Core Exercises You Can Do Postpartum

Once you have gotten the hang of activating your transverse abdominis muscle, you can do more complex exercises.

How soon will you be able to do these? I can’t say for certain, however, you may be able to start doing these exercises 6 weeks after a vaginal delivery, or 12 weeks after a c-section.

It all depends on how you heal.

But please, please, please, make sure that your doctor says it is safe for you to do them.

As soon as you have clearance, and you feel ready for ab workouts, here’s how to get started.

*One more caveat. If any of these exercises cause you pain or discomfort, DO NOT DO THEM* Go see your doctor to determine if you need further evaluation by a physical therapist!

Otherwise, let’s start.

The Modified Plank

The plank is one of the best static core exercises you can do.

Traditionally, you do this exercise on the floor. Either on your forearms or on your hands like a push-up position.

In the postpartum period, the plank may be too difficult or place too much pressure on your abs.

Here are a few ways you can modify it.

The first way is to just do the planks on an elevated surface.

modified-plank

This could be on a table or even on your kitchen sink.

The second way to modify the plank is to simply bend one knee and let it rest on the floor. You then keep the other leg extended.

postpartum-plank

As you are doing this exercise, try to create a semi-hollow back position. It is also important that you keep the ab muscles really tight and engaged as you are doing the exercise.

Hold the plank position for 15-30 seconds.

Bird Dogs

The next core exercise you can do postpartum is the bird dog. To do it properly, you need to start on your hands and your knees.

bird-dog

Keep your back straight, and your head looking down at the ground. Next, straighten one arm directly in front of you while straightening your opposite leg behind you.

Go through the motion slowly and engage your ab muscles.

Hold the position for 3-5 seconds and slowly return back to the starting position.

Aim for 4-6 repetitions on each side.

The Dead Bug

The dead bug is very similar to the bird dog. Instead of doing the exercise on your hands and knees, you will do it on your back.

dead-bugs-ab-exercise

While lying on your back, bend your knees up toward your chest and straighten your arms up toward the ceiling.

Then I want you to do a posterior pelvic tilt to flatten your low back against the floor.

Next, you are going to bring one of your arms up above your head while straightening out the opposite leg towards the floor.

Don’t let your heel touch the floor.

Hold that position for 3-5 seconds and return back to the starting position.

Aim for 4-6 repetitions on each side.

Lying Knee Drops

The last core exercise you can do postpartum to help flatten your tummy is the lying knee drop.

lying-leg-drop

To do this exercise, lie on your back and bend your knees up towards your chest.

Then I want you to do a posterior pelvic tilt to flatten your low back against the floor. Hold this position throughout the exercise.

Next, you are going to slowly straighten out one leg in front of you, without letting your heel touch the floor.

Slowly bring that leg back to the starting position, and then repeat on the next side.

Aim for 4-6 repetitions on each side.

How To Use These Postpartum Ab Exercises

As with all exercises, you do not need to do them every day to see results. Feel free to go through this sequence of exercises 2-3 times per week.

Start by doing 1 set of all four exercises for one week.

If that goes well, and you aren’t in any pain or discomfort, add a second set of all four exercises the following week.

Gradually increase the number of sets you do on a weekly basis until you can do 3-4 sets of each exercise.

Other Important Factors to consider

Here are a few other things you should consider when doing ab exercises after your delivery.

Your degree of diastasis recti

Diastasis recti is a condition that occurs when your rectus muscles are split in the midline.

exercise-can-decrease-risk-of-diastasis-recti

In some women, the muscles come back together nicely and they don’t have any problems.

But your muscles might not come back together as easily. If you have a big noticeable separation, it is best to not do these 4 ab exercises until you are evaluated by a physical therapist.

Instead you could some of these exercises to correct your diastasis recti and strengthen your core.

Your core strength before delivery

If you maintained an exercise routine while you were pregnant, then your core may not be as weak.

This can potentially help you recover sooner and allow you to train abs earlier. As always, listen to your body and take it one step at a time.

I still recommend that you start with diaphragmatic breathing and posterior pelvic tilts in the beginning.

Nutrition is important for reducing your tummy

The last thing you must consider is your diet. Abs aren’t made in the kitchen.

They are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen. If your diet doesn’t support you in getting lean, you may never have any abs to show for it.

healthy-food-abdominal-muscles

I have written an entire post on how to lose baby fat in the postpartum period.

Final Thoughts

Hey momma, I know that you want to get your tummy back to being flat ASAP. But I hope you understand that it is a slow process that you must take one step at a time.

Do your pelvic tilts, deep breathing, and kegels in the early postpartum to prepare for the following weeks.

Only after your doctor has given you clearance should you try these core exercises.

And remember sit-ups and crunches may not be the healthiest exercises to do postpartum.

To learn additional exercises you could perform in the postpartum period, check out my Guide to Getting Fit after Pregnancy.

That’s all for today.

Did you have a lot of ab separation postpartum?

What did you do to improve it?

Comment below and let me know!

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brittany-robles

Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.

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