Women gain an average of 2 stone (12-13kg) in weight during pregnancy. Your muscles and posture are affected during pregnancy and for several months after giving birth. Specific pre and post-natal classes and exercises will help you to prepare for giving birth and will also help you to regain your muscle tone/strength and fitness levels after delivery.

Exercise helps:

• To strengthen your pelvic floor
• Avoid constipation
• To reduce low back pain
• You cope with fatigue
• To prevent varicose veins
• Improve circulation

Another benefit of attending pre and post-natal classes is that it gives you a chance to meet other new mums, which is a good way to make new friends and share experiences.

Taking care when exercising:

Anything that puts strain on your joints or ligaments, such as high impact aerobics, difficult yoga positions or jogging on the road should be done more gently when you are pregnant and for several months after giving birth due to on-going hormonal changes.

Enjoyable activities:

Brisk walking, swimming, cycling and gentle toning and stretching classes are beneficial before and after pregnancy.

Your abdominal muscles – “Natures perfect corset”:

You have 4 pairs of muscles arranged in 4 layers. From the most superficial to the deepest these muscles are:

• The rectus abdominis muscles run vertically up and down the centre of your tummy
• The external oblique muscles crisscross diagonally on your sides
• The internal oblique muscles crisscross diagonally on your sides
• The transversus abdominis muscles are the deepest horizontal muscles encircling your waist

These muscles work together to firmly support your spine, tilt your pelvis upward and to pull your tummy tight. These muscles bend and twist your spine.

Muscle Layers of the Abdomen:

Rectus Abdominis

• Rectus abdominis
• External oblique
• Internal oblique
• Transverse abdominis

The Rectus Abdominis

Also known as the “six pack”, the rectus abdominis runs vertically from the sternum (breast bone) to pubic bone (the front of the pelvis). The function of this muscle is to flex the spine (bend the spine forwards). Exercises, such as crunches flex the upper spine, which moves the ribcage closer to pelvis. Pelvic tilts and reverse rolls, flex the lower spine, which moves the pelvis closer to the ribcage. A narrow band of connective tissue (the linea alba) runs down the body’s midline between the rectus abdominis.

During pregnancy, the linea alba widens and becomes thinner in response to hormonal effects and the growth of the expanding uterus.

Abdominal separation, (diastasis recti abdominis muscle DRAM) is a fairly common occurrence during the latter part of pregnancy and the postpartum period. It causes the right and left sides of the rectus abdominis to separate along the linea alba.

The External Oblique and Internal Oblique

External & Internal Oblique

The external oblique is the most exterior layer of the abdominal wall and runs diagonally from the ribs toward the midline. The internal oblique lies underneath the external oblique and has diagonal fibres that run in the opposite direction. Together, they form an X shape across your torso. You can think of the top half of the X as the external oblique and the bottom half of the X as the internal oblique. These two muscles always work together and perform lateral spine flexion (side bends) and assist in spine rotation.

The Transverse Abdominis

Transverse Abdominis

The deepest layer of the abdominal wall, and the most important in postnatal exercise, is the transverse abdominis. Its fibres run across the abdomen and perform abdominal compression, which draws the belly inward, and narrows the waist. Fitness trainers refer to this muscle as the body’s “internal girdle.

Pre and Post-Natal classes will also include instruction on:

1. Pelvic floor exercises
2. Specific exercises for your abdominals
3. Specific exercises for your legs and upper body strengthening
4. Posture and exercises using the Swiss ball
5. Some cario work
6. Relaxation

Come along to our Pre-Natal classes to ensure that you are fit and ready to give birth.

Return to our Post-Natal classes to help your body regain your muscle tone/strength and fitness levels after delivery.

All information in this leaflet is based on up-to-date evidence based clinical practice. Information was obtained from:
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (UK) Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG)

Thanks for reading!

This article has been written by Gail Craig, Grad Dip Phys, MCSP, Physiotherapist & Manual/Spinal Therapist

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