What Happens to Your Abs During Pregnancy

Even if you didn't have six-pack abs to start with, you're probably wondering what's going to happen to your  belly while you're pregnant. Or perhaps you're more concerned with what's going to happen to your belly after the baby gets here. We're going to discuss what happens to your abs, how and why to safely work your core during pregnancy, and how to attempt getting a tighter tummy after the baby gets here!

18 Your Abs Before Pregnancy

The abdominal muscles support your abdominal organs and spine. These muscles, known as your core, allow you to bend, twist, and stand upright. Having a strong core is important to help you maintain good balance and good posture.

When you think of working your abs, you probably think of doing hundreds of sit-ups or crunches. These exercises aren't really safe or appropriate during pregnancy because they are done while you lie on your back. In this position, the weight of the baby can press on major blood vessels which may block blood circulation and cause dizziness. That's why it is usually recommended that pregnant women sleep on their left side.

17 Bump on Board

You've probably been waiting for your bump to finally show so that you finally look pregnant. When you start showing depends on a variety of factors, like your starting weight and body type, the baby's position in your uterus, and even how bloated you are on a particular day.

While every woman is different, most first-time moms start to show somewhere around 12-16 weeks. If you've already had a baby, you could pop a little earlier because your uterus and stomach muscles would have stretched during your previous pregnancy.

Oh, and as your uterus grows and presses forward on your belly, your belly button might pop out causing your "innie" to stick out-ie!

16 Your Uterus Grows

Before pregnancy, your uterus is usually about the size of an orange (or a pear or a lemon, depending on which website you look at or where you buy your fruit) and is located deep in the pelvis.

By 12 weeks, that orange is as big as a grapefruit. Around the second trimester, the uterus will be about the size of a papaya and will no longer fit inside the pelvis. Instead, it will be situated somewhere between your belly button and your breasts. By the third trimester, the uterus will grow to be about the same size as a watermelon. Your uterus will reach from your pubic area all the way up into your rib cage. (Ouch.)

Because your abdominal muscles have to stretch over the growing baby and uterus, they can become weaker and less effective at supporting and moving your body. If you don't exercise those muscles at all, they can stretch and become lax as the uterus grows and rests on them. Once stretched, those muscles might not be able to return to their original length and shape after birth.

15 Your Organs Rearrange

To accommodate your growing uterus, your belly gets bigger and your organs have to do some moving around. The growing uterus actually pushes some organs out of place. As your baby (and uterus) get bigger, the lungs get cramped and pushed upwards while the intestines get squished out of the way.

Oh, and your bladder? It's toast. This is why many women complain of shortness of breath and having to pee all the time. It's no wonder! They're running out of room in there!

All of this growth also puts tension on muscles and ligaments. Aches and pains are pretty common (and perfectly normal) during pregnancy. Your growing uterus and the extra weight you gain during pregnancy can throw off your balance, change your posture, and put a strain on your back.

14 Importance of a Strong Core While Pregnant

Having a strong core means you could suffer less back pain during pregnancy. When we talk about your core muscles, we don't just mean the stomach area--we mean your abs and your back as well.  Having strong back muscles and a well-supported spine will ensure that you have good posture which can ease back pain.

Plus, it'll come in handy when you have to lug around your baby and all of her gear once she gets here! Working your core can also help you in the delivery room. If you are strong and flexible, you will have an easier time trying out different positions for pushing. During delivery, you want to be able to suck in your deep abdominal muscles and then use your pelvic floor to ease the baby out.

Speaking of which, it's important to exercise your pelvic floor as well. Having control over your pelvic floor will make pushing easier during delivery. It can also help your vagina heal more quickly after birth and prevent incontinence. You can exercise your pelvic floor by doing Kegels which you've probably already heard about or read about.

13 Abdominal Exercises While Pregnant

Early on in your pregnancy, it's still pretty safe to continue doing your regular ab exercises--sit-ups, crunches, roll-ups, etc. Make sure you are practicing the proper form and technique for each exercise.

As your belly grows, however, it will become more difficult to complete exercises correctly. It also becomes inappropriate, as you should avoid lying on your back for an extended period of time.

Instead, you can work your abs by attempting the plank position. Get on your forearms and knees so your elbows are directly under your shoulders. Raise your knees off the floor so your body makes a straight line from your feet, along your back, and to your head. Don't arch your back! Try to hold the position for one or two breaths to start, and gradually work your way up to more breaths.

You can also try using a stability ball for low-impact exercise. Sitting on the ball (even while you're just watching TV) can engage the core muscles and improve balance and posture. Stability balls can also be used during labor, so you might want to check one out and see if you think it might be a tool you'd like to use in the delivery room!

Remember to always talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program, especially if you are pregnant.

12 Yoga Practice While Pregnant

Pregnant or not, yoga is a great way to work your core muscles. Prenatal yoga focuses on preparing you for labor and delivery. Yoga practice focuses on being in tune with your body and focusing on your breath which, in turn, can help you relax during labor.

During labor, it's natural for you to be worried and scared of the task ahead of you. (It's called labor for a reason--it's hard work!) But fear causes your muscles to tense up which can make your labor even harder. Putting your yoga practice to work in the delivery room can help you concentrate and relax your muscles for an easier delivery.

Many yoga studios offer prenatal sessions which feature modified and more gentle moves. It's also easy to practice yoga and stretching at home, but as always, check with your doctor before you begin.

11 Stretch Marks

As your belly grows, you may be on the lookout for stretch marks. Stretch marks are actually tiny tears in the layers of tissue under your skin. Spoiler alert: stretch marks show up anywhere that your skin grows and stretches, so they can show up on your hips, butt, thighs, and boobs, too, not just your stomach! Sorry!

A lot of time, whether or not a woman gets stretch marks has to do with genetics. If your mom had them, you might end up with them, too. If you gain a lot of weight during your pregnancy, or if you put on a lot of weight quickly, you may get them.  And because the marks can sometimes be reddish or purplish, they tend to show up more on fair-skinned women.

10 Can You Prevent Stretch Marks?

Unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do to prevent stretch marks from happening, especially because genetics play such a strong role in their appearance. However, making sure that you gain weight at a slow, steady rate can help lower the odds of your skin stretching to the max right away.

Stretch mark creams and lotions don't always work as advertised. You can rub cocoa butter on your belly from day one of your pregnancy and you may still end up getting stretch marks. Moisturizing your belly can help ease the itch of your growing, tightening skin, though, so don't be afraid to lotion up!

Your stretch marks won't go away entirely, but will likely fade over time to a light, silvery shiny color. Wear them with pride!

9 Linea Nigra

In addition to the stretch marks that may zigzag their way across your belly, you may also end up with the linea nigra. It's possible that this line is always there on your belly but darkens throughout your pregnancy. It's believed that the same hormonal changes that are responsible for darkening a woman's nipples during pregnancy are the cause of the appearance of the linea nigra.

The linea nigra can show up sometime around the 5th month of pregnancy, or earlier or later or, even for some women, not at all. There's nothing you can do to prevent the linea nigra from showing up, and it will fade on its own some time after pregnancy.

8 Your Belly After Baby

You may be surprised (and disappointed) to realize you still have a baby bump after your baby is born. It takes time for your belly to go down. Think of your belly as a balloon. During pregnancy, the balloon slowly blows up and stretches. After birth, it's like the air is let out of the balloon slowly.

Childbirth doesn't just pop the balloon, so you're left with a stretched-out, deflated balloon. Your uterus will gradually return to its pre-pregnancy size and position in about six weeks or so.

Some women may bounce back into shape quickly after delivery. For some women, it may take a while. Other women may not even get there. The amount of weight you gained, the shape you were in before pregnancy, whether or not you are breastfeeding--there are many factors that determine how quickly you will lose the baby weight and get your "pre-baby" body back.

The important thing to remember is that it took nine months for your belly to get that big, so you should give it some time to return to normal.

7 When Can You Start Exercising?

It's best to give your body time to heal after delivery. At your postpartum checkup(s), your doctor will probably talk with you about when it is safe to resume normal activities and to take up exercise again. If you had an easy vaginal delivery, your doctor may give you the go ahead to start exercising when you feel ready. If you had a difficult birth or a C-section, your doctor may advise you to wait.

Of course, after you've given birth and are adjusting to life with a newborn, exercise might be the last thing on your mind. However, it can help you lose weight, improve your mood, relieve stress, and even prevent postpartum depression. Ease back into your exercise program slowly and make sure to balance it out with lots of rest.

6 Diastasis Recti

About two-thirds of women have a postpartum condition known as diastasis recti. Diastasis recti occurs when the vertical gap between your right and left abdominal muscles widens causing you to have a rounded belly pooch. Sometimes, the abdominal muscles and tissue get so stretched out during pregnancy, that much like an overstretched rubber band, they don't go back to their regular shape.

You can easily check yourself for diastasis recti. Just lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Press your fingertips down into the midline of your stomach gently, and bring your head up into a mini crunch-like position. Feel for the sides of your ab muscles, and see if they are separated. Some doctors use this method to determine the amount of abdominal separation. Others may use measuring instruments or ultrasounds.

5 How to Heal Diastasis Recti

Although exercise and physical therapy can be used to heal and repair diastasis recti, you have to be careful when exercising. Some common fitness moves like crunches, sit-ups, push-ups, planks, and some yoga poses can actually worsen your abdominal separation.

Most women can gradually close the separation in their abdominal muscles by wearing a belly splint and practicing gentle exercises while the ab muscles are supported. Your doctor may have suggestions for you. In severe cases, or if exercises don't seem to be working, an abdominoplasty or tummy tuck surgery may be needed.

4 Ab Rehab: Is It Possible to Get Your Pre-Baby Belly Back?

Celebrities and models seem to snap back to their pre-baby weight immediately after giving birth. Of course, they probably have it super easy because they have trainers, personal chefs, and Photoshop! However, it is possible to get back into shape after you have your baby. Just remember to give yourself time.

Start with a couple heart-pumping cardio sessions a week, whether it's going to a Zumba class or walking or jogging. Cardio will help you burn calories which will, in turn, help melt off excess fat around your middle. Yoga or Pilates moves can help strengthen and tighten your core muscles.

In addition to exercise, be sure to get plenty of rest and don't stress out. Women who only sleep five hours nightly are almost twice as likely to be overweight as those who get at least seven hours of shut-eye. Your lack of sleep can also affect the hormones that regulate your appetite, so if you don't get enough sleep, you may find yourself hungrier the next day.

Stress causes your blood pressure to rise, which in turn releases the hormone cortisol into your system. Cortisol is linked to fat storage in the belly area.

3 Post-Baby Belly Exercise Tips

When it comes to exercising your abs, keep it simple. Do some pelvic tilts and crunches. As you regain strength, increase the difficulty of your crunches by lifting your feet off of the floor. Don't forget to work your obliques, the muscles on the sides of your midsection.

Break out the exercise ball again. Completing crunches on an exercise ball adds a level of difficulty because you must engage your core muscles to keep yourself balanced while you exercise.

You can also try exercising with a buddy--your baby! You don't need weights, you've got your own little kettle bell to tote around! Wear your baby in a carrier and do some squats to work your butt. Bench-press your baby. Obviously, be sure that your baby can comfortably hold his head up on his own!

2 Post-Baby Diet Tips

Good nutrition is key to losing weight. If you're breastfeeding, you are burning approximately 500 extra calories. You want to make sure that you are eating a well-balanced diet to give you and your baby the nutrients that you both need.

Your new baby is probably eating every two to four hours. You should be, too! Snack on healthy foods like fruit and yogurt throughout the day to keep you feeling satisfied, and to keep you from reaching for bad-for-you snacks. Keep your freezer stocked with healthy, pre-made, easy to prepare meals. This will help you avoid the take-out trap. And stay hydrated! Drink lots of water!

1 Remember...

It took nine months for your body to change and grow to accommodate your baby. It could take that long, or even longer, to get your body back to where it was. Don't compare yourself to celebrity moms or Victoria's Secret models.

Keep in mind that you might not get back into the same shape you were in before. Your boobs could be bigger and your hips could be wider. Don't let it get you down. Take care of yourself and do what you need to do to feel good about yourself! You should feel good about yourself! You're a mom, and you rock!




More in Did You Know...