What Happens to your Core During Pregnancy: The Pelvic Floor and TVAs Defined
Ever wonder what actually happens to your core during pregnancy? Our core is more than just those 6-pack muscles we all think of and if you are pregnant or postpartum, we define two critical muscle groups, the pelvic floor and transverse abdominals in this post.
The woman's body is nothing short of a miracle, we grow a 6-10 pound baby (Lord I hope I never have to birth a 10 pound baby... Rob was 10 pounds), give birth, recover, and then many do it all over again. I am skipping A LOT of steps here and if you are a mama, then you certainly know it’s not as simple as that but I still do like to marvel how our bodies are MEANT to produce life! Lots of changes occur in our bodies during pregnancy and the core experiences the most extreme changes. I don’t say this to stress you out because again Ma, your body was created for this so simply educate yourself and trust the process. The muscles in your core will stretch to make room for baby, but by establishing proper breathing patterns and core function, we can protect our bodies from injury, reduce potential pregnancy related aches and pains, and help with postpartum recovery (depending on how childbirth goes of course).
When you hear the word core, what do you think of? Your abs (also known as your rectus abdominis or the 6 pack muscles)? If so, that's totally normal but our core is SO much more robust and made up of many muscle groups muscles that wrap all the way around our backs and help move, support and stabilize your spine. I wanted to break down two core muscle groups we throw around a lot when it comes to perinatal fitness, the pelvic floor and TVAs which are both a key part of proper core function. They both also withstand the most stretching and thus weakening during pregnancy. My hope is that by walking you through what each of these muscle groups is and looks like (who doesn't like a good chart?), it helps you better understand how to properly connect with your core on a daily basis and especially throughout pregnancy.
Pelvic Floor. The pelvic floor consists of the muscles and ligaments responsible for holding up, like a hammock, the pelvic organs which includes the bladder, intestines, bowel, and uterus (including the womb and baby when pregnant). These muscles run from your pubic bone in the front all the way to the tailbone in the back. As your baby grows and puts more pressure and weight on your pelvic floor, these muscles can weaken and are stretched when we give birth, it's how they were designed to work, but by working on pelvic floor strength and relaxation (for birth) we can help prevent issues such as back pain, diastasis recti (explained in this blog post), and incontinence (leaking pee when doing normal daily activities). A few exercises that can assist with Pelvic Floor strength include the basics: squats, bridges, cat cow, diaphragm breathing, and of course proper TVA engagement which we will get into next.
TVA (Transverse Abdominis). These are your innermost core muscles. They run horizontally underneath the ab muscles, wrap around your entire torso, and are recruited for almost all movements. They also do most of the stretching during pregnancy to make room for that sweet precious babe of yours, so learning to engage and strengthen these muscles is huge. Establishing a mind body connection with your TVAs is key when performing any exercise to build a strong core, as we use our core in almost every exercise. Performing diagrammatic breathing for up to 10 minutes daily when prego and early postpartum will help establish this connection. If you ever notice your belly “doming” or bulging down the center of your abs during exercises or regular activity, this is the main sign you are not accurately activating your TVAs. When you notice this, stop the exercise and take a few seconds to re-establish proper form and deep core connection. Do this by taking a deep breath, expanding through the back, side ribs, and belly and on the exhale pull your pelvic floor up as you draw your belly button in and up as you feel the TVAS/deep core muscles wrap around your baby like a corset. Continue this breathing pattern throughout the exercise, exhaling and engaging the TVAs on the work or against gravity. Another activity that can help you better understand whether or not you are engaging your TVAs is demoed in the first 5 minutes of our IG live video.
One last item to note is that it’s just as important to release and relax these muscles to make room for the baby. In conclusion, by understanding how these muscle groups function and working with your body to establish proper breathing patterns as well as the mind body connection with your deep core and pelvic floor muscles you will reduce potential pregnancy related aches and pains, injuries, and aid in your postpartum recovery.
Christy Talamo, Certified Fitness Instructor and Pre/Postnatal Exercise Specialist