Belly after birth? The best exercises to get back in shape


I think one of the most surprising things after giving birth to my son was how long it took to get my stomach back in shape. You know that your stomach stretches (obviously) but I, like most people, thought it would shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size in no time. Unfortunately, I was in for a rude awakening and it took about a year. With the birth of my second child—this time via c-section—the awakening has been even ruder. I seem to have a permanent bulge and am eager to get rid of it in time for swimsuit season. However, I was confused on what I could and couldn’t do since I had a cesarean—I’ve heard you can’t do crunches, then I heard you could—I’m sure most moms can relate. So, Breezy Mama contacted personal trainer Katie Kohn to see what the real deal was. Listed below are some beginning exercises to get you in shape—although written for those who have given birth via c-section, Katie recommends starting with these for those who have given birth vaginally as well. —Alex

If you’ve had a cesarean birth, you shouldn’t start abdominal work until after about six weeks—when your stitches have fully healed and you have doctor’s clearance. You should also check to see if you have diastasis, which is a separation in the abs. If so, then you need to be careful about starting abdominal exercises because you want to allow time for the abdominal muscles to come back together. A good way to check for diastasis is by putting your fingers in between your abdominals horizontally about an inch above your belly button. If you can fit more than three fingers in between your muscles then you have diastasis and should proceed very slowly with abdominal exercises or talk to a doctor about this concern.

One important point to know is that there is no such thing as lower abs—you have one long muscle from your sternum to your pubis and unfortunately the lower section of the stomach is where we hold body fat. Women are always asking me, “How can I loose my poufy stomach?” My reply is not one they want to hear! You can’t spot reduce, meaning loose fat in this or that spot on your body. Genetically we hold fat in different places (i.e. pear shaped, apple shaped). In order to lose unwanted fat you need to combine cardiovascular training with resistance training and proper diet.

When working the abs for the first time after birth, you want to concentrate on doing isometric contractions. This means contracting the muscles without shortening or lengthening. In other words, you contract the muscles and then hold still. The first isometric contraction is a pelvic tilt. It may seem easy but it will start the strengthening process of your abdominals and target the lower portion of your rectus abdominus.

Exercise 1—Pelvic tilt.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.  Slowly tighten your abdominals and roll your pelvis towards you. You want to tighten the pelvic floor while doing this (like a Kegel). Breathe evenly and hold the pelvis up for 30 seconds. Then rest for 30 seconds and repeat the pelvic tilt again. Start with three times and progress slowly up to ten repetitions. You want to make sure your pelvis is lifting because you are contacting your abs, not because you are squeezing your bottom and lifting it off the floor.
iso-sit-up-start1iso-sit-up-end1 Exercise 2—Isometric sit up. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your fingertips behind your ears to support your neck. Be careful not to pull on your head. Inhale and as you exhale lift your head, neck, and a little of your shoulders off the ground. Hold this position for five seconds (keep breathing, don’t hold your breath). Rest for ten seconds and then repeat the lift. Start with ten repetitions. As you get stronger, and they feel easier, increase the time you hold the contraction (i.e. ten seconds) and increase the repetitions (15, 20, and 25).

Note: The following two exercises are only to be done when exercises one and two become easy and your abdominals are feeling stronger. Exercises three and four are good starting points for people getting back to abdominal exercises after vaginal delivery.  (However, if you had a vaginal delivery and this is the first time you’ve exercised, you need to start with exercises one and two.)

Exercise 3—Obliques.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Starting with your left obliques—place your right fingertips behind your right ear; place your left arm flat on the ground. Lift your right shoulder towards your left knee. Lift and lower 12 times and then switch to the other side (left shoulder to right knee). Exhale on the way up and inhale on the way down. Do three sets of 12 repetitions on each side. Gradually work your way up to three sets of 20 repetitions on each side.
Exercise 4—Plank.
Lie on your stomach. Get on your forearms, elbows and toes and lift your torso off the ground. Hold for 15 seconds and then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat again four times. As you get stronger hold plank for 30 seconds and rest for 30. Increase to ten repetitions. Make sure when you are up in plank that your body is flat. Many people hold their bottom up too high which is easier but not targeting your abdominal muscles as much.

xmas08_crop-01Written by Katie Kohn of Kohn Fitness.
Katie is a certified personal trainer and aerobic instructor. She currently trains clients and instructs for Baby Boot Camp in San Clemente, CA and Dana Point, CA. For information about personal training or Baby Boot Camp you can email Katie at or visit

breezy_deal1Breezy Mama Exclusive! Baby Boot Camp of San Clemente/Dana Point is offering Breezy Mama readers one free trial class. Email Joan for class details:

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  1. I so needed this information! Thanks so much!

  2. So good to hear! Stay tuned–we’ll offer the next level of difficulty down the road. . .

  3. Great information on getting your belly back into shape, now if it just wasn’t so hard for moms to stick with doing them ‘every’ day. That’s where I see most of the problems for moms after giving birth.

  4. Thank you so much for the great tips on getting my 6 pack abdominals. I will start my work on the diet.


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