While I was having coffee—well, eating cake—with my lovely Pregnancy Pilates group the other day, we were discussing the subject of the "mum bum." During and after pregnancy, many of us find that our bottoms are soft and lack muscle tone. This is because during pregnancy, your center of gravity shifts. As a result, many women try to counterbalance that shift by tucking their tailbone. This means that you end up underusing your glute muscles and overusing the posterior pelvic floor muscles. This results in a flattened backside that can't fill out a pair of jeans.
If you want to avoid the "mum bum" epidemic, read on for some advice and exercises to help keep your bottom bootylicious, and, as an added benefit, your pelvic floor will thank you too.
1. Sit less.
Sitting does nothing to build the glutes and everything to make your bum as flat as a pancake. This is tricky in the early postnatal weeks, as we are often glued to the sofa feeding our little ones. But in between feeds, minimizing the amount of time spent sitting is critical to maintaining a healthy backside.
One of the best exercises out there is walking, and something that all new moms and moms-to-be can and should do as often as possible. It is a low-impact form of exercise, so it's kind to the pelvic floor and is a good way to get the endorphins flowing. Hill walking is particularly beneficial, as when you add in the incline of a hill, it really blasts those glutes into high gear along with elevating your heart rate.
3. Glute bridges.
The simple route to a perfect posterior is to master the glute bridge. Along with helping your bum look fabulous, this exercise will improve your hip flexibility and mobility. To increase the challenge, try raising one leg off the ground and keeping it steady as you bridge, or move both feet on top of a table or box.
Here's how to do it:
1. Lie on your back on an exercise mat or the floor in a bent-knee position with your feet flat on the floor.
2. Place your feet hip-width apart with the toes facing away from you. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your low back into the floor.
3. Gently exhale. Keep the abdominals engaged and lift your hips up off the floor. Press your heels into the floor for added stability.
4. Inhale and slowly lower yourself back to your starting position.
Avoid pushing your hips too high, which can cause hyperextension (arching) in your low back. Keeping your abdominals strong helps to prevent excessive arching in the low back.
During pregnancy, you should be cautious if you choose to exercise while lying on your back due to supine hypotensive syndrome, particularly after 16 weeks. Exercise on the back for short durations only and watch out for feelings of dizziness. If you experience dizziness, stop exercising immediately.
Squatting is a great bum builder. It's also a functional movement, as you will be always bending down to pick up the little ones or the paraphernalia that comes with motherhood. Squatting can be done (and should be done) during pregnancy, and within a few weeks postnatally. The range of motion can be modified, but you want to aim for a nice deep squat with the tailbone untucked and your pelvis in neutral (keeping the small curve in your low back). Squats are one of my favorite exercises and there are many variations that can be done to keep things interesting.
Here's how to do it:
1. Stand with feet slightly wider than hips. Keep your back straight, with your neutral spine, and your chest and shoulders up. Keep looking straight ahead. Toes should be slightly pointed outward and engage your core by sucking your tummy button into your spine to work your transverse abdominals.
2. Slowly bend your knees and lower yourself to the ground as if to sit in a chair position, pushing your bottom back and down. As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet. Stop when your thighs are parallel with the floor.
3. Push back up through your heels, exhaling at the same time.
Inhale when lowering body, exhale when pushing back up. Keep your toes pointed forward. Don't allow your chest to drop and sink onto the tops of your thighs.
During pregnancy, there are times when squats are not beneficial. You should avoid squatting when baby is not in an optimal position after 30 weeks, as squats help descend a baby deeper down into the pelvis. If there is any pain when you perform a squat then you may need to have your technique assessed to correct your form or you can choose from different variations to reduce any discomfort.
5. The Oyster
The oyster helps to open up the hip joints and strengthens the glutes, stabilizing your pelvis. The opening and closing of the leg are also a great way of working your pelvic floor muscles.
Here's how to do it:
1. Lie on your right side with your shoulders and hips aligned on top of each other. You may wish to use a pillow under your head and bump for comfort.
2. Place your left hand on the mat in front of you, bending both knees so that your heels are in a line with the back of your pelvis.
3. Inhale to prepare and then exhale and, keeping the feet connected, lift up your top knee. Keep the pelvis still and stable and move from the hip joint. Inhale and control the leg back to the start position.
Only open the top leg as far as you can while keeping the pelvis still. Keep your core engaged and your waist lifted off the mat throughout the exercise. Try and place as little pressure through the top arm as possible
6. The glute pulse
This exercise focuses on building strength in the glutes and hamstrings. Completing the move in four-point position will also challenge the core muscles as you work to keep the torso stabilized and the spine in neutral against the movement of your leg.
Here's how to do it:
1. Start in four-point kneeling position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hip joints.
2. Inhale to prepare. Then exhale and, keeping the core muscles engaged, slowly lift the left leg.
3. Your knee should stay bent as you press your foot up toward the ceiling.
4. Inhale and lower the leg back to start position.
Keep your spine in neutral by engaging your core muscles, and avoid rotating your hips by keeping the shoulders and hips squared to the floor during the entire exercise.