After shuddering at our own moms in their unflattering high-waisted, high-pocket jeans, we swore we'd never be "that mom" when we had kids. Yet many women are finding even their expensive designer jeans are nonetheless giving them that dreaded shapeless "mum bum" look! But it's the booty (or lack thereof), not the jeans that is the real problem.
It all starts in pregnancy, when a woman's centre of gravity shifts and as a result her posture shifts with it.
Most women try to counterbalance this shift by thrusting their hips forward, gripping in their posterior pelvic floor – think wedgie – and tucking their tailbone under. In essence, their body thinks the posture they have maintained throughout pregnancy is the new "normal" and because the muscles have all adapted to this posture over nine months the body hangs on to the non-optimal posture after pregnancy Most new moms still have forward-leaning hips, a gripped butt and a tucked tailbone. A lot of what contributes to the tucked tailbone is the condition of the gluteus maximus muscles. When the glutes are strong they help keep the sacrum, the bone attached to the bottom of the tailbone, in optimal alignment but when the glutes are weak (I call them "gluteus flateus") they lose their ability to keep the sacrum back and they also lose their ability to generate the force needed to propel the body forward during walking.
Instead the hip flexors, the muscles at the front of the hips, are used to lift and move the leg forward, which is not how the body is supposed to move. Next time you see a new mom out for a walk with her babe, look at her bum (from a distance ideally or it might be a bit awkward) and watch her walk. Chances are, no matter how great her jeans are, her low back and butt are flat and her stride is small and a bit rigid because she is gripping her butt cheeks.
Filling up a great pair of jeans is not the only benefit of a strong backside though. Strong glutes contribute to pelvic floor wellness as well. By keeping the sacrum in its ideal alignment, the pelvic floor muscles (which attach to the tailbone at the base of the sacrum) will also be optimally aligned and therefore better able to generate force when called upon during a cough or sneeze. This helps prevent and treat the incontinence that is common to many new moms when they cough or sneeze.
Here are some tips to help build and maintain a bodacious booty (and therefore a more functional pelvic floor) during and after pregnancy.
Bridges One of the best glute exercises out there is the bridge and this can be done during pregnancy with a wedge under the upper back and as early as the second week postpartum. As your strength increases you can also add some resistance with a sandbag on your pelvis and once you have regained your pelvic stability you can also up the challenge by performing the movement with one leg off the ground and extended. Exhale to engage the pelvic floor (ideally with a cue such as the "jellyfish" ) and then press the hips up towards the ceiling. Inhale and release the pelvic floor contraction as you lower back down.
Squats Squatting is a great glute builder and ideally should be started in pregnancy. It's a great position for labour if you can build up strength and endurance in your glutes and legs. It is also an exercise you can return to within a few weeks postpartum. The range of motion can be modified depending on how you feel but you want to aim for a nice deep squat with the tailbone un-tucked, your pelvis in neutral (keeping the small curve in your low back) and your knees and toes pointing forward. I also like doing these with a stability ball against a wall and placed in the curve of the low back. Inhale as you lower down then exhale to engage your pelvic floor and press back up.
Hip Extensions This exercise not only builds great glutes but it also helps with pelvic stability during and after pregnancy. I recommend adding this exercise into your postpartum routine at around five or six weeks postpartum. Standing on one leg with your hands on the wall or on the back of a chair for support, exhale to engage the pelvic floor and press the heel of the lifted leg back while keeping the leg straight. Inhale as you return the leg to the start. You can also add a stretchy exercise band around the ankles for added resistance.
Kim Vopni is known as The Fitness Doula and is an authority on helping women get through birth in one piece. Based in Vancouver, she is a certified pre/postnatal fitness consultant, co-founder of Bellies Inc and owner of Pelvienne Wellness Inc offering innovative products for a better birth and recovery. You can follow her on Twitter at @FitnessDoula