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Pregnancy and Abs 

The fitness industry is full of conflicting theories but none more so than exercising whilst pregnant. Many women are very confused about what is classed as “safe” during pregnancy.

Given all the stretching that your ab muscles go through during pregnancy to accommodate your growing baby, you wouldn't be the first woman to wonder if there must be something you can do to keep them in shape and speed recovery after birth. And while pregnancy isn't the time to strive for the chiseled core you've always dreamed of, you can certainly take a few safe steps, with the guidance of your practitioner, to maintain your fitness and keep your core strong during pregnancy. In fact, exercising your abs during pregnancy has lots of benefits, including reduced risk for back pain and potentially even a speedier labor.

Nonetheless, certain physical changes can make it more difficult to stick to the abs routine you practiced before you were pregnant. Here's what you need to know about your abs during and after pregnancy, along with six exercises you can try (with the green light from your practitioner, of course) during pregnancy.

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Pregnancy-safe workouts

Are abdominal exercises safe during early pregnancy? 

Unless your practitioner has restricted exercise during pregnancy, most abdominal exercises (with some modifications, as there are some exercises to avoid while you're pregnant) are safe in early pregnancy. Research has found no link between moderate to even vigorous exercise and early pregnancy loss. What's more, your baby bump — which can make some abdominal exercises more difficult if not impossible as you progress throughout pregnancy — will likely only make an appearance in the second trimester.

What happens to your abs during pregnancy?

Late in your first trimester of pregnancy, you may notice something different about your belly besides, of course, a baby bump: an accentuated ridge that runs from the bottom of the breast bone down the middle of the belly. Known as diastasis recti, this gap between the left and right sides of your abdominal muscle affects up to an estimated half of of new mums. It sometimes widens by a few centimeters as your baby grows and puts tension on the area. Women who are carrying multiples or have already been through several pregnancies are particularly prone to separation.

By the 12-week mark, be sure to check for diastasis recti. Since the condition often doesn't develop until later in pregnancy, continue to check periodically. If, at any point, you do notice a gap in your abdomen that's wider than three finger-widths apart, you will need to modify your ab workouts during and after pregnancy. The good news is that diastasis recti is really no big deal and heals on its own (with a little help from you) after birth.

Is it safe to do ab workouts when pregnant? 

With your practitioner's okay, it's safe to exercise your abs throughout your entire pregnancy with the proper modifications. In fact, strengthening your abs when you're expecting supports your pelvic organs as your baby bump gets bigger. Strong abs can also alleviate pressure on your back and support proper posture to fend off the lower back pain that's so common during pregnancy. And a strong core may help increase your sense of control during labor as well as help you recover more quickly after giving birth.

Are planks safe during pregnancy?

Yes, planks are safe for most women throughout pregnancy. Static, endurance-based exercises like the plank are actually ideal for expecting women because they strengthen both your abs and your back. They also put less pressure on the spine than dynamic exercises, like crunches. Again, listen to your body; if you feel too much strain, hold your plank for several shorter sets of 5 to 10 seconds. If it's still too difficult, keep your knees bent slightly or rest them on the floor.

Ab exercises to avoid during pregnancy

Because full sit-ups and double leg lifts put more pressure and pull on the abdomen, they're not a great idea at any time during pregnancy. Also avoid moves that involve contortions or bending over backward. Be sure to breathe steadily as you exercise as well to ensure you and your baby are getting a steady flow of oxygen.

After you've reached the end of your first trimester, you'll want to avoid doing any exercises (like crunches) while lying face-up on your back. At this point, your enlarged uterus could potentially compress the vena cava, the vein that carries blood to your heart — which can be dangerous for you and your baby. To alleviate the pressure without skipping all ab exercises that typically involve lying on your back, prop yourself up so your heart is above your navel using your forearms (see below), a wedge, a couple of pillows or a Swiss ball. Or practice exercises performed in alternative positions, like lying on your side, standing upright, or on all fours.

If you discover you have diastasis recti with a gap of more than three fingers-width, avoid crunches, sit-ups and other exercises where your abs bulge, since they put extra strain on your abdominus rectus.

Most importantly, always listen to your body: If an exercise doesn't feel right (and especially if it feels painful), stop right away. Check in with your practitioner and a personal trainer if you're concerned, since there are many ab exercise alternatives that are perfectly safe for expecting women.