Here’s a video taken just a few weeks postpartum, and shows me practicing one of the first core and pelvic floor exercises I did after I had my son.
Doesn’t look like much, right?
As it turns out, your breath is your most powerful tool to stabilize and support your body during movement, manage intra-abdominal pressure and keep your body strong.
And during the childbearing experience, it takes a little intention to keep breathing in a manner that supports these functions.
Essential Anatomy Of Your Core And Pelvic Floor
During a normal breath cycle, the pelvic floor mirrors the diaphragm (see animation below).
On inhale, the diaphragm contracts (and descends towards your pelvis) to draw air into the lungs; the rib cage should expand 360 degrees. In response, the pelvic floor lengthens and descends. The abdominal muscles lengthen and expand outwards slightly.
On exhale, everything reverses; the diaphragm and pelvic floor rise and the abdominals contract inwards.
Here’s the twist:
Pregnancy tosses a major wrench (well, baby) into this system. As your sweet babe develops and grows, your diaphragm runs out of space to contract downward and the beautiful coordination between these muscles gets jumbled.
When coordination between inner core muscles is lost, we start to see a whole host of symptoms that are commonly associated with pregnancy and postpartum (leaking urine, large abdominal separation, lower back pain etc.)
What Is The Connection Breath
Nailing your breathing strategy is a key consideration during pregnancy postpartum exercise.
The specific breathing technique I teach is the Connection Breath (sometimes called a Piston Breath).
The Connection Breath trains the coordination and optimal function of the core and pelvic floor.
In fact, the management of many core and pelvic floor dysfunctions (including incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and diastasis recti) begins with learning this breathing pattern.
The Connection Breath is incredibly effective at activating and strengthening your inner core (diaphragm, pelvic floor, innermost abs (transverse abdominals) and multifidus) during pregnancy and it is one of the first exercises you can do after childbirth to begin retraining your core muscles.
How To Practice The Connection Breath
Set up on your back (or seated, if back-lying is uncomfortable) and find a neutral, stacked alignment between your rib cage and pelvis.
- On the inhale, focus on expanding your rib cage in 360 degrees (like an umbrella opening) and allow your abdomen and pelvic floor to expand and relax.
- On the exhale, blow air out through pursed lips and gently contract the pelvic floor; you should feel your deep abs (transverse abdominals) kick on. You should feel your abs from your pubic bone through your sternum (lower abs AND upper abs).
If that sounds complicated, think about it this way: it’s a diaphragmatic breath coordinated with a kegel.
For an in depth tutorial on body alignment and the Connection Breath, grab a free copy of the No B.S. Guide To A Stronger, Drier Pregnancy and Postpartum. I designed it to be a user manual for your pelvic floor😉.
Practice Breathing In Different Positions
During pregnancy and early postpartum, this core activation can feel like work in and of itself.
You can also increase challenge your breathing exercises by performing them in a variety of positions.
Begin practicing the Connection Breath in a supine or back-lying position. Proceed to a seated position, explore hands and knees and progress to standing.
If you know that you have a particularly wide diastasis recti (abdominal separation) OR if being in a hands-and-knees positions puts too much pressure on your belly (if you think it might be, it is), then start in standing, sitting or any comfortable position.
Once you have mastered the Connection Breath, you can use it as a strategy to support your core and pelvic floor during exercise or activities of daily parenting.
Note: In these videos, I am NOT pulling belly button to spine, my belly movement is being driven by my breath and pelvic floor contraction.
How To Breathe During Exercise
A basic application of the Connection Breath is known as “Exhale on Exertion”. Essentially, you are exhaling with a pelvic floor contraction during the hard part of an exercise.
Exhale on exertion: Inhale during the easy portion of the movement (e.g. descending into a squat) and exhale during the effortful portion of the movement (e.g. rising from the squat). Gently contract your pelvic floor during your exhale. The strength of your exhale and pelvic floor contraction will vary depending on the demand of the exercise you are performing.
“Exhale on exertion” is a great place to start and it works for a lot of people. If it doesn’t work for you, try another strategy. Here are a few to try:
Exhale before exertion: Initiate your exhale just BEFORE beginning the effortful portion of the movement.
Exhale through exertion: Exhale throughout the entire movement (e.g. beginning exhale as you begin to descend into a squat, and exhale all the way through until you stand again).
Inhale on exertion: Exhale during the easy portion of the movement and inhale during the effortful portion of the movement.
And if you find something else not listed here that works for you, that’s okay too. The point is not to adhere to some prescribed “optimal” breath strategy, but to find something that makes you feel strong and supported.
These breathing strategies should make your lifts and actions feel stronger when you find the one that works for you. Experiment!
Check out demonstrations of these various breathing strategies in this video I created for my postpartum workout program, Stronger Postpartum:
Breathing For Pregnancy Fitness, Postpartum Exercise And Pelvic Health
The Connection Breath is an essential item in your pregnancy and postpartum self-care toolkit.
As a breathing technique in pregnancy, it will keep your core feeling strong, coordinated and connected to the rest of your body.
As a postnatal breathing exercise, it’s an extremely effective strategy to retrain the coordination and reflexive activity of your core.
If you are returning to exercise postpartum, or managing core or pelvic health concerns, coordinating this breath (or one of a few variations) with your movement patterns can dramatically improve your strength and stability. It may also help manage symptoms associated with core and pelvic floor dysfunction (e.g. incontinence, heaviness, discomfort) during exercise or activities of daily living.
Please try these out and let me know what strategy works for you- Especially if you come up with your own!
Take a deep dive into HOW to perform the Connection Breath and use it to feel stronger in exercise and your activities of daily living.
Download my free guide The No B.S. Guide to a Stronger, Drier Pregnancy and Postpartum.
My mission is to make sure that having a baby is not a reason why you can’t do all the things. Contact me:
✨If you have questions about exercise or pelvic health pertaining to pregnancy or postpartum.
✨If you’re local (Seattle’s Eastside: Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland and surrounding areas) and interested in working with me on a custom personal training plan.