Pregnancy is one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life.

The emotional and physical changes that come along with this can be very overwhelming. While dealing with these changes, you also must continue taking care of your baby, maintaining a household and going back to work.

Returning to work is usually the last thing on your mind after having a baby. However, preparing your body for this when you get the green light from your doctor is important.

Before talking about what to be careful with and what to do to strengthen your core, we first need to understand how pregnancy affects your body and the musculoskeletal system.

As your belly gets bigger to support your growing child, your abdominals stretch and other muscles change to help compensate for this. The linea alba (center line where your abdominals attach) thins and separates, which can cause an abdominal hernia. Your ligaments and joints become unstable due to hormonal and physical changes. Your pelvic floor weakens from the weight of the baby resting on it.

Lastly, the diaphragm changes to accommodate the growing belly which affects your breathing mechanics. After the baby is born, your body starts reversing all of the changes it has gone through for the past nine months.

Many of these changes happen once the uterus shrinks to normal size and hormones return to pre-pregnancy levels. There are, however, a few things you can do to help speed along this process once you are cleared by your doctor to do so.

An easy exercise to start working on is diaphragmatic breathing. You can start by laying on your back with your knees bent. Start by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. The focus should be on blowing all of the air out of your lungs while engaging your core. You should feel your stomach rise and fall when doing this. You also might do this while blowing up a balloon as a tool to focus on filling the balloon while breathing correctly.

Another exercise you can do is a plank or side plank. You should focus on keeping the core tight while maintaining a straight line with your body. Try to hold this position for up to one minute.

One thing to be aware of while caring for your baby and going back to work is posture. You need to make sure to engage the core when bending forward or carrying your baby. Bend with your knees and keep your back straight when picking things up off the floor. If you are seated for a lot of your day at work, try to keep the core engaged to maintain good posture.

Carry your baby in the center of your body instead of on your hips.

Carry the car seat with both arms in the front of you rather then with one hand down at your side. If you find it easier to carry the car seat on one side or carrying your baby on your hip, try to alternate sides.

All of the tips are helpful in avoiding injury or strain on your body.

Having a baby can affect mothers in many ways. You can be easily injured for a long period after having the baby, as your body is recovering and you are working on regaining core and back strength.

If you are doing something at work that you feel might cause injury or harm to you, talk with your supervisor and explain your concerns. If possible, there might be a job that doesn’t require as much physical demand. If you have any further questions or concerns, always contact your doctor for advice.

Lauren Lloyd, PTA, is with Tri-State Occupational Health in Dubuque.