Peace Out Mummy Tummy
I’m going to warn you up front. There is SO much to cover in this post—it’s a little long. If you wanna’ get straight to the meat (or the exercises you can do to fix your diastasis recti), scroll down. If you want to learn more about what happens to our core during pregnancy to prevent further damag, keep reading.
It’s all too common. We have a baby and for some reason, society thinks we should just “bounce back” without skipping a beat. I mean HELLO PEOPLE, our bodies have grown and expelled a human being all in about 9 months. We need to cut ourselves some slack.
Let me quickly say, this is NOT a post about vanity. My goal is to spread awareness of the changes that occur to our bodies during pregnancy and childbirth that can result in unpleasant and even painful lifelong side effects if left untreated.
The exercises I share below have helped me to restore my core. You can do it too!
If you find yourself frustrated because you still look 5 months pregnant MONTHS or even YEARS after having babies, you could have something called “Diastasis Recti.” Sounds like gibberish, right? Well keep reading because you need to be aware of what happens to our core during pregnancy and the things you can do to help yourself heal.
You might be saying, “I dont care about having a six pack or flat tummy….”
I can respect that! But do you care about peeing your pants every time you laugh, sneeze, cough, run or jump? I hope so! Listen, peeing your pants is NOT a normal part of life after childbirth! It could be a sign that your body has not repaired itself properly after giving birth.
Recently, I have been sharing embarrassing topics that many people do not like to discuss postpartum including pelvic organ prolapse, bladder leakage and postpartum anxiety.
Pregnancy does a doozy on us mamas, huh?
First, there is the spreading of the hips. I had always assumed my hips were plenty wide enough but I guess nature had other plans for how wide they were going to get in this process. During pregnancy, I had flashbacks to the growing pains I had in my legs during high school. The difference is that I wanted my legs to grow. During pregnancy, I was not so excited the expansion of my hips.
Next up are those lovely 6-pack abs. They will stretch and separate in order to accommodate your growing bundle of joy leaving you feeling like a deflated balloon after giving birth. And guess what? Everyone has abs so dont tell me that you dont. We may not always be able to see them, but they are there, I promise. Otherwise your intestines would be falling out of place.
Speaking of things falling out? Did you know your pelvic organs can actually prolapse as a result of pregnancy and childbirth? What the heck, right? Neither did I. So I wrote my experience with pelvic organ prolapse HERE. I want women to know they are not alone.
Okay, back to your abdominal muscles during pregnancy.
Prior to having babies, I had no idea that organs (like my bladder) could fall out of place or my abdominal muscles could split apart. GRR!
Well, I’m not only here to bring awareness, I am also here to provide support and information to help you through the recovery process and help you feel like the bad a%& mama that you are.
BUT BEFORE WE MOVE ON. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I WANT YOU TO REMEMBER.
Do you know what is more beautiful and admirable than a flat tummy and toned abs?
A woman who willingly sacrifices her body, time, independence and sometimes sanity for the development, birth and life that she gives to her children!
I want you to know you are an absolute ROCK STAR! Regaining core strength after having a baby is much more than aesthetics. We need to function optimally in order to feel better about ourselves. No one confidently pees their pants. Just sayin.
So, What is Diastasis Recti?
I want to try and make this as simple as possible.
Diastasis Recti = Abdominal Separation. It is often characterized as a protruding postpartum stomach that does not reduce despite regular exercise.
You may also notice this during pregnancy as a “coning” down the midline of your belly. If you do notice this coning during exercise, please stop immediately as this is putting extra pressure on the delicate fascia that connects the two hemispheres of your abdominal muslces and can actually make Diastasis Recti worse.
During pregnancy, the tissue that connects these two hemispheres begins a thinning process in order to make room for your growing baby. Sounds a little scary. However, this is not a reason for concern. This is simply the body’s natural process of making room for your growing baby while allowing organs to still function normally.
For some, these muscles will go back together after they give birth.
However, for most, these muscles can remain separated for months, even years, unless proper measures are taken to help reduce the degree of separation.
One issue I find, is that doctors do not test for these things often enough so please do yourself a favor, and check for yourself!
What Does Diastasis Recti Look Like?
What happens if I don’t repair my Diastasis?
The most common complaint is the “mummy tummy.”
The belly protrudes because the abdominal wall and the tissue connecting the two hemispheres of muscle have become weakened during pregnancy. The lean connective tissue is not able to provide proper abdominal support for the organs which results in a noticeable protrusion.
The action of your six-pack muscles (rectus abdominis) is trunk flexion such as bending over or performing a crunch type movement. When standing, these muscles support the organs, holds the rib cage and pubis together and gives support to your spine. When the integrity of these muscles is compromised and weakened, such as during pregnancy, you can quickly see how this can affect things such as:
Weak Pelvic Floor – The Pelvic floor and abdominal muscles work together as a team. When this team fails to work together properly, we can experience problems such as incontinence…AKA Peeing your pants and Pelvic organ prolapse. Diastasis Recti is highly related to Pelvic Organ Prolapse.
Low Back pain-. Save money on all those fancy corsets and back braces and strengthen your core. (note, there are some situations where a postpartum belly bind or corset is necessary such as after having a c-section)
Think of it like this. Your abdominal muscles act like a corset around your midsection. If the integrity of that corset is compromised, then it cannot function properly to provide necessary support for optimal function and stability.
How to test for DR?
It is recommended to wait 6-10 weeks after having a baby to test for Diastasis Recti. This allows your uterus to continue to shrink and will make identifying any separation easier. It is important to record the separation to test for improvement.
Testing for DR is the ONE AND ONLY time you are allowed to do a crunch because you must in do this movement in order to properly test for separation.
Take note of the separation in these four areas:
- Just below the sternum
- Just above the belly button (this is the most common and severe place of separation)
- Just below the belly button
- Lower abdominal area 2 inches above the pubic bone.
If your separation is greater than 2 finger spaces apart (measured above the navel) the condition is referred to as Diastasis Recti
Take note of not only the width of the separation but also the depth and integrity of the connective tissue. A deeper gap with thinner tissue may take longer to heal.
Exercises and movements to AVOID until you have healed your abdomen postpartum:
Anything that causes flextion of the torso or coning:
- Crunches or sit-ups lying down or on exercise ball
- Oblique Twists
- Incline sit-ups
- Bicycle legs
- Hanging leg raises
- Pilates “The Hundred”
- Pushups in a plank position
When going from lying down to sitting up, always roll onto your side then sit up in order to avoid the dreaded “crunch” position.
Remember, connective tissue holds the two hemispheres of your abdominal muscles together. Any movement that places excessive pressure on this connective tissue can cause further separation.
How you can reduce (NOT PREVENT) the severity of Diastasis Recti:
- AVOID EXCESS WEIGHT GAIN!
- Fuel your body with good nutrition.
- Exercise both during pregnancy and postpartum (with doctor approval)
- Bring awareness to your posture.
I STRONGLY encourage mamas to test their degree of separation (if any) before resuming exercise routines to prevent compromising the integrity of the facia tissue any further.
Why it is so important to check for Diastasis Recti?
If you are unware of any abdominal separation, many common movements, such as lying down and sitting up, can make the degree of separation worse.
How Do I Know If My Abs are Functioning Properly Postpartum?
It is still possible for the abdominal muscles to function properly even if your separation has not completely healed. Ask yourself these questions to identify if you have an optimally functioning core:
- Do you still experience bladder leakage?
- Are you able to hold a good, upright posture?
- Does your stomach look flatter?
- Does the integrity of the connective tissue feel thicker and stronger?
- Do you continue to have back or hip pain?
If you continue to experience any of the above symptoms, I encourage you to continue rehabilitating your core. Be patient! It took 9 months to create abdominal separation, it could take just as long for the healing process.
Knowledge is POWER! Being aware of Diastasis Recti may not prevent separation, but it can help prevent you from performing movements that might make it worse!
Okay, the moment you have all been waiting for…..
EXERCISES TO HELP RESTORE YOUR CORE
NOTE-These exercises are ones that I have used personally to help regain strength in my core postpartum. Please speak to a medical professional and obtain proper clearance to resume exercise postpartum. You can read my personal disclaimer here. I am not an expert nor a pelvic floor physical therapist. However, with a degree in exercise science, experiencing two full term pregnancies and seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist, my goal is to help bring awareness to restoring out bodis after babies.
It is important to do your Kegels while performing these exercises. Think tightening the pelvic floor muscles while lifting them up toward your belly button. Remember, the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles work as a team.
Vacuum Breathing-Drawing In
This is not meant to give you a 6-pack. However, this exercise will help you identify and engage your transverse abdominals and keep your core tight. After I felt that I had mastered the exercise, I do this anytime I am putting makeup on, blow drying my hair, brushing my teeth, washing dishes, etc
Hip Rolls or Pelvic Tilt
Abduction with Core Activation
Bent Knee Drops
Yikes, this was a lot of information! Remember to please consult with your doctor before resuming ANY exercise postpartum. If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, think PREVENTION. Being aware of Diastasis Recti can help possibly reduce the degree of separation however there is no guarantee of prevention. Here are some of my favorite prenatal exercises to help strengthen your core which help reduce pain in hips and back as well as give you strength for labor and delivery.
PLEASE NOTE: Following and/or participating in any exercises, workouts, or following any tips or advice is solely your discretion. I strongly recommend speaking with your healthcare provider before following any workouts or tips that I provide. I am not a healthcare professional. The information I provide is based on my own personal education and experiences. I obtain a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology and certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist. However, I am not an expert in physical therapy.
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Brooke is a certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology-Exercise Science. She is also a mom of 3 girls with more than 15 years of experience in health and fitness. Brooke’s goal at Struggles of a Fit Mom is to help motivate, educate and inspire other busy mamas who struggle with finding time, energy and motivation to take care of themselves in the chaos of motherhood.