“How To Get Your Old Body Back” … “Shedding The Baby Weight” … “How To Get Rid Of The Mum Tum”… “Your Post-Baby Belly” … “Here’s To a Thinner, Happier You!” NOOOOO!
These are all genuine articles online. Seriously. Last week a wonderful new mother sent me a message through Instagram with some screenshots from a VERY big pregnancy websites’ email titles. One was entitled ‘Getting back to pre-marriage weight’, another signed off ‘here’s to a thinner, happier, and healthier you’. It absolutely made my day that this incredible mother realised just how absolute BS these emails are. But, it did highlight just how much subliminal pressure there is on new mums to look a certain way. All this during a time when they have one of the hardest, most challenging, often thankless, jobs going.
Not only have you just pushed a baby out of your vagina or through a deep cut in your stomach! But, your hormones are staying around for at least 6 weeks, your internal organs have been squashed and adjusted, your pelvic floor has been on extreme measures for the last few months and you have most likely had back, neck or ankle pain. And now you have a serious responsibility, a mini-you, to stand guard of and basically try not to kill. The last thing you need to be worrying about is reading articles written by people with little to no conscience/writing articles with the sole purpose of selling more magazines, or rushing to change your body. You have enough on your plate.
Now, there are many women for whom their bodies are their salaries (models, actresses). These women seem to ‘snap’ back to their pre-baby bodies before you even realised they were pregnant. This is not a realistic goal and please be under no illusion that this hasn’t come without sacrifices, a large bank balance and some of the world’s best fitness and diet professionals. At times, it can also be at a slight danger to their health. Your body has gone through one of the most physically demanding 9 months and it must be treated with care. This does not mean you can’t exercise, but it does mean you should be wary of who you train with and what you do.
Next week I am releasing a podcast with the amazing Caroline Bragg, a pre/post-natal exercise specialist and we discuss just what the rules and considerations are when it comes to exercise before and after labour. In advance of this I want to discuss an issue that can easily arise in the pursuit for the ‘pre-baby tummy’. It is an issue often not discussed in post-natal check-ups: Diastasis Recti.
What is Diastasis Recti?
If we were to look under our skin at the muscles that make up our tummy/core area we would see 2 strips of muscle that run downwards from our ribs to our pubic bones. These are called the Rectus Abdominis muscles. Imagine them like 2 elastic bands that run side by side and fill the gap where a pregnant bump would sit. These 2 bands are connected to each other by a connective tissue called the Linea Alba.
When someone has a ‘6-pack’ what we are seeing are those 2 muscles. When we are pregnant these muscles stretch to make room for your baby and the 2 muscles do start to separate slightly as the Linea Alba stretches. This is normal and acceptable and usually corrects itself naturally post-labour. A hormone called ‘Relaxin’ (handy name I know) causes your muscles to be more flexible and joints laxer. Also, this hormone is what allows the abdominal muscles to stretch.
When things go wrong
After you have had your baby your hormones don’t usually return to normal until 6 weeks after labour. If you breastfeed, it’ll be 6 weeks after you stop. This means you remain stretchy and the abdominals take a while to return to normal (remember everyone having a meltdown when Princess Kate came out of hospital with a mini bump after having Prince George). Whilst the abdominals are working hard to pull back together we must be careful to not engage them excessively (i.e. with crunches) as this can cause further separation or long term damage.
[Are you enjoying this Diastasis Recti Blog? You may also enjoy my blog post ‘Fitness For Life, Not Just a Season’, which you can read HERE]
How do I know if I have Diastasis Recti?
Doctors or midwives are supposed to check for diastasis recti in your 6-week check-up but I hear quite often that this isn’t the case. Often the baby’s health is at the fore-front, for both the mother and the doctor. Therefore, it can easily get missed. So, please do request to be checked for it. You can also check yourself for diastasis recti. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Gently do a mini sit-up lifting your head and shoulders only slightly away from the floor. Using your fingers press into the stomach just above your belly button and then below it to feel for the gap between your abdominals. If the gap is wider than 2 fingers you may have diastasis and it is worth seeing your doctor. A gap of 4-5 fingers is severe.
What can I do about Diastasis Recti?
Do not rush into a workout routine until you have been checked over by your doctor. Walking is great for your mental health and safe to do (plus your baby will thank you for it). It gets you out of the house, so I would make the most of this until you are ready to move on. Aim to start core exercises before you get pregnant and all through your first trimester. DO NOT do abdominal crunches past your first trimester and don’t do any until you have been tested for diastasis. Pelvic floor exercises and abdominal bracing can be helpful. But, my best advice is to see someone who is qualified in pre/post-natal exercise until you are ready to go off on your own.
Enjoy these first few precious months with your little one as you will not get these back. And, remember to treat your body with the kindness it deserves after helping you through a tough 9 months. There is no rush, or even need, to get back to your ‘pre-baby’ weight. Your lives have changed, as have your priorities, and your weight does not define you.
Next week I will be discussing this in much greater depth over on the podcast. Also, we discuss what to consider whilst your pregnant. So, please do check out the podcast released on Monday 30th October. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to email me (and I will do my best to reply) or book in for a session at PilatesPT where we can check you over.
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