Listening to your baby coo and giggle, watching him suckle in his sleep and feeling his little head rest against you for a snuggle are the moments you strive for as a new mom. It helps you forget about the fact that your body isn't quite the same. Then you take a shower or try to get dressed up for that first date night and find yourself so flustered about your mommy belly. Even once your baby is walking, you still look at your side profile to see a pooch where your glowing pregnant belly used to be. The good news is you don't have to settle for the pooch. You can, in fact, steamroll that sucker.
As internal pressure of your growing child increases during pregnancy, the abdominal muscles stretch and stretch. Sometimes, the stretching is so intense that the connective tissue between the two linear muscle bands tears and separates. Once your baby is born, your uterus contracts to pre-pregnancy size, but your abdominal muscles remain separated. This is called diastasis recti. Click here to test yourself for this condition now.
This type of separation will be hard on the rest of your body, especially your back. It's like running without tying the laces of your shoes – you start to put tension in other parts of your body, usually causing injury, weakness or chronic pain.
Physiotherapist and founder of Body and Birth Physiotherapy, Samantha Cattach, frequently works with diastasis recti patients. She describes the abdominals as part of the body's core canister, in conjunction with the pelvic floor, deep spinal muscles and diaphragm, which is why relearning proper breathing during movement is essential.
So what if you went to a physiotherapist or pelvic floor specialist to launch your repair? Samantha says you can expect an assessment of the abdominal muscles (of course!), a closer look at how you do some basic movements and an inspection of your posture. Do you need to drop your pants for an internal exam of the pelvic floor? "While not essential, an internal exam (vaginal) can be a very helpful tool to determine the function of the pelvic floor muscles after baby," she explains. But it's up to you.
You'd leave the first visit with homework. Do your exercises one to two times a day, then come back to therapy again in 10 to 14 days. You might only need a couple of visits, so long as you're doing the exercises correctly and often.
"I have had some women progress very quickly and feel confident in their ability to progress their own exercises after two visits," says Samantha, "while I may continue to see some women for six to eight months at increasing intervals."
Trying to accomplish this type of repair on your own is totally possible, but remember it's OK to ask for help. Did you know that doing crunches is pretty much the worst thing you can do for diastasis recti? Are you sure you know what you're doing?
>> Get creative: 25 Ab Exercises That Aren't Crunches
"These women will benefit from seeing a therapist or fitness professional knowledgable in diastasis recti so the woman is aware of what movements should be avoided," says Tori Levine, ICEAC fitness educator and founders of Babies at the Barre. "Women with less than a 'two and a half finger' separation is better able to heal the separation on her own, but would benefit from speaking with a professional to learn exercises and what movements to avoid."
Tori explains that the therapy won't be a sweaty session of intense exercises, but instead a learning experience of physical movement and core strengthening. Did you know there's a right way to get out of bed? You'll learn that!
You can consult with your OB-GYN during your postpartum checkup, but usually a self-test will be a very clear indicator of abdominal diastasis. Most doctors will refer you to a specialist if you ask, but Helene Byrne, prenatal and postpartum fitness expert, author and founder of Be Fit Mom says not to expect your doc to know what to do about it.
"[They] recommend exercises like crunches," says Helene. "Postpartum exercises that train the transverse abdominus to function properly as a stabilizer include moves like belly scooping, heel slides, toe taps (shown above), and single leg extensions. In this way, all four layers of the abdominal wall are strengthened, while the mid line stays closed, and the belly stays flat."
Helene emphasizes the "flat" belly during exercises. If the tummy rounds or peaks toward the midline of the body, that "ballooning" will do nothing for the abdominals and is likely to strain the uterine and bladder ligaments. If you're not sure what you're doing or you experience pelvic instability or prolapse, a physical therapist can set you on the right track.
Check out this video below with Real Mom Model Amanda Strong as she leads you through heels slides, extensions and more. It doesn't matter if you're six weeks or six months postpartum, you can do this! Click here to locate a physical therapist near you.