Over the course of your pregnancy your abdominals will experience extensive amounts of change to make room for, and give birth to, your gorgeous bub. Not only do your abs stretch by over 50% but the superficial layer of your abs called your Rectus or 6 pack muscle group actually divides and separates as the baby & your belly grows. This separation is called Diastasis Recti. Almost all pregnant and postpartum mamas will have a degree of Diastasis Recti. There is so much talk about getting flat abs after you have had a baby but I would love to shift the focus and dialogue to be more about repairing your abs to support your body and begin the healing process after childbirth. The desire to get back into shape super quick often sees new moms doing the exact thing that will slow down their recovery.
Here are my top 10 Truths about your Abs After Baby!
1. You can begin the healing process the day after you give birth. The sooner you do it the quicker your recovery will be. Start with gentle deep core breathing exercises – all you need is 10 minutes a day. I filmed my genuine experience from the day I got home from hospital after having my son. (After Birth Training Program) By the end of the 6 weeks I had closed my separation just by breathing and connecting.
2. Wear spanx home from the hospital and as much as you can bare them in the first weeks. They don’t have to be Spanx but any kind of support type underwear. The muscle you need to pull everything back together is called your Transverse Abdominis (TVA) and it actually looks like a corset – wrapping around your midsection. It cinches, lengthens and importantly pulls the separated abs closer together. By wearing support underwear you are effectively “faking it – til you make it”.
3. Almost every postpartum woman will have a degree of Diastasis Recti. We are all in this together and every woman’s recovery will be different. There are so many variables around how big the separation is ranging from how big your baby was, how petite you are, exercise history, family history etc! It’s not a competition or a race.
4. We measure Diastasis by length, depth and width. All three are important to note. Learn how to assess your abs and begin the healing process so you can track your progress.
5. A Mommy Tummy is not fat – it is most likely a sign of Diastasis Recti. Unlike your heart or brain that is encased by your skeleton, the only thing holding your abdominal organs likes your uterus in are your muscles. When you have Diastasis Recti the muscles are not connected and therefore your organs are able to push forward on the connective tissue creating they little low belly pooch we call the Mommy Tummy. By healing your Diastasis Recti we will get rid of your Mommy Tummy!
6. Your Pelvic Floor is a very important part of the core repair process. Don’t ignore it or you will peeing in your pants every time you sneeze,cough you get the drift. Similar to to your TVA repair this can begin the day after you give birth. By breathing and connecting you are sending oxygenated blood flow to the area and this blood flow means healing. Show your Pelvic Floor some TLC post birth – it deserves it!
7. Slow & steady wins the race – it’s not fair but there is no quick fix for reconnecting your abs. Consistency, patience and dedication to your progress is the only way. As I mentioned in the beginning of the article think about the healing process and not about getting flat abs quick. If you dedicate time to repairing your deep core the happy consequence is a flat belly!
8. Crunching will not get you a flat tummy – it will make the situation worse. Crunching or ab curling targets your 6-pack muscle group. When these muscles are engaged they shorten and pull away from the midline of your body – tugging and stretching the already stretched out connective tissue. This moves makes healing your Diastasis almost impossible. If you see your abs popping up or appear to “triangulate” as you curl up – this is a sign that you’re causing damage. * The same goes for other abdominal moves like table top exercises where both your legs are in the air. If you can’t keep your belly button all the way into your spine, your abs are popping or pulling apart. You’re not ready for this move and it’s slowing down the healing process.
9. The direction of muscle fibres matter when healing your abs after baby. The muscle fibres of your 6 pack muscles group run parallel to the midline of the body and when strengthened they actually grow out. Your TVA muscles fibres run horizontal to the midline of the body and when strengthened they cinch, lengthen and compress. Viola flat abs.
10. Planking is a great exercise but you need to build up to it. When done correctly, planking is an awesome global muscle strengthener but it is actually very hard to get it right. Start by seeing if you can keep your abs connected in the All Fours position. Challenge this tilting your pelvis forward into a push-up prep position and then slowly add one leg back then into full plank. It takes time for strength to build. Honor the process and you will be planking with the best in no time.
Ali Handley is a New York based Pilates instructor, mother of two young children, and the founder of BodyLove Pilates. BodyLove is a dedicated online studio with a growing library of 250+ video workouts for pregnant and postnatal women to ensure they work out smarter, safer and more effectively during this important time in their lives. BodyLove-Pilates.com