by Jena Beise DPT PRPC – Heal at Home Physio
It’s no fun being asked if you’re pregnant when you’re. not. pregnant.
I try my hardest to smile as I hold my four-month-old and reply, “No grandma, I’m not pregnant again. I have an issue called Diastasis (mummy tummy).”
Bah. No one likes this. I didn’t like it. I had a severe case of mummy tummy. I had a gap in my abdominal muscles that was six finger widths wide. It was so deep that I joked you could reach through to the other side of me. Not my funniest joke. Pretty accurate, though.
Luckily, I knew what to do about this condition. I’m a Doctor of Physical Therapy who specializes in pelvic floor and postpartum issues. So, I knew the simple exercises that would help close that gap in my tummy and rebuild strength in my core and pelvic floor.
I want to share that intel with you, so you can get that core tighter and stronger and get back to doing the things you love.
So, let’s start with clearing this up: what is mummy tummy? Its medical name is diastasis Recti Abdominis, and some of the common symptoms are:
- Looking pregnant when you’re not
- Weak abdominals (especially those sit up muscles) a
- Tenting or doming in the midline of your tummy when you try to sit up or bend backwards.
I always recommend getting your core tested in person by an expert, so you can know exactly what is or is not going on. That said, mummy tummy occurs when there is a thinning out of the midline abdominal fascia and a separation of your abs. You can have separation at, above, or below (or all 3) the belly button. You may have a little separation or a lot but one of the keys to know if you need a NEW kind of healing and exercise postpartum is if you’re trying traditional ab work and instead of getting better, you’re looking or feeling worse.
I personally feel that EVERY mommy’s tummy could benefit from good gentle core stabilization after baby. Yes, even if you don’t have a formal ab separation. Your wonderful baby sat on your pelvic floor and stretched out your core muscles for 9 months, basically putting those muscles “to sleep”. We need to get them active again and wake them up so they can stabilize your tummy. Moms do Physical Therapy (pelvic floor specialist) for this or there are professionals out there like me that offer online exercise programs for convenience because we all know moms are pressed for time and getting out of the house can be challenging.
For our purpose here, I’m going to give you a few key tips to incorporate into your life to help you flatten and strengthen your core safely after babies.
- Learn how to activate your TA (Transverse abdominis). This is a deep abdominal muscle that wraps around your core like a corset. When it contracts, it draws your core in (like a corset). It is instrumental in helping with mummy tummy and the basic exercise is very simple. Lye on your back with your knees bent. Place your fingers on the inside of your hip bone on each side of your tummy. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, gently draw the belly button to your spine. You should feel a gentle tightening of your tummy muscles and your fingers should sink in a little bit. If you’re pushing your fingers out of the tummy – we’re doing it wrong. Remember, this muscle acts like a corset so if you’re doing it right, the tummy should draw in. Hold this exercise for 5 seconds and do it 5 mins at a time (2x a day if you can).
- Your posture matters. We want to avoid movements and postures that make all the pressure in our tummy push out through the weak spot. What that means is if you see yourself in the mirror and you’re leaning back and pushing the tummy out (making your tummy look bigger) then STOP. How can something heal if we’re straining it all day long? Instead, think of standing tall like a string is drawing you up to the ceiling and gently engage that core to spine. Your shoulders should stack over your hips and your hips should stack over your ankles. We don’t have to live perfectly but any improvement in posture will help.
- Strengthen those butt muscles. Yes, even though we’re trying to work that tummy, your glute muscles are a wonderful counter support system for your core. When in doubt, do some bridges or clam shells to strengthen your glutes AND you can include the core with the TA in Tip #1 to added tummy benefit.
- Avoid traditional crunches and sit ups until you’re strong enough to control them well. Don’t stop all exercise. Exercise is good for you! But avoid the specific things where you notice tenting/doming along the abs because until you’re strong enough, they may be doing you more harm than good.
Don’t give up on yourself, momma. You matter too. I recommend seeking additional support through our online program www.healathomemoms.com and follow us on Instagram and Facebook @healathomemoms – where all the information is made by a pelvic floor PT so you know you can count on it to be the right stuff your body needs.