Concerned about your “mommy tummy” or feeling a gap after having a baby? Here are some great tips for moving forward with your fitness!
Diastasis Recti (DR) describes the separating between left and right rectus abdominus muscles, your 6-pack muscle. It can occur in both men and women across the lifespan. It is most commonly seen in women who are pregnant or newly post-partum, whose bellies just expanded to accommodate a growing baby. It is thought that almost all women experience some amount of separation by their third trimester. The good news is for the majority of women it will heal on its own, for some as quickly as within 6 months. There does not seem to be any factors that make a woman more likely to develop a separation or make them less likely to heal from it.
The diastasis recti is known to be responsible for prolonging the “mommy tummy” look that most moms are anxious to get rid of after the birth of their babies. However, it can also put a mom at risk for other things too. Symptoms known to be associated with a non-healing DR are low back pain, pelvic girdle pain, urinary incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse. New moms should be aware of the importance of the following in order to help promote healing:
Rest! Our bodies need time for healing. When caring for a newborn that can be the last thing a new mom will allow herself. Know the importance of getting sleep so that your body has time to heal itself. That way you will be able to better care for your new baby.
Nutrition! In order to properly heal we have to fuel our bodies to repair and rebuild. Trying to get a proper meal may be the first thing a new mom puts off when taking care of her infant, but in order to get stronger and she needs to be eating real food. Always start the day of with a breakfast full of protein and healthy fats. Nursing moms should be sure to be getting extra calcium as well.
The pelvic floor! Making sure your pelvic floor is working for you is a necessary part of this process. After 9 months of pregnancy and then going through childbirth on top of that, the pelvic floor is at its weakest point. Without your pelvic floor, the abdominals cannot work properly to support you either.
Posture! 9 months of pregnancy has changed your body’s alignment and practicing improved posture will not only improve the appearance of the abdominal region, it will also allow the postural muscles (pelvic floor and core abdominals) to work better therefore getting you stronger more quickly.
Avoid straining! It’s important to not put your abdominals and pelvic floor through unnecessary stress. Not only could it prevent the DR gap from narrowing, it could actually worsen it. This means avoiding constipation, not lifting things that are heavy, practice good posture and body mechanics and exhaling with exertion.
Exercise smart! Doing exercise programs that involve higher levels of exertion can put unnecessary strain on the abdomen, once again preventing a DR from healing or worsen it. Be sure to proceed with caution when starting any exercise program and avoid specific exercises like crunches and sit-ups.
Treatment is indicated for DR if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms: low back pain, pelvic girdle pain, urinary incontinency or vaginal pressure. It may also be indicated if you feel your DR is slow to heal or widening, or if you just want a better understanding of a safe way to get back into an exercise program post-partum. A physical therapy assessment can identify muscle imbalances that need to be addressed in order to promote your body’s healing. An assessment can determine whether the core musculature is working properly for you and teach you how to engage it if it is not. A physical therapist can help create an exercise program for you or review your current exercise program and make recommendations accordingly. Education can be provided that may be invaluable in knowing how to better avoid practices and exercises that could prevent your DR from closing or put you at risk for a worsening separation. Some women will benefit from the guidance of a PT in starting or resuming a post-partum program as well. Physical therapy can assess all of these issues and help to develop a plan that is designed for your body’s specific needs.
Laura Panzarella, PT, DPT, Passages Physical Therapy