Can’t Get Your Abs Back After Having a Baby? Read This.
By Stacy Whitman
After my twins were born healthy and robust at almost six pounds each, I did everything in my power to lose my post-baby pooch. Stability ball crunches, Body Pump, Pilates, yoga, even running a half marathon – nothing worked. In fact, my lower belly bulge only seemed to get worse. Weight gain wasn’t the issue: Any extra pregnancy pounds quickly evaporated with double breastfeeding.
Not long after the twins’ first birthday, an acquaintance innocently motioned to my protruding belly and asked if I was expecting again. Yes, one of those cringe-worthy moments – as the answer was no. It was obvious that I needed help. I remembered reading about the Tupler Technique(R), a research-backed “ab rehab” program for people with diastasis recti, during my days as an editor at SHAPE magazine. Wasting no time, I ordered a Tupler Technique how-to book and splint.
Diastasis recti (aka abdominal diastasis) is the medical term for separation of the two outermost muscles that run vertically on each side of your abdomen. During pregnancy, the force of your uterus pushing against your abdominal wall can cause the muscles to separate. In some cases, the gap is very small and goes unnoticed. But a surprising number of women are left with a pronounced separation that doesn’t go away. According to a 2016 study in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, 45 percent of first-time moms exhibited a diastasis recti six months after giving birth, and 33 percent still had one at 12 months postpartum.
Though often viewed as a cosmetic issue, diastasis recti can be more problematic. Your abdominal muscles have the crucial job of supporting your back and holding your internal organs in place. When a separation occurs, it can lead to pelvic instability and a host of related issues, including urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse (when your pelvic floor muscles fail and your insides start falling out). Research indicates that 66 percent of women with diastasis recti have some level of pelvic floor dysfunction. Back pain, hernias, poor posture, constipation and bloating are more potential downsides.
Separation of the abdominal muscles during a previous pregnancy significantly increases the likelihood and severity of diastasis recti. The size of the baby (or, in my case, babies), abdominal weight gain, and genetics can be factors as well. While the condition is usually associated with pregnancy, it also occurs in men, post-menopausal women, and children, especially after a surgery or injury.
HOW TO CHECK FOR A DIASTASIS
How do you know if you have a diastasis? Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place your fingers on the center of your belly. Lift your head and neck just slightly off the floor while you gently press down with your fingers. If you feel a gap or see bulging, then you have a diastasis. Repeat just above our belly button and below your belly button as the gap can measure differently.
While fully closing the gap may be impossible without surgery, significant improvement can be made by healing the connective tissue between your ab muscles and taking steps to prevent further widening. Developed by New York City-based fitness trainer and childbirth educator Julie Tupler, the Tupler Technique, which involves doing specially designed exercises and wearing a corset-like brace, is a great place to start.
4 TIPS FOR A FLATTER BELLY
Learn more about the Tupler Technique and available resources (including books, DVDs, splints, and online support program) here. In the meantime, here are a few tips to get you going:
Choose Your Exercises Carefully
Avoid like the plague any exercise or activity that stretches your abdominal wall in a forward or sideways direction – think traditional sit-ups and crunches, yoga backbends, and Pilates moves such as 100s, and workouts like swimming, golf and tennis. They can actually worsen a diastasis and make your recovery even harder. Don’t make my mistake!
Perfect Your Posture
Proper posture is key to minimizing pressure on your abdominal wall. For correct alignment, you need to make sure that your three main body cavities (abdominal, pelvic and thoracic) are linked in a vertical line. Be careful not to thrust out your ribs, tuck under your butt or push your pelvis forward.
Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
Do those all-important Kegels! They are designed to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which support your uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. Learn more here. Aim for at least three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions a day.
Brace for Healing
Wearing a split, especially during pregnancy and in the weeks immediately after having a baby, can help prevent further stretching of your abdominal muscles and support the healing of your connective tissue.