Once the euphoria of having your baby starts to dissolve your thoughts will at some point return to your current body shape and altered body image.
Not many of after the birth of our babies snap back into our normal clothes and out of our maternity trousers with the comfortable stretchy waist bands instantly. It is normal to be left with “the mummy tummy”, but how do we reduce the gap?
The post baby tummy takes on many different forms – saggy skin, extra pouch, mini baby look of being four months pregnant and this all depends on your genetic collagen make up.
Ask your mum about her post baby body recovery, chances are you may be similar.
As your uterus takes nine months to expand and grow it is a natural process for this to then take 9 – 12 months to shrink back to your pre-baby body size. Throw some extra hormones into the mix if you breastfeed for longer and your body changes will take that little bit longer to return to “normal” – whatever that is post baby!
The key message I want to talk about today is what happens to your tummy muscles during pregnancy and what we need to know post baby to help reclaim our body image and our self confidence back.
Your large tummy muscles: rectus abdominus (effectively your six pack muscle) lengthens and naturally separates during the third trimester of pregnancy to allow for your baby to grow. Connecting fascia between the two muscle bellies lengthen and stretch and can create a palpable gap known as a diastasis.
You may have seen the abbreviation DRA or DRAM in medical notes? This means diastasis recti abdominal or diastasis recti abdominal muscles. It all means there is an apparent gap between the left and right rectus abdominal muscle bellies.
You can check your tummy muscles yourself post baby or ask your GP, midwife or women’s health physiotherapist to check it if you have any concerns.
How to check for abdominal tummy separation:
Ly down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Relax your arms down by your side.
Place one hand horizontally across your tummy button.
Lift your chin onto your chest to perform a mini sit up type movement.
Use the number of fingers you can fit between the muscle bellies to get your measurement of your diastasis.
You should measure the gap at your tummy button level, 1 inch above it and 1 inch below it as a rough self assessment guide.
It is quite common for people to function normally with a two finger width gap between their tummy muscles. If your gap is more than this width then it is important you do specific exercises that will help ‘knit’ these muscles closer together again.
Things to be aware of when you have a post baby tummy.
Take care getting in and out of bed. Try to avoid doing a sit up manoeuvre. It is best to log roll to get into and out of bed. This will help to protect your tummy muscles whilst they are weak.
Pay attention to your tummy muscles doming or creating the cone shaped party hat look. This is a sign that you are putting to much strain through your abdomen and you are effectively causing your abdominal contents to push out through the gap.
Anytime you see or feel the above happening stop what you are doing as you are potentially increasing your diastasis which could lead to an abdominal hernia.
So how can we help reduce the gap?
Your core stability muscles are so important here.
There are three main exercises you should do daily that can help.
1. Your diaphragm forms the ceiling of your abdominal canister so practising some deep, wide breaths will help.
Place your hands around your lower ribcage and take a deep breath into your hands.
Fill your lungs with oxygen fully before slowly breathing out.
Repeat this daily x5.
2. Find and reconnect to your pelvic floor muscles these form the floor of your abdominal canister.
Sit or lie down on your side (with a pillow between your knees for comfort if required).
Imagine you have wind that you don’t want to escape, gently squeeze closed your back passage. Then imagine you are desperate for a wee and squeeze closed your bladder passage.
Keep breathing normally as you hold your pelvic floor muscles in for 2 -3 breaths.
Fully relax your muscles after and let go.
Repeat 5 – 10 times. Aiming for 2 -3 times a day.
3. Find your lower tummy muscles – these form the front section of your abdominal cannister.
Place your hand below your tummy button across your lower tummy.
Gently draw your lower tummy in away from your hand to activate it.
Ideally this should be a sub – maximum contraction and about a 30% hold. If you struggle to grasp that amount of tension in your lower tummy muscles then go for a 50% hold initially.
Practise setting these muscles by squeezing or drawing them in, then increase the endurance by holding them for up to 10 seconds comfortably. This will all help to reduce your diastasis by increasing the integrity of the fascia that lies between the two rectus abdominal muscle bellies.
If you need help post baby to recover your abdominal strength then I offer 1:1 client work to give you all the help, advise and support you need to reclaim your pre-pregnancy body. I use my expert physiotherapy knowledge and skills to work through your needs and goals to help you.
You can contact me for availability at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am based in Ockbrook, Derby, UK and do travel within a wide remit of Derbyshire to your home.