I have a confession to make: I was totally unprepared for this motherhood gig.
I’m not talking about Moby wraps or Nose Friedas. I’m getting even more personal, mamas.
I’m talking about the war that raged between my pre-pregnancy and postpartum bodies. It was hardcore, and to be quite honest, it made me feel like crap for a really, really long time. It still sneaks up and slaps me in the face from time to time. There, I said it.
It was more than just the issue of “losing the baby weight” for me. Even after I got back to my normal weight, I still looked 3 months pregnant. I was one of those “lucky” pregnant women who was “all baby,” however that was not the blessing that most people think it is. My babies were all large, and my belly expanded to the point that it was completely numb. I was excited to give birth so that I could return to normal. But most of all, I was eager to FINALLY stop the running belly commentary. The constant banter about my belly size reduced me to tears almost daily because I’d never had people talk about my physical appearance so insensitively. I wanted to punch people in the face on a regular basis.
Are you carrying TWINS/TRIPLETS? (bam!)
OMG, GUH-RUL, you are SO HUGE! (bonk!)
That due date has to be wrong. You are ABOUT. TO. POP (pow!)
And my personal favorite, shouted from across a parking lot: Is that belly FOR REAL? (kaboom!)
After my first bundle of joy entered this world, I noticed that my belly didn’t quite go away like I’d anticipated. Let me tell you, the “when are you due?” comments are even LESS fun when you are NOT actually pregnant. I worked out furiously in a futile attempt to get my abs to cooperate. I really wanted my tummy to remember what it looked like before I grew a 9.5 pound baby in it (yes, you read that correctly – 9.5 lbs… And he was EARLY.)
Nobody warned me about a little problem called diastasis recti. Basically, this can happen during pregnancy when the abdominal muscles (the “six pack abs”) become separated and the connective tissue is thinned. Estimates are that about two thirds of pregnant women will experience diastasis. It can worsen with each pregnancy, especially if untreated.
I wish my doctor had mentioned it when I noticed the weird ridge down my stomach when I tried to sit up during pregnancy. I wish someone had sent me an article that explained the risk factors for it so that I could take those into consideration. Most of all, I wish someone had told me how to exercise correctly after having my sweet baby. No one did, and I when I jumped back into postpartum exercise, I inadvertently made it much worse. No one told me not to do crunches or planks right away.
So, I’m telling you: don’t start with crunches or planks if you suspect diastasis. That could actually make the condition more pronounced, which is exactly what happened to me.
My body confidence took a nosedive (thanks, Postpartum-Hormone-Roller-Coaster). I struggled between thankfulness for my healthy new baby and feelings of selfishness for being disappointed in the body I inherited in the process. When I asked about the issue, I was told everything from “it’s baby weight” to “time for a Mommy Makeover”. Finding out about diastasis finally helped me understand what was going on with my body.
You’re wondering “Do I have diastasis recti?,” aren’t you? Here’s a short video to help you see exactly how to check. If you find a separation, you might wish to look at what type of diastasis you have by using this infographic. Other signs that you might have diastasis:
- A ridge between you ab muscles when you’re doing a traditional “crunch”.
- “Outie” belly button.
- Back pain.
- Incontinence or leaking.
- Belly “pooch”. (It might get worse after a meal.)
- Organ prolapse.
The good news is that you do have options, ranging from time to physical therapy to surgery. I opted for the physical therapy route because insurance will cover most of that expense; generally, surgery is not covered by insurance as it is considered cosmetic.
If you suspect that you may be experiencing diastasis or other pelvic floor issues, make an appointment with a specialist who can diagnose your issues properly. Not all physical therapists are comfortable or able to work on pelvic floor issues or diastasis, so be very clear on what you’re looking for up front. Your PT will focus on alignment, strengthening your core, and helping your pelvic floor to work as it should.
I can’t promise that you’ll be entering bikini contests or that you won’t ever leak when you sneeze, but I will say that it can dramatically improve. The exercises are a bit tedious, but they WORK. It took me about 6 weeks to notice an improvement, so bear in mind that it isn’t a quick or permanent fix. There is no magic wand for repair.
I know that it is easy to look in the mirror and feel discouraged postpartum – especially if you have diastasis. It’s tough NOT to wistfully long for your pre-baby tummy, and it can feel exhausting to consider the time commitment for physical therapy. I get it. That said, I encourage you to do something for YOU. When was the last time you did that?
Here are some resources to get you started. There are local physical therapy locations and some online programs. I caution you on using an online program until you’ve done PT locally to understand the alignment needed to progress effectively. A good PT can help you learn about breathing, alignment, and the best exercise plan for your specific needs. If you have a great resource, please share it with us!
Results Physiotherapy (Germantown; “Mommy Bounce Back” program)
Methodist Healthcare Pelvic Rehab (Memphis)
Moye Physical Therapy (Southaven)
Mu Tu System (online)
Tupler Technique (online)