First pic taken the day before I delivered Billie- 38 weeks 3 days. The second pic taken at 2 weeks 3 days post birth.
So I’ve had a gazillion ‘Ask Bec’ questions relating to mummy tummy, post natal exercise, shapewear, compression garments etc and this post will aim to answer these. A lot of it is smoke and mirrors ladies (ie. compression and shapewear!) but it all helps at the end of the day along with getting stuck into some physio led core strength exercises as soon as you’re up for it.
So a little bit about ‘mummy tummy’ first. Mummy tummy does not discriminate, whether you’re a skinny lady or fuller figured to begin with. One of the greatest contributing factors to mummy tummy is rectus diastasis or separation of the abdominal muscles. Yes you can get back to your pre-pregnancy weight but if you still have an abdominal separation then you are still going to have ‘pooching’ or a ‘doming’ affect around the belly.
Abdominal separation occurs in about 80% of pregnant women and allows for your baby to grow (see pic below via leanmoms.com). After birth, over one third of women still have a ‘gap’ of 2 fingers or more. After the second pregnancy it is estimated that two thirds of women have a gap of 2 fingers or more.
Closing an abdominal separation gap has two benefits:
– A stronger core group of muscles which aids in back support and allows you to lift and move about effectively. Additional complications can result in poor pelvic alignment and chronic back pain.
– Vanity related- a flat tummy!
So what did I do/am still doing to combat my abdominal separation which got to 8cm wide while pregnant (holy mumma!!!)?
1. I put my SRC Recovery Shorts on straight after delivering (or if you have a caesarean, wait until your Obstetrician gives you the green light). I lived in these for a couple of days. Buy them here (or you can be eligible for a rebate if you have the right health insurance and have them prescribed by a Physio).
2. I am alternating between my SRC shorts and shapewear from now on. The SRC shorts are not practical to wear out and about with some clothing (ie. shorter shorts). Also, there are times when they are in the wash so I alternate between them and a range of shapewear, from some pieces I picked up at Big W, to some others by Spanx and Nancy Ganz. It’s annoying as I haven’t found the perfect pair yet (they all dig in in the most annoying places!) and so I usually attack my shapewear with a pair of scissors to get the desired style I want. I really should design my own- watch this space! My tip is to buy the ones that are extra high waisted with LOTS of compression. Wear them every day to keep your abdominal muscles compressed. I will continue to wear my SRC Recovery shorts and shapewear until my separation has closed (hoping for 6 weeks).
3. Start doing pelvic floor exercises and transverse abdominal exercises from day 1 post delivery (if you can- obviously everyone heals differently and has different deliveries). Closing your abdominal separation relies on the work of these 2 muscle groups so get them up and firing as soon as possible. Yes it can be very hard to locate your pelvic floor and switch it on after a v-delivery but at around day 1 to 2 post birth I could engage it (although it was extremely weak). Now the more and more pelvic floor exercises I do, the stronger it is. At first I was doing quick flicks (5 at a time, 3 reps) and now I can do quick flicks and 10 second holds (7 times, 3 reps) with ease. Transverse abdominal exercises are absolutely integral to closing your separation. Google how to do these and there are lots of videos too and start as soon as you can. Research says that you get the most closure of your separation in the first 6 weeks post birth so don’t delay!
4. Book in to your women’s health physio and have your abdominal separation measured and also have your pelvic floor and transverse abdominis activation looked at under ultrasound to make sure you’re doing them right. I had my assessment last week and then was given a program of exercises to do to really close my gap. My gap is now at 2cm.
5. My physio also gave me some very light pilates exercises to do to aid in closing my gap. I have been doing them every single day and am lucky because I have a reformer at home (the perks of being married to a pro athlete who is always injured and thus always doing pilates rehab!). There are plenty you can do on a mat without a reformer but make sure you get assessed first. I go to www.beactivephysio.com
6. It is really important that you know which exercises are safe for you as some exercises can make your gap widen- eek! This is why a physiotherapist assessment is crucial. Never do crunches or sit ups if you have an abdominal separation as this can blow it wide open.
7. I have been given the all clear to recommence exercising next week and will start with some post-natal classes with my physio. The focus is on cardio via spin bike (still no running for me for a while- Tena Lady anyone?) and strength and conditioning through core exercises, light weights and stretching. I can’t wait to get back into it!