Fitness trainer and Instagram star Emily Skye knows the postpartum abs struggle is real.
Skye revealed that she had diastasis recti after the delivery, a condition where the large abdominal muscles separate and result in a belly pooch.
"My tummy isn’t completely down yet and it’s really squishy but it’s getting there," the new mom shared in an Instagram post taken 23 days after the birth of her daughter Mia.
Diastasis recti, although seldom discussed in mainstream, is fairly common. In fact, two-thirds women experience it post-pregnancy, which explains why you're not the only mom with a protruding belly at the beach.
The condition is a result of your hormones creating space in your body to carry your baby. Once you've delivered and your hormone levels return to their pre-pregnancy levels, your abs will either slowly spring back into place or, in some cases, because the tissues get so stretched out during pregnancy, the ab muscles lose their elasticity making it more difficult to pull them back in, resulting in a permanent pooch.
Fortunately for Skye her abs seem to be on the mend, thanks to some gentle exercise.
"My abs seems to be almost completely back together which I’m so happy about," she said. "They were three finger widths apart after I gave birth! The core & pelvic floor work I do everyday is obviously working."
If you’re a new mom dealing with a "squishy" tummy like Skye, here's what you need to know about dealing with diastasis recti.
Do You Have Diastasis Recti?
If you suspect you’re dealing with diastasis recti, Lynda Lippin, a PMA certified Master Pilates Teacher and ACE certified personal trainer based in NYC, recommends doing this quick check at home:
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
2. Place your fingers (palm toward your face) on your belly button.
3. Lift your head and neck just slightly off the floor while you press down with your fingers.
4. Conduct the same test just above your belly button and just below the belly button (as the gap can measure differently in these places).
Separation is commonly discussed in terms of finger widths -- for instance, two or three (or more) fingers' separation. If you discover there are gaps, then that is disastasis.
You Have a Separation. Now What?
If you have a separation, Lippin cautions about starting core work immediately so you can allow your muscles to properly heal naturally.
"Wait at least six months before you check for diastasis recti," she says. "Many women have a diastasis after delivering a baby, but you need to give yourself time to recover before you start trying to diagnose and heal it."
Sometimes the abs will start to heal on their own, which is why you should wait six months postpartum to check for it. Lippin adds that, if you're breastfeeding, your body is still producing relaxin—a hormone that causes the body’s joints to loosen in preparation for labor— so the pulling together of your abs may take longer. You might want to consider dealing with diastasis recti and getting your abs back together until after you've finished breastfeeding.
How to Get Your Abs Back Together
If you're ready to do some light exercises to help tighten your core again (which was totally OK'd by your doctor), the first thing is to recruit a fitness professional who is a postpartum corrective expert.
"Start with gentle breathing exercises to begin healing your diastasis.," Lippin advises. Deep diaphragmatic breathing exercises incorporates the pelvic floor, the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles, which helps to wake up the connection to those muscles which were over-stretched and underused during pregnancy.
Lippin recommends to start by lying down on your back, being sure to keep a heavy tailbone, eventually working up to a sitting position, and then eventually all fours, which, she says, most women can work up to in just a few week). The breathing will prepare the body for the exercises that will continue healing, like squats and bridges.
"When your body is ready for strengthening exercises, start with squats and bridges, plus rib cage breathing, knee lifts, pelvic tilts, kegels with breathing, Pilates leg circles and wall sits," she says. "It’s important to give your body the correct support, and when properly done, these exercises will be extremely beneficial in strengthening your core."
What Lippin doesn't recommend? Crunches, overhead exercises, high impact movements, planks or downward dogs.
"These are all exercises that we normally perform to increase, or that require, our core strength, but when you’re dealing with diastasis recti, these will all increase the intra-abdominal pressure which pushes the abs down and out," she says. "Since you want your abs to come in and up, these exercises do the opposite of what you’re hoping to accomplish."
If you're dealing with post-pregnancy pooch, try not to sweat it. If Skye's revelation is any indication, you're not alone. Be patient with the process. Lippin says it can take four to six weeks before you start seeing a difference, and about six months to heal your separation. Give your body the time it needs. After all, it took nine months to grow your baby, and it will take some time to get your body back.
In the meantime, wear your pooch like a badge of honor. Your body definitely deserves it.
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