By Gina Barlow
Gina is a Personal Trainer who specialises in Pre/Post Natal Fitness – You can contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Help me get rid of my baby belly” is one of the first things ladies will ask me when thinking about exercising no matter how long it’s been since they had children.
But what do we mean by the term 'baby belly?' Click To Tweet
If you’re reading this, are pregnant and thinking, what the heck is that?
Or have had a baby and thinking about how you still can’t seem to shift that pesky odd shaped tummy bulge still lurking months after having a baby (despite trying to exercise and frantically doing sit-ups like they’re going out of fashion) then take a few minutes for some time out and read on…
We all know that our tummies get bigger during pregnancy and we gain weight.
Whilst many wish to regain their pre-pregnancy figure after they have recovered postnatally, there is a big difference between wanting to shift the so-called “baby weight” (that you may see start to gradually reduce either by itself or after resuming exercise) and the “bulging belly” seemingly not changing after a sustained period of eating well and exercising postnatally.
To help you understand what may be happening, it is important to understand a little more about Diastasis Recti.
So what is it?
Now, I am not going to try and blind you with science, so put in the simplest way, Diastasis Recti is defined by the NHS as being when:
“the two muscles that run down the middle of your stomach separate during pregnancy.”
By looking, the separation may be visible to you during the latter stages of pregnancy as a bulge near the vertical midline of your tummy when you stand or kneel on all fours or you may feel a gap above, below or to either side of tummy button when laying on your back.
Sara Haley known for her expertise in pre and postnatal fitness provides a great pregnancy self-check video for Diastasis Recti via the following link:
So, my muscles are being separated!? Sounds serious…What do I do now?
Let me reassure you that separation of the stomach muscles is totally normal!
Whilst you are pregnant your tummy muscles need to stretch to allow for your growing baby. As your abdomen gets bigger all the connective tissues and skin is stretched and the said separation occurs.
Yet, whilst the condition is normal, it is important to seek appropriate guidance about how to use your abdominal muscles during pregnancy and postnatally in order to help and not hinder you.
The key point is this – when your muscles are stretched they weaken and applying the wrong type of pressure to a weakened muscle will do more harm than good.
For a lot of women, the solution to Diastasis Recti may actually be simple – it may disappear as naturally as it occurred during your gradual postnatal recovery.
For some women, however, this separation will not resolve by itself after having your baby. Typically if the separation is more than approx 2 finger widths wide you may require additional from specialists in Diastasis Recti.
Again, Sara Hayley provides an easy to follow postnatal check to see if your muscles remain separated after the immediate postnatal recovery period:
Diastasis Recti should always be confirmed by your health professional in either case but this got me pondering. If it is normal and expected but does not always self-correct, why may it go unmentioned throughout pregnancy and postnatally?
Thinking back to my 6-week check after having a baby, did anyone check my tummy? I think so… What about my abdominal muscles? Possibly not…..
In fact, according to the National Childbirth Trust, the 6-8 week postnatal check:
“is about making sure you’re feeling well and recovering as expected after your pregnancy and birth experience…most importantly, this is a chance to discuss any questions or concerns you may have. Some women can be surprised at how quick the postpartum check-up is and that there isn’t always a physical examination or detailed questions asked.”
Having navigated yourself through the first 6 weeks of possible sleepless nights, hundreds of nappy changes and the pretty steep learning curve with a newborn, I think you would be forgiven for forgetting to raise concerns about possible Diastasis Recti particularly if you had not heard of it in the first place!
I think I have Diastasis Recti, can I fix it?
The great news is that there are lots of things you can do to either help prepare for your postnatal recovery or begin to help you after you have given birth should you have confirmed Diastasis Recti.
It is not a barrier to staying active at all!
It is a matter of knowing what exercise can help and which should be avoided so as to not make things worse.
Incorporating low-intensity toning exercises such as static abdominal contractions (note, not sit-ups or intense planks – you get the idea!) into your training can be a great place to start as these do not place too much intense pressure on your abdominal muscles.
As the amount of separation can vary between women it will be important to working closely with your health professional and seek guidance before addressing this issue alone.
If you need more advice please see some of the following web pages for more information on Diastasis Recti and physical therapists specialising in the field: