Having a baby changes your body and some elements may never be quite feel the same again, however, these changes may not to be permanent.
During pregnancy, the rectus abdominal muscles that runs down the center of your abdomen becomes stretched and can weaken and even separate, this is referred to as diastasis recti. The amount of separation can vary in women, due to the size of you bump, and weight gain in pregnancy. The chances of diastasis recti are increased by substantial weight gain during pregnancy or by a twin pregnancy. In fact, 3 in 10 women will suffer from a mild form of diastasis following their first pregnancy. In addition, the likelihood of diastasis and the size of it increases after multiple pregnancies.
The abdominal muscles help to stabilise the back and pelvis, and allow the pelvic floor to function. Without good strength and endurance of these muscles, bending, lifting and returning to exercise can lead to injury and pain later down the line. If abdominal separations are not dealt with, they can lead to increased back/pelvic pain, and risk of spinal disc problems, pelvic floor dysfunction and even prolapses.
Most women don’t notice any problems with their stomach muscles separating during pregnancy, one indication is a bulge developing down the front of your bump, above and/ or below your belly button. If this occurs you may need to modify your exercise levels, and even ways you lift, or get in and out of bed to prevent increasing the separation.
Too much of the wrong type of exercise during or after pregnancy can also increase the risk and severity of diastasis recti, or delay and even prevent the healing time.
These muscles can naturally heal and return to normal postpartum. However, if you are still seeing signs of separation after 6-8 weeks, you may need to seek help with your recovery.
The abdominal muscles, together with the other abdominal muscles including pelvic floor, back muscles and diaphragm make up your core. Your core is like the bodies corset and it help to stabilise the body during movement. A strong core is important to keep you strong and stable, and to reduce the risk of injuries. These muscles need to work when exercising, lifting heavy car seats or small children, and pushing the pram (more so uphill). Sometimes the size of the separation between your abdominal muscles is not important, but how strong and functional the rest of the core muscles are to help protect the body and spine during movement matters.
Regular pelvic floor, abdominal and core exercises can help to reduce the size of your abdominal separation, but knowing what to do and when is important. Don’t start immediately with a tough abdominal workout. There is a risk that you could put too much pressure on your abdominal muscles too soon, causing the opposite effect and increase your separation. It won’t happen overnight. It took nine months to make a baby, and it could take at least that long to get back into shape again.
Women often have poor awareness of what core and pelvic floor activation exercises should be, or how important the relationship between our breathing and our pelvic floor muscles actually is. Over activating, bracing or using an incorrect breathing pattern during these exercises can increase strain on your pelvic floor, and abdominal muscles, leading to increased diastasis recti, prolapses and back pain.
The pelvic floor, abdominal muscles and diaphragm all work together to control pressure in the abdomen. Increased pressure can increase strain on your diastasis recti and pelvic floor muscles that are trying to heal. Pilates is a great way in which to learn how to use your breathing to control and strengthen your core and pelvic floor muscles without increasing strain on your abdominal muscles, there are some very simple but effective exercises to use postpartum. Look out for our next blog on post natal pelvic floor exercises.
How to check for diastasis Recti?
After you have had your baby, you can check the size of the separation with this simple technique:
- Lie on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Raise your shoulders off the floor slightly and look down at your tummy. Using the tips of your fingers, feel between the edges of the muscles, above and below your belly button. See how many fingers you can fit into the gap between your muscles.
- 1 finger with can be normal, 2+ is classed as a separation and therefore abdominal exercises post natal need to be modified,
- Do this regularly to check that the gap is gradually decreasing.
What can you do?
Pilates and Yoga are great way to learn how to exercise safely and correctly during pregnancy and post-partum. At NJD we have expert ante/post-natal pilates instructors, who also are specialists in back and pelvic pain, and rehabilitation.
Pilates during pregnancy can strengthen your tummy, back and pelvic floor muscles, reduce the risk of back and pelvic pain, improve fitness and general well being. Women often report easier labour and quicker post-natal recovery, when they have exercised during pregnancy.
Post-natal pilates helps you to get back to exercise, and your pre pregnancy body safely and more effectively. Learn how to strengthen your pelvic floor, and reduce any abdominal separation. More importantly our class is “mum’s and babies” so you can exercise together, have fun and meet other new mums.