As soon as I was given the go ahead from my GP to begin exercising and driving following my C-section 6 weeks prior, I began my usual pilates mat routines and Tracy Anderson dance/cardio workouts.
I exercised almost daily throughout my pregnancy, following a recommended regime appropriate to exactly how pregnant I was. In pilates for example, after 16 weeks I no longer joined in with the moves which require you to lie on your back, I was given side-lying alternatives instead. Working out for those 9 months not only helped to keep my body flexible and reasonably toned, I actually enjoyed the time to switch off – from work and the worries and unknowns associated with expecting a newborn.
Although I didn’t put myself under any pressure to lose the extra pregnancy pounds within a few months or so I was down to my pre baby weight and then some (I had been on holiday to France just before I fell pregnant so there were a few kilos of croissants, cheese and wine attached to the tops of my thighs and backside just before Mabel was created). I didn’t have any stretch marks and although skin is NEVER going to be quite as tight as it was after housing a small human, I didn’t have any significant excess. I mean seriously, how lucky was I. Probably because I was so awesome what with all of my bopping about to Britney, lunging, lifting weights (albeit small) even at 36 weeks. And then getting right back to it when Mabel was less than two months old.
Only my body wasn’t quite right at all. I suffered from excruciating back pain, I found even “beginners” pilates moves difficult after essentially completing advanced classes with relative ease pre pregnancy and my stomach looked, well, weird. Like there was a gaping hole underneath my belly button. More noticeable when I wore a tight T-shirt or vest. All I had to do was eat a bowl of crunchy nut corn flakes and I would appear 4/5 months pregnant again. It was really frustrating, and the harder I worked out the stranger my abdominal area appeared.
I noticed that when I leant back and deliberately forced my stomach to protrude it would form an odd dome shape. I knew that something wasn’t right. I eventually booked in to see a GP again, not least because the back pain was preventing me from fully enjoying the time with my baby.
When I showed her my protrusion she shrugged and said something to the effect of “Yeah during pregnancy your abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis) separate to allow for the growth of the baby and sometimes they don’t go back”.
She did not tell me that I shouldn’t be crunching or doing half the daily activities I was which only assist in maintaining the gap or in many cases, make it worse. She told me there was nothing I could do and that sometimes, abdominal muscle separation can cause issues with your pelvic floor and thus increase your chances of incontinence. I could potentially have an operation (which sounded horrific) if this was the case. All in all it was a pretty upsetting appointment. The first GP I saw for sign off didn’t even mention Diastasis Recti and certainly didn’t carry out any checks or give me any advice on what I should and shouldn’t be doing. And to someone who can’t sit still for two minutes “Taking it easy” simply doesn’t mean much. I felt as though my body, which I had made such an effort to look after both during and after pregnancy, had really let me down.
Your core is essentially the corset of your body, supporting your back, your pelvic floor and holding your organs in place. If the abdominal muscles are separated then it can’t function correctly. And when essentially your insides are not held where they should be then they will push out against your skin. Hence the protruding/pregnant looking stomach that is seemingly so difficult to shift.
Not one to give up hope and get on with it, further research allowed me to better understand my condition. I measured a five finger separation which was confirmed by a physiotherapist I managed to find based in London. You can check yourself for diastasis recti by lying on your back with your knees up, feet flat on the floor and using three fingers (palm facing you) to press gently to feel the gap just above your belly button. Lift your shoulder blades slightly off the floor and try to feel your abdominal muscles either side of your fingers. A gap is measured in finger widths, you may need to add more fingers if essentially you are unable to feel the muscle ridges either side of the three (I did). PLEASE follow this full video demonstration before you proceed.
By far the most helpful and seemingly researched/medically backed information and non surgical method for abdominal separation repair I have found was the Mutu System. (There are also some helpful before/after imagery of Mums that may assist you with understanding what abdominal separation looks like aesthetically and how it can improve). This isn’t a sponsored post, this is the method that worked for me.
I reduced my abdominal separation from a 5 finger gap to a 1.5 finger gap over a 4/5 month period of following the Mutu System core workouts and only performing pilates movements that improve your core function rather than potentially making it worse. For the last 10 months I have been really enjoying Reformer Pilates (certain movements modified as mentioned before). I have written about my classes in more detail over on Rock My Style.
I avoided (and still do avoid) the following:
a) Crunching or movements that include a crunch type action
b) Lifting heavy objects from a horizontal position without engaging my core.
c) Lifting myself up out of bed/the car/the sofa in a “jack knife” – I always roll slightly to one side and use my arms/engage my core so as to not put any unnecessary pressure on my abdominal muscles and potentially make any existing gap wider.
I was absolutely categorically NOT awesome in my approach to exercising during and after pregnancy. I was not offered the correct advice on what to do or not to do with regards increasing your chances of a significant abdominal separation. I am 100% sure I made my personal separation worse than necessary by performing certain exercises and not giving my body enough time to heal after the birth of my daughter.
Your body is amazing. Respect it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get back into your pre-pregnancy wardrobe, wanting to feel like “you” again, wanting to get yourself back into a healthy eating and workout regime. Just don’t do what I did and go OTT. Do your research. And most of all listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right or is uncomfortable then you could do yourself some irreparable damage. Take it from someone that has.
I have not written about this particular experience before because I didn’t know how to begin without the first part of my post-pregnancy journey making me sound like a smug w*nker. I’m also not in any way medically qualified so am very conscious that I will only write from a personal experience/endless research capacity and that any of you who suspect you may also have Diastasis Recti should consult a qualified practitioner. After my own experience I am also fully aware that this last statement may seem hypocritical. Always consult your GP or midwife in the first instance – I’m hoping there is more awareness and training in the last few years and that if I can even assist just one reader who has been suffering with back pain or a non functioning pelvic floor, then my job is done.
Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section and I will do my very best to answer them, with two posts live I am poised and ready at my desk – core engaged!