What You Can Do About the Mom Pooch After Pregnancy

Many women are faced with the infamous mom pooch after pregnancy. Between pregnancy weight gain and juggling chores around a newborn’s schedule finding time to get in exercise, let alone eat a healthy balanced diet, can be challenging. But what if there is more to that mommy pooch than just a little extra weight? It could be a common condition that requires a little more than just diet and exercise to get rid of.

What is Diastasis Recti Abdominis?

A common condition that many postpartum women experience, diastasis recti abdominis (or DRA) may be the culprit behind that flabby tummy. This happens when the superficial layers of the abdominal muscles become separated.

DRA

Your core muscular system is responsible for body movements such as sitting, walking, and lifting. The rectus abdominus is a muscular system from the sternum to the pubic bone that is grouped together side by side into two parts that come together at your midline. It is the superficial muscle that lies atop of other core muscles.

These muscles receive a lot of pressure during pregnancy as the weight of the baby pushes outward against them and your pelvic floor. When your midsection becomes stretched, DRA can occur as these muscles become separated. Two-thirds of all pregnant women experience this, although it isn’t directly related to pregnancy. Babies can have it and even men may experience it as a result of improper exercise.

In many women, the condition resolves on its own. In more severe cases, however, surgery may be required to correct the problem. It is most common among women who have had more than one child and can make a vaginal delivery very difficult without the support of those necessary muscles.

Symptoms of DRA

Diastasis recti abdominis is typically characterized by what appears to be a ridge from the below the breastbone down the midline to the belly button. The physical appearance of the tummy may be extra skin and soft sagging tissue better known as ‘the mom pooch’.  Those experiencing DRA may suffer from any of the following symptoms:

  • Lower back pain
  • Constipation
  • Incontinence
  • Difficulty breathing or moving in some cases

If you believe you have DRA there is a way that you may be able to tell with a simple self-test. While lying on your back, feet flat on the floor, locate the spot that is approximately two to four finger-widths above your belly button. This is where the two divisions of the rectus abdominus muscle meet. With your index and middle finger side-by-side point your fingertips downward in this spot while relaxed. Lift your head and shoulders to flex the abs so that your ribcage moves closer to the pelvis. Notice the gap decrease as you contract your muscles. Slide your fingertips up and down the midline and notice any separation at, above, or below your belly button. If you notice the separation is wider than 2 1/2 finger-widths it may be an indication of DRA. Consult with your OB-GYN for confirmation of diagnosis.

Treatments 

In mild cases of DRA when the separation of the abdominal muscles isn’t very significant it eventually closes on its own; however, certain exercises and lifestyle changes can help improve and remedy the condition. Here are some methods for improving DRA:

This exercise can be done either while standing or sitting with proper posture or lying down flat with the spine neutral. Take a deep breath then move your belly towards your spine as you exhale as if trying to zip up a pair of tight-fitting jeans. Repeat this step for 10 sets three times a day.

Kegels, kegels, kegels! This exercise helps strengthen the pelvic floor and are beneficial to do during pregnancy as well as after. This is a core exercise that can help engage the abdominal muscles to aid in closing the gap with diastasis recti. Kegel exercises are done by contracting the muscles of the pelvic floor then relaxing those muscles and repeating.

Changing some of your everyday habits will aid in the recovery of your abdominal muscles. When getting out of bed or getting up from the floor use a rolling movement rather than sitting straight up. Always bend and lift with your knees instead of at the waist when lifting heavy objects or your child.

What to Avoid

DRA is often gone undiagnosed because women assume it’s normal to have the pooch after childbirth and believe exercise and diet will help flatten and tone their belly. The truth is many of the exercises and techniques women perform to achieve weight loss can actually worsen the condition such as crunches and push-ups. During and especially after childbirth it is strongly recommended to avoid performing any exercises that add stress to abdominal section such as exercises on hands and knees or involve stretching or over-extending this area. Additional tips to avoid that will help to recover from DRA include:

  • Yoga or Pilates postures that involve stretching your abdominal wall
  • Frequently lifting on heavy things or straining

If DRA doesn’t resolve on its own, talk with your doctor about what you can do further to help or if surgery may be an option. The best way to prevent DRA is by strengthening your core before you become pregnant. If you do have the condition, it should be resolved before you become pregnant.

In severe cases where there is a considerable gap between the abdominal muscles (more than 2 inches apart) surgery may be the only option to treat it. The procedure that is performed is known as a tummy tuck which entails removing excess skin and fat and stitching the abdominal muscles together. Always consult with your doctor to know your risks before deciding on any surgical procedure.

Though a mom pooch after pregnancy is very common, it may not always be normal and you don’t have to live with it. There are simple ways to help combat this problem and even prevent it from happening during pregnancy so you can feel more like yourself.

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