Trust me, I know how much you want that cute belly to appear as a real bonified baby bump instead of an I-ate-too-many-burgers-bump. I’ve been there too, eager to show off that I was going to become a mom and to fill out those maternity clothes finally. It’s easy to forget that we even have abs once our belly begins rounding and feels full of baby elbows and knees.
But, it isn’t exactly healthy to let it all hang out.
I made this mistake for a few pregnancies because I simply didn’t know better. By the end of each pregnancy my stomach huge– I mean huge. Like, my shirts didn’t cover and people constantly asked if I was having twins or due when I was only seven months along. Plus, my belly was hanging extremely low– and it wasn’t because the baby was ready for labor or a boy no matter what well-meaning strangers said. No, it was because the baby’s weight combined with my lack of core strength was being taken ahold of by gravity.
After birth– though I didn’t realize the extent of it for a few years– I noticed how weak my core still felt. I felt unstable in a sense and I had more lower back problems. Things didn’t snap right back exactly how I thought they would even though I was a considerably young mom. Additionally, though I had lost all the weight easily, I still had to suck in a “mom pooch” constantly. Instead of my abs being like a rubber band– stretching to accommodate the baby and then moving right back into space during postpartum– that rubber band was more like a stretched-too-far hair tie– barely holding together at the “glue seams.” When I laid down I also noticed my stomach would sink in middle, or bulge out when I sat up.
Curious what this was, I learned that this weakness had a name– abdominal diastasis recti. That’s basically a fancy name for an ab separation. I discovered how to check for this at home thanks to some videos and thus began my process of healing, finally, after my fourth birth. I found an affordable program that I could do from the privacy of my home (introverted, gym-phobia much?) and had workouts for all stages of motherhood (including pregnancy and baby-wearing!), plus fun workouts for my kids as well.
What a difference it made to learn how to really activate my core for the first time! Even into my next pregnancy, I noticed that I felt stronger with less aches and my belly presented itself smaller as my abs were holding in the baby tighter. I also pushed my baby out super fast compared to my others! The work pays off, not just for your physical health during pregnancy and postpartum, but for birth and postpartum too.
A quick run down on how to prevent or lessen abdominal separation during pregnancy:
Tummy and Pregnancy Safe Exercise
There are many great programs out there for pregnant mommas, just make sure they are “tummy safe” (see below– if a workout uses those moves then they aren’t tummy safe). Even ten minutes a day, a few times a week, can make a long term impact on your health, your pregnancy comfort, and laboring. A few popular online programs known to focus on safe core work are Fit2b, The Tummy Team, and The MuTu System.
Don’t Forget to Use Your Abs!
Once you learn how to effectively activate your core (which in turn helps strengthen your pelvic floor), even with a baby taking up lots of room, it’s a good idea to use those techniques throughout the day– not just at a dedicated work out time. When you are bending over to pick up your toddler, lifting groceries out of the car, or standing up washing dishes are a few key times to activate your core to protect your abs, or practice what you’ve learned. Heck, I even practice in the shower and while brushing my teeth! Squats also are excellent for your core and pelvic floor, which will aid in your pushing during labor down the road. Instead of bending over to pick up toys, try squatting to get those movements in your daily life.
Learn Positions to Avoid
Avoiding crunches, sit ups, and unmodified planks are wise as those moves actually put pressure on the connective tissues leading to bulging and stretching, rather than strengthening. It does the opposite of what you are intending! Don’t do them in workouts, but also avoid them in daily movements as well. Have you ever sat up from lying down on the bed and noticed a long mound protruding from your belly down the center? That’s what you want to avoid! Instead of sitting straight up from the exam table, a chair, or bed, it’s better to roll to your side and then sit up from there. Additionally, watch how you are resting. Slouching and poor posture not only create space for baby to get into bad positions for labor and your comfort, but also puts added pressure on the separation. Protecting your abs is just as important as strengthening them.
Wear a Splint
This was a game changer for me in my pregnancies and postpartum healing. That belly gets heavy, even if you are making it a habit to use your abs! Wearing a splint– which is a piece of stretchy, thick, material and velcros around your waist– during the third trimester helps to relieve back aches and the added pressure to the abdominals by supporting the baby’s weight. It also helps act as a reminder to yourself to use your abs. I wore it often when I knew I was going to be on my feet a lot or more active, such as cleaning, shopping, exercising, or taking a walk.
Your beautiful belly will emerge eventually– don’t rush it! Take the time for some self-care throughout your pregnancy for a healthier you and a stronger core.