There’s a quote I love from Jennifer Garner that has been making its way around the internet again.
“I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump. From now on, ladies, I will have a bump, and it will be my baby bump. It’s not going anywhere. Its name is Violet, Sam and Sera.”
Like Jennifer I too have a lovely baby bump. Of course at 2 months postpartum it is going to be there. After Wally, however, I had people asking if I was pregnant when I was about 8 months postpartum. It kind of sucks. Most share this message to say love your body. Of course I agree with that, but today I have a different message. It’s ok to be sad about your bump. It’s ok to wish it away. It’s ok to have your feelings hurt when people ask if you are pregnant. It’s ok to hate the fact that none of your clothes fit right. It’s ok to cry about it. It’s ok to wear shape wear. Ladies it is ok to do whatever you want to do so that you can walk out that door feeling confident and beautiful.
It’s especially ok to say “I’m not going to let this baby bump hang around!” Yes, we need to have realistic expectations. We need to give ourselves time, but a baby bump does not have to be permanent. A long-lasting baby bump is often the result of a condition called diastasis recti.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti occurs when the left and right halves of the abdominal muscle (Rectus Abdominis) separate. You then only have a thin band of tissue connecting these two halves of the muscle which is not adequate support for all of your internal organs. These organs are then creating that lovely baby bump. this gap can also lead ot other problems such as a weak pelvic floor and lower back pain.
After my 6th child I had a gap that was large enough to put my entire hand in it. The good news is there are things you can do to prevent and heal that gap! Through careful work I was able to narrow that gap down to two fingers and keep it there throughout pregnancies 7 and 8.
Preventing Diastasis Recti
The focus of both prevention and healing is to avoid anything that pushes your muscles outward and focus on exercises that pull them in and up. For example sit-ups, one of the favored core exercises of many are absolutely horrible for diastasis recti! Pelvic tilts, on the other hand are excellent. When getting out of bed in the morning most people sit straight up and then swing their legs over the edge of the bed. If you want to prevent diastasis recti it is better to roll onto your side and then push up with your arms to avoid putting pressure on those stomach muscles.
Prenatal yoga is an excellent way to strengthen your core and other supporting muscles in a safe and gentle way. It is important that you maintain focus on pulling your naval in and up throughout the session. Yoga moves can easily transition from helpful to damaging if you are not maintaining an engaged pulled in core and proper position. It is important to be especially careful during twisting moves.
When doing other exercise programs simply be careful to avoid exercises that push the abdominal wall out. If joining an exercise class feel free to ask the instructor for modification suggestions. Keep in mind, however, that many of them are not educated about the cause and risks of diastasis recti. It is best to research specific modifications on your own and be prepared to do them on your own when you attend class.
Wearing a maternity support belt is also an important part of prevention. By relieving some of the pressure on those abdominal muscles you can help prevent the ligament stretching that causes a stubborn gap.
Healing Diastasis Recti
So how do you know if you have a problem? You can follow the steps in this video to find out if you have diastasis recti and how big your gap is.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is especially true of diastasis recti. While many women are able to heal their gaps through a focused exercise regimen combined with belly binding many struggle and may even need to consider surgery to repair the stretched out fascia muscles. Unfortunately this seems to have a lot more to do with luck or genetics than it does how hard you work postpartum to close the gap.
There are arguments both for and against belly wrapping or binding to heal a gap. Those who are for it say it helps support the muscles so that the ligament can retract and regain it’s tight elasticity. Those against it say that it can squeeze your internal organs out-of-place and even cause a uterine prolapse or bladder incontinence. My personal view falls in the middle. Binding is good, when done properly and in conjunction with a consistent exercise regimen. Binding should not be done too tightly. It should be snug, but you should still be able to move and breathe easily. Binding should not be worn 24/7. The muscles will become weak if they are not given a chance to work on their own. I personally own and love the Squeem for every-day wear under clothes. I also have an EzyFit for a little extra support without too much squeeze while working out. I do not wear my binder to bed and only wear it for 2-8 hours a day.
The other half of the equation is exercise. An exercise program needs to focus on strengthening the abdominals in conjunction with the pelvic floor and back. If you don’t have the knowledge or desire to create your own exercise program there are several great ones out there you can look into. Lindsay Brin has an excellent post natal slim down DVD if you prefer to have a simple at home work-out. If you want a more intense full program that is specifically for diastasis recti check out the MuTu system or The Dia Method. These are a bit more expensive, but are also more focused specifically on diastasis recti.
Love Yourself, but Strive for Your Best Self
It’s important to own and love your body the way it is. Celebrate what you have accomplished in growing and birthing a new life. It is also ok to say this isn’t my best self and I want more! You are worth it. You deserve to look in the mirror and be happy. Sometimes that takes altering our mindset, other times it means altering our physical appearance. Most often it requires both working together. Give yourself grace to be where you are while still striving to be the best self that you know you can be.
Do you have diastasis recti? What methods have you used to heal it? Please feel free to share any additional tips or resources in the comments.