Can I be honest for a moment? This post is for all you ladies who are thinking about becoming pregnant, are currently pregnant, just had a baby last week, have given birth to a child at any point in your life, or for personal trainers who work with any of the afore mentioned demographics. I think one of the questions we, as women, all ask ourselves at some point is what is having a baby going to do to my body. This might sound very vain and superficial to some but I think it is an important topic to discuss.
I have seen so many women who have had babies, are working out, eating correctly, and to no fault of their own just can not seem to get rid of their baby belly. So what seems to be the problem? The problem is not from lack of motivation or willpower but from the anatomy of the body after baby.
Let me explain…
RELAXIN (THE HORMONE)
During pregnancy the body releases the hormone relaxin. This hormone peaks at 14 weeks during pregancy and at the time of labor. It allows the stretching of the muscles and ligaments to accommodate the growing baby and prepare the mama’s body for labor and delivery.
Ladies, lets just take a moment of silence and be thankful for how awesome our body’s have been made in order to accomplish such a feat.
Now that that is over…
Here are several things you may notice thanks to this hormone coursing throughout your body during pregnancy.
- Increased range of motion. This can be a blessing or an annoyance.
- Lack of stability and balance in pelvis. Your hips feel off or your back is tighter on one side due to shifting.
- Ribs may easily shift out of place. The ribs are a joint. With the increased range of motion the joints are more susceptible to misalignments. This is quite painful and can cause a pinched feeling in your back or chest and can also hinder your ability to take deep breaths.
If you are an avid gym-goer or enjoy high and frequent levels of physical activity you may also notice that your tummy does not look quite right and appears to be bulging in plank or pushup position.
I want to focus on the bulging tummy. Or the cone shaped tummy. If you have seen this on yourself or a client you know exactly what I am talking about.
This would be the perfect time to talk anatomy. So let’s discuss.
ANATOMY OF THE ABS
If you have had a baby you might be one of the many women who have no idea that their abdominal muscles have separated and are still separated. Did you know that this could even happen? I had no idea until after I gave birth to Caden. As a personal trainer this was nothing I even learned about in my course work (I will discuss why this is important later).
Take a look at the Rectus Abdominis both before and during pregnancy…
The Linea Alba, the connective tissue between the right and left half of the Rectus Abdominis, stretches to accommodate the growing baby. For some women the gap closes naturally on its own. For others the connective tissue has become overly stretched and aggravated that it does not heal properly which leaves the new mama with an unwanted belly bulge months and even years after her bundle of joy has arrived. And for a mama who has multiple pregnancies the gap can become noticeably wider each time.
This gap is known as Diastasis Recti. But before I talk about after the baby let me briefly discuss prenatal exercise and things to keep in mind once you become pregnant.
PRENATAL FITNESS: MODIFICATIONS TO PROTECT YOUR ABS
I am a huge proponent of exercising during pregnancy. If you have been cleared by your doctor to exercise and exercised prior to pregnancy this will be a very beneficial section for you to read. If you want more information on the types of physical activity that are beneficial during pregnancy you can read my post Pregnancy & Exercise.
Certain exercises can aggravate and cause the gap between your Rectus Abdominis to become more severe during pregnancy. I tend to shy away from tons of crunches and situps because they can put more strain on the abdominal wall. I recommend planks or some type of plank variation for all my clients when it comes to programming their workouts.
Planks and Pushups are super beneficial exercises to do, but need to be done mindfully. You can place your hands on a bench, table, stairs, or even against the wall to modify this exercise. When you look at your midsection while you are doing this you should see more of a gradually rounding. If you see a bulge in the middle elevate your hands further from the floor. There is no shame elevating your plank. Protect yourself.
DIASTASIS RECTI/ABDOMINAL SEPARATION AFTER BABY
Congratulations! You have had your baby. Here is a simple way to tell if your muscles are still separated (give yourself a few months to heal before you do this test) and movements to avoid if you find you have abdominal separation.
Diastasis Recti/Abdominal Separation Test
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, and the soles of your feet on the floor.
- Place one hand behind your head, and the other hand on your abdomen, with your fingertips across your midline-parallel with your waistline- at the level of your belly button.
- With your abdominal wall relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your abdomen.
- Roll your upper body off the floor into a “crunch,” making sure that your ribcage moves closer to your pelvis.
- Move your fingertips back and forth across your midline, feeling for the right and left sides of your rectus abdominis muscle. Test for separation at, above, and below your belly button.
Signs of Diastasis Recti/Abdominal Separation
- A gap of more than 2 1/2 finger-widths when the rectus abdominis is fully contracted.
- The gap does not shrink as you contract your abdominal wall.
- You can see a small mound protruding along the length of you midline.
Some Types of Movement to Avoid
- Movements where the upper body twists and the arm on that side extends away from the body, such as “triangle pose.”
- Exercises that require lying backward over a large exercise ball.
- Yoga postures that stretch the abs, such as “cow pose,” “up-dog,” all backbends, and “belly breathing.”
- Abdominal exercises that flex the upper spine off the floor or against the force of gravity such as: as crunches, oblique curls, “bicycles,” roll ups/roll downs, etc.
- Pilates mat and reformer exercises that utilize the “head float” position, upper body flexion, or double leg extension.
- Any exercise that causes your abdominal wall to bulge out upon exertion.
- Lifting and carrying very heavy objects.
- Quadruped exercises without adequate abdominal support.
- Intense coughing without abdominal support.
This is just a brief explanation on abdominal separation and I would be happy to go into more detail if you have further questions.
BODY AFTER BABY
I am here to show you that you can totally reclaim your body after baby. In fact you can be stronger! Here are a few pictures of me postpartum. I promise I will post pictures after this baby girl is born too.
If anything I hope this post has encouraged you and shed light on what is really going on with your body after being pregnant. It is not that you are not doing enough, it could be that you just didn’t know what was really happening with your body.
For this reason alone if you are working with a personal trainer please make sure they are educated on how a woman’s body works before, during, and after pregnancy. Their lack of education might be hindering your physical transformation. On this same note I want to caution you about Pinterest/YouTube/Facebook/Instagram workouts. While I am all for inspiring others to live healthier lives it is important to point out that those workouts might not be best for someone who has just had a baby or who has abdominal separation. This is why it is so important to have someone who can coach you on your goals who understands and has training in anatomy/physiology and how it relates to human movement.
For those who have just had or are about to have a baby I highly recommend a Belly Bandit! These are amazing and will help close the abdominal gap after giving birth, allow you to wear your pre-preganacy clothes sooner, and offer you low back support. Seriously go buy one for after the baby is born! You won’t regret it. Just for reference I used a small the first week after I had Caden and sized down to the extra small until I was 6 weeks postpartum.
I also highly recommend the MuTu System for those wanting to heal their core and pelvic floor after giving birth.