Why Do I Still Look Pregnant? The 411 On Diastasis Recti (aka "Mummy Tummy")
The things no one told me
I'll admit it, I went into motherhood starry eyed and a little bit clueless. Sure, I read every single thing under the sun about the baby, I obsessively checked my week-by-week chart to see how my little one was growing, I read about 200 pregnancy books that primarily focused on fetal development, what to eat, what not to eat, and how to keep the baby healthy. Then, after my baby was born, I kept right on with it. Books on parenting, books about baby sleep training, how many naps, what they need to eat, what you should do to stimulate them in their crib, baby sign language... You know exactly what I'm talking about, the list goes on and on (and on!). But the one thing I forgot to focus on was myself. As long as I wasn't hospital-bound, I figured I was good enough. What did I need to worry about that didn't involve taking care of my baby?
Any experienced, savvy mom will tell you that forgetting about yourself is the first mistake too many moms make. Then they'll smile, put a loving hand on your shoulder, and tell you to knock it off. But if you were ever like me, or if you are now, it takes more than a loving hand and a wise woman telling you to take care of yourself. It takes an issue like Diastasis Recti to snap the sense back into you.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Simply put, "diastasis" is the separation of normally joined parts, and your rectus abdominis muscle is also known as your "six pack". So, diastasis recti is basically a medical way to say "Ouch, I split my six-pack".
My personal experience
Once I got wise to this condition, which was long after I had it, instead of during pregnancy when everyone should be aware of it, I went straight to Google. And, much to my dismay, there is so much conflicting information. The medical websites will define the problem, dryly, and give you absolutely no real, practical solutions. I've seen everything from "schedule a surgical procedure if it's extreme" to "it fixes itself".
And, of course, the websites who are trying to sell you something will often conflict as well. On one, at the very beginning of my frantic search, I saw a website that said: You MUST do this within the first THREE MONTHS after delivery, or your stomach will be RUINED FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!!!! Seriously. I think when I saw that one, nearly nine months after delivery, I broke down and cried right then and there. But I'm here to tell everyone the thing I wish someone would have told me before I sobbed on my laptop. If you ever see that site, keep going. It's not true. They're trying to sell a product by making brand new mothers (who are already insanely hormonal) go out of their minds with panic, because they think that will result in faster cash. Sound a little awful? It is. Seriously, don't get me started.
Luckily, I didn't give up hope there, but I might be getting a little ahead of myself. I'll go back and tell you what propelled me down the path of Google research to begin with.
How I discovered I had Diasasis Recti
About six months after delivering my first child, I noticed that my stomach was still looking "poochy", in spite of the fact that I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight (when my stomach was flat), wearing all my old clothes, and exercising regularly. Of course, when I talked with other new moms about it they all chimed in with a chorus of "me too", which I think is the first step in accepting something you should not have to accept. The idea that this is just "something that happens to everyone, and you need to get over yourself". Which is exactly what I decided at that point, and accepted that my baby was worth trashing my body a little. More than worth it!
Then, when my baby was around eight months old, I started having sharp pains in my abdominal muscles. When I'd pick her up, it would hurt. A little at first, and then progressively worse and worse. I also had back pain, due to the fact that my abdominal muscles were completely useless; as your baby gets heavier, your back will usually tell you it's angry with you if your stomach isn't holding up its part of the deal.
What did I do then? I did what any mother does when they know there's something wrong, and everyone is giving you that patronizing "you're just a new mom, which means you're probably overreacting" look. I went straight to Google. I think I typed in something like "abdominal pain after delivery" or "postpartum abdominal muscle issues". And, just like that, it was there: Diastasis Recti. I tested myself. And, sure enough, it was confirmed.
How do I know if I have it?
The "test" for Diastasis Recti couldn't be simpler. Here's what you do:
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your fingers in your belly button. Your fingers should be pointing in the direction of your toes. Relax your abdominal muscles and lift your head. If you are holding your abdominal muscles in as you check it will give you a false reading as this will make the diastasis appear smaller. The muscles will get closer together the higher you lift your head. To get a more accurate reading, it is important to check yourself when you first start feeling the muscles coming together. You might have to come up and down a few times so you can feel how the muscles work. If you don’t feel the two ridges of the muscles with 3 fingers you may have to put more fingers in. If you see the football- like ridge you should start by using 4 to 5 fingers. You may even have to use 2 hands if your diastasis is very large. [via diastasisrehab.com]
I have Diastasis Recti! What do I do now?
I'm going to recommend an incredible site to you for the rest of your research and recovery. And, no, they're not paying me for this. I'm recommending them because it's the most informative site out there, I've used it, it worked for me, and I no longer suffer from this problem. And, based on my horrible experience on my way to find this solution, and the fact that no one ever told me about it, and very few people seem to know what it is, I wanted to put one more real-life experience on the Internet. One more voice telling the savvy moms out there that this is a real issue, the price for having a baby is NOT a stomach that eternally looks a little pregnant or pudgy, and that there really is a way to fix it and get your body back.
And we all deserve to have our bodies back!
The Tupler Technique
If you visit www.diastasisrehab.com, you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. There are pages and pages of useful, truthful information about the condition and what to do about it. They'll tell you the little known fact that certain exercises will only not help your abdominal muscles after pregnancy, but they'll make it worse. And these are the exercises you've probably been doing all along, because they're the most common ones!
I bought the "Mummy Tummy" video, and used/wore the splint religiously. And, when my second baby wreaked the same kind of havoc on my abdominal muscles that my first one did, and I found myself with diastasis yet again, it worked a second time.
What if I want to do it for free?
There are some great resources out there for moms who don't want to fork over the cash for a fancy splint and a DVD. It's what I personally chose to do, because (quite frankly) I don't trust myself to do commit to something faithfully without the structure an established program provides, but I know there are plenty of you out there who can make lists in your sleep. That said, Livestrong.com has a great set of exercises that should get you started on the right path to fixing your abdominal muscles. What also seems to speed up the process is actively pushing your muscles together while you're doing the exercises. You can do this with an old shirt or a hand towel. All you do is wrap the towel around your midsection, and pull the sides towards each other, so your muscles come together while you exercise. I've done this with both a my splint and a towel, and both work great.
Having a baby can be the most incredible, worthwhile experience of your entire life. Nothing you do will feel like it compares to the awesome responsibility of raising a child. But never forget that you're important too! You not only need time for yourself, and a way to engage yourself in all the things that made you you before you were a mom, but you don't ever have to accept that your body should look and feel worse FOREVER, just because you've had a baby.
-The Savvy Mommy