I was in two minds about the heading “get rid of” the mum tum because I’m all about celebrating and embracing mum hood and all its weird and wonderful remnants in your body and soul. The lovely Beccy Hands, doula and massage therapist and co-founder of the maternal nurturing package The Mother Box (hint hint, would love one of these one day….), told me that once she worked with some midwives in Latin America. One day they were talking about the “love lines” of pregnancy and the UK contingent asked her what they were on about. When it transpired that these love lines were what we referred to as stretch marks the Mexican midwives were horrified – “such ugly language!”
Imagine if we reframed all our pregnancy bodily etchings in a positive light rather than berated ourselves for not being “perfect”. Just imagine that sweet sweet utopia for a moment. How are your love lines?
Mum tum: this is the second part in Finding Mama Mojo. The pelvic floor and the abdominals are the muscles most directly compromised by pregnancy. And yet without the tools to know what on earth is going on down there, it’s no wonder we’re left adrift and feeling slightly off kilter sometimes years postnatally.
In my personal experience, there are two types of mum tum. There is the mum tum that is nurtured through months and years of child-related biscuit eating/leftover fish finger scoffing/exhausted carbo loading, not drinking enough water, not doing enough (cough, any) cardio exercise and a bit too much reliance on the “wine o’clock” ritual to get you through the heavy days. This is the mum tum that sits softly atop perfectly decent muscular strength and hides away the tone that you have in your muscles in a cushion of weary comfortable(not comfortable) habit. Sometimes happily so, if a chocolate biscuit is not worth swapping for a tall glass of water and some star jumps in your eyes, then so be it. And in that case there is no need to go about doing anything about it, until the point when you’re feeling it’s not so fun. This is the type of mum tum I have.
The other type of mum tum is the type where, even months and years after being pregnant you feel that your belly is still vaguely 4-months pregnant-looking. People ask you when you’re due. Or, maybe you’re very lean or muscular and don’t look pregnant at all but every time you get out of bed there’s a weird alien doming in your stomach which makes you wonder what on earth is going on in there but you’re sure it’ll probably go away soon. This is the type of mum tum which really needs to be looked at. This is diastasis recti.
Diastasis whatsi? Is that a made up word?
Diastasis recti is the perfectly normal and to be expected occurrence of the abdominal “six pack” muscle separating to accommodate your growing bump. The rectus abdominis is attached down the centre by connecting tissue called the Linea Alba. This connective tissue stretches during pregnancy to allow room for the baby to expand, and the sides of the muscle release away from each other. It’s basically like unzipping your coat to create more space: your belly muscle unzips at the front and allows your baby to expand into that room. What an amazing design the human body is! Incredible.
The only problem is, sometimes the tissue heals and the muscles can close back together naturally without you having to do anything. All done, and you’re none the wiser. But sometimes they don’t, the gap remains and the tone behind the linea alba is left sponge-like and with the strength of blancmange in your core.
I have had mums come to my class years after having had their babies who are still unknowingly suffering from this. It’s important to find out whether you have it, and there is always something you can and should do to investigate strengthening. Sit ups are not the answer and can make the problem worse.
Why do I need to fix a diastasis?
Apart from the fact that you might feel a bit glum because chances are your belly is bulging and you’re getting the odd inappropriate question about being pregnant and generally feel a bit crap about that: it’s more importantly a question of your muscular and postural stability. The abdominals play a vital role in stabilising the spine and pelvis, and contribute to the efficacy of your pelvic floor. Diastasis recti can contribute to back pain and pelvic floor dysfunction because of the change in intra abdominal pressure – the pressure within your abdomen as you perform your daily tasks like picking up your baby or lifting the carseat. You might find that you have more back problems if you have a big gap in the abominals, you’re less robust for the physical graft of lifting and carrying your kids. You’re more likely to suffer aches and pains through relying on other muscles to do the work your abdominals should be doing. More seriously, you might be more prone to a hernia, which needs surgery to repair.
So: it needs to be checked. I am still in disbelief that there’s not more awareness and education about this MAJOR issue postnatally. Put it this way: you are more likely to have a diastasis than not after you’ve had a baby. And then add to that the general exhaustion, lack of attention to good posture (hello, forward-hunching mama pushing buggy, changing nappies, feeding, picking up socks, looking at your phone too much…) and general penchant for chocolate biscuits – or, at the other end of the spectrum, desperately trying to “get your body back” and running marathons, or doing boot camp planks and sit ups when you still have a gap can end up making it much much worse, making you weaker and more prone to issues such as prolapse… and you have a heady cocktail for maternal malaise.
So what can I do??
Pilates, my friend. Appropriate Pilates exercises are uniquely positioned to strengthen the muscles compromised by pregnancy. Pilates asks you to pay careful attention to full and deep breathing which will in turn enhance the efficiency of your diaphragm and begin to bring the muscles within your abdomen to life. Focusing on the quality of your movement, doing appropriate exercises tailored to mending the gap will definitely help you to strengthen and equip you better for lugging your children around, for running your 10k, for a more positive and happy mum experience.
BUT – Not all Pilates is diastasis friendly! Curl ups and oblique curl ups, planks, leg lowers are not your friend while you have compromised abdominal strength. Deep, patient core restore is what is required.
So if you feel like you might have a gap and are not sure what to do: get in touch with me here and we can chat. Or, find a local postnatal-qualified Pilates teacher or physio and ask them to check you. Once you know what you’re working with, you can take steps to sort it out.
The mum tum: it’s NOT about “getting your body back”. It’s about embracing and honouring your amazing magic body which has created and birthed a baby, and giving you your power back so that you can run, jump, laugh, be joyful with your baby for years to come.