What is “Mummy Tummy”?
The term “Mummy Tummy” refers to the postpartum abdominal separation that occurs in many new mums; and is clinically known as Diastasis Recti Abdominus (DRA). DRA is not a “muffin top” or a “spare tire”, but instead a spreading of the six-pack ab muscles that occurs during pregnancy and does not fully return to its original state after the baby is born.
The general understanding of DRA is that it is caused by an overstretching or a weakening of the abdominal muscles. Many mums will experience symptoms of core weakness, increased fatigue, and a round tummy that seems to poke out.
But the truth is, there is much more to DRA than meets the eye…
Historically, we believed that a DRA was caused by weakness in the six-pack abdominal muscles, which then caused them to separate. We also believed that the best way to fix this was to perform hundreds of sit-ups while holding the abs together. And if you hated performing these ineffective exercises, the alternatives were to suck in the gut, wear a splint, or have surgery.
I don’t know about you, but the words “Oh”, “Hell”, and “No” come to mind!
Fortunately, with advancing research, we are realizing that although “Mummy Tummy” often includes some abdominal separation, the root cause is actually damage to the thin piece of connective tissue that lives in between the six-pack ab muscles. This tissue is known as the linea alba and is responsible for maintaining a certain amount of tone across the abdomen when the six-pack muscles are activated.
Research shows that the degree of separation in DRA is not nearly as important as the amount of tone generated across the linea alba by active abs!
In my practice, I see many women with DRA – some with a large separation but great tone across the linea alba; and others with mild separation but poor tone. I assess separation by placing my fingers over the tummy to see how many can fit between the abs. I assess tone at the linea alba by then seeing how far my fingers can sink into the tummy when the abs are activated. If my fingers sink in, it means that the abdominal organs will have the equal and opposite opportunity to poke outward and herniate… not cool.
How can we fix “Mummy Tummy”?
Well, it is best to prevent a DRA by learning the proper exercises prior to giving birth. This is why I often encourage new mums to seek advice from a qualified Pelvic Health Physiotherapist throughout pregnancy. The more time a new mum has to practice these deep core exercises prenatally, the less likely she will be to develop a DRA after delivery.
However, it is never too late to start the proper exercises!
Experts have found that by re-training the pelvic floor in combination with the other muscles of the deep core, we can re-establish our deep core foundation, upon which the rest of the body can safely function.
It is absolutely possible to get your sexy, six-pack abs back so long as you do the work. It is also important to know that there are a few things that you will want to avoid in terms of activity, such as, abdominal crunches, sit-ups, Boat Pose in Yoga, or Hundreds in Pilates. These activities work against you and can worsen a DRA.
For those of you who haven’t read my discussion on abdominal crunches and sit-ups, click here for the full scoop.
And so the Jury Says…
DRA is actually indicative of an underlying issue in deep core functioning. If we ensure that the pelvic floor and the diaphragm are functioning properly, we are less likely (if at all) to experience a separation of the six-pack abdominal muscles. DRA is not just about tightening the abs but about re-establishing balance in the core as a whole.
So be sure to seek the advice of a qualified Pelvic Health Physiotherapist in order to ensure that you are properly activating the pelvic floor in synergy with the other muscles of the deep core – and watch the magic happen!
Please also know that DRA is not exclusive to new mums, but can affect anyone who has experienced significant changes in weight over a short period of time; or anyone who has been performing unsafe or ineffective abdominal exercises for a while.
If you have a significant DRA, you do not have to live with it… You simply need to change the way you exercise. So stop those sit-ups and crunches, as well as any other old-school method of creating a six-pack, as these activities will not serve you well.
If you have any questions or concerns related to your specific needs, please feel free to visit us here at Lumira Pelvic Health & Wellness, we would love to help!
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