Snaps of pregnant celebrities doing crunches sends the wrong message to pregnant mums, according to recent headlines.
Many women fall into the trap of believing crunches make the abdominal muscles stronger, when in actual fact, doing them in the later stages of pregnancy or post pregnancy puts women at risk of tearing the abdominal wall even further, resulting in that dreaded pot belly post-birth.
As a mother of two, I have personally experienced abdominal separation (in other words, a protruding belly that lingers for a while, like even 1 year after giving birth). So I would like to share how I made a gradual recovery from this injury.
What is Abdominal Separation?
Known as Diastasis Rectus Abdominis, DRA is a common condition affecting two thirds of women in their third trimester. Put simply, this is the disruption of the midline connective tissue of the stomach, called the linea alba. The fascia widens or thins under the pressure of the growing uterus, causing separation of the left and right abdominal walls – hence the reason why returning safely to exercise following the birth of your baby is important.
How to prevent DRA (and pot belly post baby)?
Prevention is the best medicine to minimise the occurrence of DRA during and after pregnancy. Although it is beneficial for women to remain active during their pregnancy, some exercises should be avoided. Women who have very tight abs are at an increased risk of DRA, so it is important to learn how to consciously relax your abdominal muscles during pregnancy. This allows for better accommodation of the growing foetus. The list below shows some unsafe exercises during pregnancy.
– Chest lifts – crunches, curl ups, the Pilates roll-up/roll-down
– Oblique exercises such as abdominal twists
– Postures that stretch the abdominal wall – intense backbends in yoga, or lying over a fitball are not advised
– Any exercise that causes your abdominal wall to bulge.
Recovering from DRA
For some women the separation naturally resolves itself, but for many additional care is needed. If women return to exercise too soon the separation can worsen, causing problems with breathing, back pain, hip and pelvic stability. To help the muscles heal, women can invest in compression garments such as the SRC recovery shorts, or a tubi-grip stocking. These compression garments encourage the muscles back together and support the abdominal wall during everyday activities such as lifting. In addition, it is important to gradually strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor and deeper abdominal muscles (i.e. transverse abdominals) as these are important muscles that help hold everything in place.
A physiotherapist will offer the best- practice advice as to the most effective and safe movements that will get you back into shape again.