Updated: Aug 22, 2022
It's super common to have separation of the abs after baby*. This can show itself if you notice your abs are coning in a plank. It's also called, "doming" or "tenting". It's different than just having extra weight at your belly too. It's a noticeable change in your belly when planking or in a curl up.
When working with post baby bellies I address three potential places for healing:
1- Diastasis, 2- Pelvic floor tone and engagement and 3 - Coning or Doming
Here are my 5 general tips to heal from deep within using my Pilates lens:
BREATHE - I know it's uber boring to some and it's not quick sexy fix but, I can't stress enough the importance of your breath. Focus on diaphragmatic breath and lateral breath. Diaphragmatic breath is the 3 dimensional quality of your breath in your belly, your back, your pelvic floor, and diaphragm. Lateral breath is focusing the breath moving out with your ribs to the sides of the room on your inhale, and as you exhale the gathering towards center. More on pelvic floor and breathing HERE. Pilates and Yoga movements are coordinated with the breath. Some instructors and methods are very particular on when to exhale and inhale. I subscribe to the school of thought that you just need to be mindful of the breath. Once you are more aware of your breath and how it can challenge or support movement then the real fun can begin! I often queue an exhale when limbs are moving away from the body, and an inhale to let go. Exhale on effort, and inhale on ease. Only true rule I have on breathing is pelvic floor MUST lift on exhale and release on inhale.
Find length even when you find flexion (avoid full cat though, and embrace neutral spine alignment)
Strength and healing from deep within - your abs are NOT just your 6-pack. I utilize the corset effect that the Transverse Abdominis (TVA) muscles has on your core. The TVA attaches from along your spine, and wraps around your core thus getting us the ability to quite literally bring your core back together again. Your sets of oblique muscles then lay on top of this big muscle, as does your 6-pack muscles, the Rectus Abdominis.
Hug your belly from the inside - Focus on the theurapetic breathing techniques (like the ones above) and the activation of the TVA to literally give yourself a hug from the inside. You can also use your hands to show your muscles the direction you'd like them to go. This can work on lower belly, the points in-between your hips points, gather them towards each other for more activation and tone. I love the verbiage during pregnancy to think of hugging baby to spine. After baby, think of hugging belly to spine.
Slow down movement - another unsexy, unglamorous, hard to hear note, I know. But, if you really slow down your movement and really become self aware of how your muscles engage and support one another will make your recovery more smooth and quicker in the long run. I'm in it for life! So yes, I took my sweet ass time after my first baby (2 yrs) and after my second baby my recovery is so much smoother! And, I know that all the work I am doing post babies will be able to be cashed in later in life when menopause and aging comes knocking on my door a bit more loudly.
MY FAVORITE MOVES TO PROMOTE DEEP CORE HEALING
On the Reformer:
On one blue spring, place your knees against the shoulder blocks, hands are on the rails so you are in quadruped position. Inhale to prepare and exhale, move the carriage just an inch with your belly, not using your strong legs. Keep spine nuetral. If you don't feel anything at all, try a red spring but, it's subtle so I encourage you to find the deep, subtle movement with your powerful breath.
On the Mat:
Begin in quadruped (wrists under the shoulders, knees under the hips), exhale pick up your knees to a hover, the lower you are the bigger the burn, and inhale, let go. Imagine your knees are made of glass though, so softly let them land and then exhale pick them back up! Super mean and awesome!!!!!
Please avoid these moves to give yourself time to heal and strengthen:
Planks - Why are we so obsessed with planks??? Instead, do the moves above or side plank all day!! Side planks actually help bind the belly back to the center and create that beautiful rain drop tone in the belly.
Curl Ups - flexion is not necessarily good at this point in healing. As a Pilates practitioner I am curious as how clients' interabdomonial pressure feels like. Moving smaller, and with more of a neutral spine can help reduce pressure and provide greater inner strength. Reducing flexion also allows us to work more neutrally with the spine which is a deeper ab workout to support your spine. Win, win this will help with any low back pain! Generally speaking of course. Flexion, like a curl, or like in cat, shortens the belly and causes more pressure which can cause more separation to occur in the exact spot we don't want it to, the linea alba, a connective tissue. Side note: During pregnancy I want you to be aware of extension making sure you don't over arch creating more tension again the other direction. Baby is already doing a good enough job on that.
Jumping - may add to much pressure to the belly and pelvic floor. If you take a jump board Pilates class be mindful of coning of the belly as you would in a curl up.
Remember to utilize the ball like the picture above! It offers a ton of subtle and not so subtle core work to create a balanced belly.
Try it out! How does the breathing, finding length, actively using your TVA, hugging your belly, and slowing down with more mindful concise movement feel? How are those movements above feeling? Are you getting stronger and stronger and ready to add on?
STAYING BODY POSITIVE
I hate, hate, hate the culture of bouncing back, social media's part in what an ideal woman body should look like and fostering an environment of comparsion. I have always loved the quote A HEALTHY BODY LOOKS DIFFERENT ON EVERYBODY. I'm all for functional bellies and functional bodies. We come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
I find it useful to think of the timeline of creating baby, and giving yourself at least that 9months to recover. I also remind clients it takes two full years for the spine to go back to alignment post baby. What's the rush? I too currently have smaller clothes I'd love to get back into but, at currently 6 months post baby #2 I remind myself I successfully concieved two babies naturally, have healthy daughters, and had empowering births, over 40 (thank you very much) thanks to this body of mine. Give yourself grace, and time.
I currently am reminding myself my spine is still lordotic and thus my pelvis is still tilted forward showing off my weight a little more. The more I practice and gather back to centers I know with the passage of time and practice I will be strong than pre-babies. As I get my sprinkles of movement in I do notice strength is back on track, and clothes are fitting better and better each week but, it's a slow process and that's okay. I have faith in the healing practices of Pilates and Yoga. In my experience, slow change is sustainable.
Now, if it's been years since babies, and you are just finding this info, I am sorry. It's not your fault. Fitness trainings don't spend time on dysfunction. There are communities (cough, cough, Crossfit) that normalize the abnormal. I think it's common for mamas to think planks, curl ups are good to strengthen my core, and running will be great cardio and it's something I can do with the kid in the stroller... I see Susie doing it! And, she looks great. But, we don't know what her insides are like, and we don't know if she's working from the pain no gain nonsense... and now you know better. I believe there is hope though. I completely believe in the body's ability to heal itself. I believe in clients dedication to healing. I believe in the power of the breath. I just believe.
There are also different types of bodies. There are some schools of thought that encourage you to embrace your body after babies. They are scars of battle in a way. I'll leave it there for the moment, I think this topic can be triggering for folks. There are so many stories and experiences our bodies hold. I turn to the practice of self love and acceptance and practicing in safe communities, which I aim to be. <3
Now, for my Yoga Lens - The Chakras
I find it curious when I think of the chakras of this area in the body. The second Chakra is found in the abdomen (the core, the uterus), and the third Chakra is the solar plexus (the bundle of nerves below the sternum).
The second Chakra deals with our feelings and the third Chakra deals with our personal power, self esteem, and thinking.
Just food for the thought to reflect on. Notice if your feelings, confidence, thinking, improve along with your physcial healing.
YOU ARE STRONG. YOU ARE ENOUGH. YOU ARE LOVED.
Diastatis Recti by Katy Bowman
VIDEO on Self Assess for DR and activation of lower TVA
The Complete Book of Chakra Healing by Cyndi Dale
Mama Core videos I made for Postpartum - Mama Core 2.0 coming out soon
NOTE: The 1st picture is also a great movement to do for core healing! During pregnancy and after.
*Can also happen for other reasons but I'm going to keep to what I love to talk about the most: postpartum!!!!!
Picture Below: Quadruped with a 2 yr old. lol