A few years ago I was teaching a postnatal workshop on abdominal reconditioning. Before the beginning, we went around the room as usual and introduced ourselves, and one surprising student was a woman whose son was 25 years old! She signed up because she had never got her belly flat or her body strong after his birth and consequently never felt the same emotionally. This woman inspired me and was a constant reminder to me about the emotional relationship we have with our bodies. So regardless of whether you have a newborn or a much older child at home, this post may be for you.
Weighing more than you did pre-kids can obviously contribute to a bloated belly, but often the real cause may be a separation of your abdominal muscles, known as diastasis recti. In a nutshell, during pregnancy and the pushing stage of childbirth the connective tissue that usually holds your rectus abdominis (those muscles that flex your trunk) together stretches and can also separate.
Traditional abdominal exercises are unfortunately part of the growing problem of protruding bellies. I’m one of those people who looks around at what others are doing in a class during the ab sequence. It goes something like this: teacher instructs us all to lift our legs, head and shoulders off of the floor and pull our navels in. I just hang out on my back, do my own modification of the exercise and watch the people beside me. As I glance around I always see the same scene: everyone’s belly is actually popping out, and here’s why:
Forget a six-pack – aim for a flat-pack.
You’re going to love this: stop doing abdominal crunches. They almost always aggravate a diastasis by working your rectus abdominis, and without proper support from your transverse muscles below, your belly will pop out. Start by doing simple kegel exercises, practicing pulling your belly button back like you’re trying to squeeze on tight jeans. I love B.E.T’s approach to non-crunch lower ab conditioning. They teach a whole series of leg lifts that encourages your transverse to fire without engaging your six-pack muscles.
Wrap it up.
My best gift to myself was a series of sessions of Jamu postnatal massage and abdominal binding with Karen Loke at Restoring Mums. You’ll read mixed reviews about this Asian tradition but I absolutely loved it. I actually felt a noticeable difference to my waistline, (don’t get all excited now, it wasn’t really a waistline! But compared to before, it was a step in the right direction). When you wear the wrap, use it as a reminder to draw your belly in.
Find a friend and workout together. Then buy a splint to support your musculature. Think of the connective tissue between your two split rectus muscles as injured. It can’t hold positions elongated positions like plank pose or pushups, where gravity stretches the connective tissue even further. Julie Tupler makes the best splint on the market that is specifically designed to correct a diastasis, and this site ships her products to Hong Kong. The splint is not very comfortable, but try to bear with it. I hated wearing mine with a muffin top bulge (you know what I’m talking about!) so my compromise was to wear it when I did yoga and especially when I did abdominal exercises. In fact just writing this, I think I’m going to put mine on!
Less is more.
When it comes to your abs, what you do regularly and habitually matters more than a few minutes of focused daily exercise.
Even if you do no exercise at all, please do this:
Roll to your side before you get up from lying down. Coming up straight strains your ab muscles and your belly tends to pop out. (Try it once and see). Lower the impact by focusing on low impact exercises where you can control your deep abdominals. Pushing yourself means excessive strain on your midsection.
Do some yoga the right way.
As a yoga teacher, I’m naturally biased to say go hit up a yoga class! But choose your teacher wisely, and avoid backbends until you gain control of your lower abs. This includes everything from a simple cobra to full wheel pose. Backbends stretch connective tissue that is already overstretched. As you progress, the idea is to keep your transverse switched on during a backbend. I also suggest modifying plank pose by doing a plank pushup on your knees until you’re stronger.
Be mindful when lugging baby.
Who even thinks about their abs when carrying their baby around? Actually, you should. One of the worst things for both your abs and back is a front load baby carrier. If you must carry your baby then look for a carrier that rests on your hips. My two top choices are the Ergo, available at Tiny Footprints, and my personal fave, the Becco, available online at Quirky Baby.
Since we’re on the subject of bellies, this is one of my favorite satisfying salads that leaves you energised but not bloated!
Sprouted Quinoa Tabouleh
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
½ cup chopped mint
½ cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
4 tomatoes, diced
3 cucumbers, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Mixed greens, for serving
To sprout quinoa: in medium bowl combine the quinoa and water. Soak for 12 hours. Rinse, drain water and transfer to a shallow bowl. Let sit covered lightly with some air holes and rinse every few hours. Sprouting time varies by season and humidity level in the air. If you’re pressed with time it’s fine to cook the quinoa but your salad will be less crispy.
Add rest of ingredients. Toss and serve on a bed of your favourite greens.
Sassy Mama deal: Julie Tupler, founder of diastasisrehab.com has generously agreed to offer one lucky reader a free 30-minute Skype call with her PLUS HK$200 off her next online class. Here’s the deal – just fill out this form, and one lucky reader will be chosen at random to receive the consultation and discount.
The giveaway has now ended but stay tuned for more exciting giveaways!
One final note: remember that after a long and full life you won’t be remembered as the mom with a flat stomach. Be mindful of the things that matter. All things considered, I’d take my 4 kids plus a belly pooch any day!