Tori Clapham is the founder of Bondi-based Pilates studio, Peaches Pilates in Sydney. Formerly the editor of MTV Travel, her passions outside of health and fitness lie in travelling, cooking and eating, then writing about it. Not in Sydney? Workout with Peaches using their online program!
Pregnancy comes with A LOT of changes, both physically and mentally. You feel different, you look different—but the best part about what we’re discussing below is the fact that the right type of exercise can help with boosting your confidence in both areas.
Abdominal separation is an extremely common occurrence from pregnancy, and lots of women have it without realising. It’s not dangerous or going to affect your everyday life, but in severe cases, it can be upsetting and even somewhat disfiguring for women.
Even for those who have a mild version, diastasis can cause frustration when wanting to tone up after having a baby, and it can certainly prolong the journey to feeling like your old-self again. Pilates is a fantastic and targeted way to encourage your abdominals to bounce back, and ditch the ‘mummy tummy’.
Here’s what you need to know about abdominal separation and what you can do about it:
What is abdominal separation?
Diastasis Recti (or in layman terms, abdominal separation) is when your ‘six-pack’ muscles (the rectus abdominis) come apart due to the pressure of a growing tummy to accommodate bub, and the relaxant hormones that come with pregnancy. The Linea Alba—which is a piece of fascia that holds your abs together, becomes strained and overworked, so the six-pack muscle separates (you can actually feel this by hand).
Your rectus abdominis is a pair of long, flat muscles that run vertically down the front of your abdomen, one each side of the belly button, from your ribs at the top, to your pelvis at the bottom. The role of these muscles is to hold in your internal organs and stabilise your core. As your tummy grows during pregnancy, the Linea Alba gets stretched out, allowing the rectus abdominis to spread away from each other down the middle of the abdominal wall.
After pregnancy, when your hormone levels return to their usual levels, and your uterus contracts, the tissue often returns to normal – allowing the muscles to come back together. Sometimes, however, you can be left with a gap that doesn’t completely close. This is a common issue, with around 40% of women presenting with some form of diastasis from 6-months after having baby.
Why do I still have a ‘mummy tummy’ after pregnancy?
Firstly, it is completely normal for your post-baby tummy to remain large at first, so remember to be kind to yourself and remain realistic about the pace of your recovery. That said, Pilates is one of the best forms of exercise for those concerned about their tummies, as it targets your TA (Transverse Abdominus)—one of the muscles responsible for pulling your abdomen in.
There are loads of reasons why your tummy won’t be flat after giving birth, here are a few:
The uterus takes 6 weeks to shrink back to its normal size.
Your abdominal muscles have been stretched during pregnancy and it takes time for them to return to their original tone and strength… in rare cases with particularly large babies or large amounts of weight gain during pregnancy, the muscles may never return to their previous length.
Diastasis Recti (a condition where the abdominal muscles separate due to over-stretching) can cause a bulging stomach.
General weight gain around the midsection during pregnancy. Loose, excess skin due to stretching that doesn’t return to normal.
Should I be doing sit-ups?
Unfortunately, sit-ups and crunches can actually make the appearance of your extended tummy worse—counterintuitive, we know! You can exacerbate the separation of your rectus abdominis by forward curling ab movements because this puts further pressure on your linea alba.
How does Pilates help rebuild the core after pregnancy?
While we can all agree that exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, there are specific ways that practising Pilates can help you during and after your pregnancy. Pilates is not only highly modifiable—but also a targeted approach to exercise, which means it’s one of the best methods for maintaining your fitness while pregnant—and helping you recover postnatally.
The right class can reduce your chances of physical complications, improve injuries and assist with general wellbeing and mobility. Let’s be honest, pregnancy and birth have a huge impact on your body internally and externally so it’s important to remember that after childbirth, you’re in a state of recovery. However, if you can respect your limitations and dedicate yourself to a tailored exercise regime, Pilates can enable a swift return to physical function.
The benefits of pregnancy and postnatal Pilates:
Reducing the physical effects of pregnancy
Injury prevention and management
Safe strength building
Minimising postural changes
Maintaining mobility and independence
A speedier and improved recovery post-baby
Pelvic floor recovery
Relief of upper back pain associated with pregnancy, breastfeeding and holding bub
- Bringing the core back together after pregnancy
Pilates has been proven as one of the best methods to aid in your postnatal recovery—particularly with re-strengthening the core and encouraging the abdominals to bounce back. This book helps to explain Diastasis Recti, expel common myths, and arm you with some super simple exercises you can do at home to help rebuild your core after baby!
Get your copy here.