3 reasons your abdominals may not be healing up.

Saggy Tummy skin?

Mummy pouch?

Abdominal separation that hasn’t healed?

Here are 3 reasons you may not be seeing results.

1. Posture.

I can’t highlight this enough. Try this out. Place one hand on your tummy muscles. Stand up with poor posture, rounded shoulders, head jutting forward. Now what does it do to your tummy? Those muscles feel taut and strong, or saggy and loose? What changes when you lengthen up through the spine, bring the shoulder blades round and down in your back and straighten your neck? You should feel your tummy muscles are tighter and in a better position to heal up when you have good posture.

DiagramPosture-01-209x300

2. Nutrition.

If you are not giving your body good nutrition then you aren’t giving it the best chance to heal. Protein, zinc, iron and vitamin C are all important in wound healing and muscle repair. I know as a mum you need quick meals and often have to eat on the hoof, but you can eat still eat healthily. It is all in the preparation and mind set. Step away from the cake and focus on nutritious snacks that give you energy and fill you. Nuts, seeds, homemade granola bars, hummus, egg muffins are good examples. A bowl of fruit, Greek yoghurt (higher in protein) and a small handful of nuts is a fabulous snack. Make overnight oats with fruit and seeds the night before, ready for an instant breakfast. Bake a pile of sweet potato’s ready for lunches, then you can heat them in the microwave for lunch, top with tuna, pile some salad on the plate and it should keep you going. The diagram below is both relative for pelvic floor healing and diastasis recti.

Nutrition for pelvic floor

3. Breathing and Stress.

How much attention do you give to your breathing? Probably very little. Yet thoracic breathing can be a deal breaker. When you breath into the ribcage and not the belly you activate the intercostal muscles instead of forcing the tummy muscles out. As you breath out your pelvic floor lifts and you core activates. So breathing alone can work to strengthen your pelvic floor and lower abdominals. Stress leads to shallow breathing higher in the chest. It also affects hormones, posture in a lot of people and eating. A triple whammy. So taking time to relax, bring your cortisol levels down and calm down can be a factor. A bath, reading for 10 mins, a pilates class, it all helps.

Breathing Quote
I know how hard it can be. I’ve been there. But I also know this stuff works! I’ve closed 2 diastasis in my own body. Don’t delay, start with the tips above today.

If you want a 1-1 session for posture assessment and exercises you can use at home then get in touch I can even work over Skype.

When should I return to high intensity exercise?

Exercise can be so so key when you are a mum and so many people I work with and talk to are desperate to get back to their former routine, jeans and get time for them. Having had 2 babies and about to have the 3rd I completely get it.

Why should I wait?

  • Your pelvic floor deserves a break. After 9 months of carrying a baby it’s had a lot of extra work to do, then there is the act of pushing out a baby. It’s understandable that it may need some R&R time. Jumping back into high impact workouts will put extra pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, preventing them from recovering properly and potentially damaging them further. A weak muscle is a muscle that is easier to damage. It is NOT right to need to wear protection in your pants when you exercise. Leaks should not be the norm.

tap drip

  • Your body has had 9 months of carrying a baby around. It takes 9 -12 months to recover nutritionally, so why would it take any less time to recover your physical body?

Pilates with Priya: Baby Bump

  • You need a good, strong, solid foundation before you build. Your core is your floor. So get that strong and the rest will follow. Your lower abdominals, pelvic floor, the postural back muscles and the obliques all functions together to provide your stable base. Don’t rush into running, lifting, jumping in order to have it crumble away under you.

How long to wait:

A lot of the time this is individual and depends on your previous fitness, how many babies you have had and how your pelvic floor function and core were before. But I recommend you wait a good 4-6 months and build up slowly. Listen to your body.

Things to watch out for:

If you feel a dragging or heaviness in your pelvic floor.

Have pain in your lower back, pelvis or abdominals.

Leaks when exercising.

It generally feels uncomfortable or wrong.

THEN STOP.

Go back to working on your core, get stronger and then try again in a couple of months.

After Baby it is time to Nourish YOU.

Being a mum is amazing, it teaches you so much about yourself, it challenges you the furthest you have probably ever been challenged. There can be moments of joy, fear, hilarity, excitement, frustration and annoyance all in one hour. Your little ones are the most amazing gift and a true miracle to watch them grow.

Pilates with Priya: Newborn Baby in sling

So it is not surprising that in the midst of all the hard work of mummy hood that YOU, the mummy, can be the one that gets forgotten. Perhaps you don’t have time to eat properly, you aren’t getting proper sleep, you don’t have the time to look after yourself and there is very little You time.

The problem is your body is in recovery. For 9 months it has carried and nurtured a growing baby. That’s a lot of work. Your body has provided nutrition, your muscles have been stretched and strained by carrying the extra weight, your breathing has even adapted and your blood flow. Your hormones have been altered. Then you have given birth. No small feat, in fact a massive achievement and a massive ordeal for the body to then recover from. Mums are expected to spring back to full form in a  matter of weeks – but it can take the body a good 9 months to a year to recover nutritionally, hormonally and in strength.

So how can you help yourself?

Nourish yourself with nutritious and delicious food. It can feel like the last thing you have time to do but the inside of your body is your powerhouse. If you are not sustaining yourself then you will not be able to look after anyone else well.

almond heart

Base your meals around: good lean protein sources, wholegrains and fruit and vegetables. Plan your meals out, there is nothing worse than being starving hungry, having little time to cook and now having a clue what you are going to make.

Meal plan like a goddess: I like to meal plan on a Sunday and then bulk cook – cooking 2-3 meals in one hit works for me as it means it can all be done in a hour or so, I do all the mess, chopping and clearing up at once and can stock up my freezer too. For example today I have made a large batch of minced beef : half for a lasagne, half for the freezer, then a chicken soup using the chicken carcass and some roasted vegetable pasta sauce. So I have meals for Mon, Tues and Wed then on Thurs we may eat a meal from the freezer and Friday is a relaxed affair in our house so may be baked sweet potatoes with tuna and salad.

Stop the chocolate cake: Snack instead on proteins (nuts, seeds, yoghurt, hummus, egg muffins) and fruit/veggies. It can be hard to break the habit but it will make you feel better. Find a system that works for you – make up snack boxes ahead of time, buy in ready made snack boxes, bulk bake healthy snacks such as healthy oaty bars or my Cocao Power Balls. For that sweet treat switch over to a little bit of dark chocolate, you won’t eat as much of it and it is packed with antioxidants.

Cocao Power balls text

Move away from the caffeine and sugar rush club. It can make you feel better initially but it really doesn’t give you long lasting energy or health. Eating protein and low glycaemic index foods such as oats will lead to you having more sustained energy levels, more stable mood and will help regulate your appetite.

Sleep is the queen. Having had 2 babies who did not sleep well I know what a nightmare sleep deprivation is. Literal torture, your brain doesn’t function properly, your appetite steps up a gear, you are cranky and still have a whole day to get through. Find a way to get a decent nights sleep in, see if you can take it in turns with your partner or have a family member help in the day so you can nap. That magical work, nap!

Wine o’clock. Maybe this should be whine o’clock?! You know that 5/6pm moment when it’s all just too much and you wish bedtime would hurry it’s ass up? That’s the point I want a glass of something. I don’t see anything wrong with a glass of wine now and again, but it’s remembering that it is also a toxin and when your body is trying to recover you don’t want to overload it with other work to do. So enjoy that glass of wine, but don’t go OTT.

Relaxation Hour. Well you may not have an hour, but building in regular time for you to unwind and relax is vital. When your stress levels are high you respond to things differently. Try using a meditation app such as Headspace, go swimming, get your nails done, read a new book, go for a walk – whatever you can manage. Just do something that calms, chills and centres you.

Pilates with Priya: Take time to look after you

Mummies, you are amazing. Your bodies are amazing. Go love them, nourish them and enjoy your babies.

Look out for my next post on postnatal nutrition – the micro’s and macro’s.

C sections, the how, what and why of exercise

C-sections can be planned or emergency. I knew very little about them when I gave birth the first time and actually avoided the antenatal class on the topic! However it is really best to have some knowledge in case you have one. Some women elect to have a section, and others go through the stages of labour and then deliver their baby via section.  Around 25% of all births in the UK were delivered by section (2008).

What is a c-section?

An incision made horizontally, just above your pubic hair line.  Contrary to belief, your abdominal muscles AREN’T actually cut with this incision, it’s the outer coating of the muscle, and the cling film type structure in between the 6-pack muscles that is.  The incision is made on the outside of your body horizontally, and then your surgeon gently peels your Linea Alba apart (vertically) to gain access.  The Linea Alba runs vertically down your stomach, and separates your six pack muscles in half, above and below your belly button.  The outside incision is then sutured back together, but the inside cling film/Linea Alba is not.

I know I’m having a c-section, so I don’t need to do pelvic floor exercises, right?

If you elect to have a section, there’s a misconception that your pelvic floor will be fine.  You might think that because your body won’t be going through the stages of labour, your pelvic floor won’t be affected.  However, pregnancy itself puts tremendous pressure on your pelvic floor, as the weight of your developing baby gets bigger and bigger, and therefore weakens these muscles.  So, it’s still very important that you strengthen your pelvic floor during and after pregnancy, even if you elected to have a section.

When can you return to exercise following a c-section?

You will need to have had your Doctor’s Check up before your return to exercise after a c-section, which, depending on your Doctor’s Practice/Surgery could be 8 weeks, 10 weeks or even 12 weeks, so give them a call to see what their guidelines are.  It’s major surgery and your body will need time to heal, so my top tip is to listen to your body and don’t rush back into exercise too early.

What is recovery like after a c-section?

After a c-section, your recover time is longer than a natural birth, you may have a loss of sensation, a numbness in your abdominals especially around the scar area, and the scar tissue itself may reduce your ability to do certain movements completely pain-free.  Your pelvic floor may take a little while to activate consciously too, but keep sending the signal from your brain to these muscles, and eventually, it will switch back on, I promise.

What exercise is safe after a c-section?

Postnatal-specific Pilates-based or core exercise is probably THE best form of exercise for any new mum to be doing, regardless of the type delivery.  Pelvic floor work and then TVA core work is essential to get everything firing again and to start toning that tummy too. It can take time for sensation and nerve impulses to start working again, but it will happen. Patience and perserverance are needed. Babies teach you a lot about both of those I find 😉

 

Say NO to Sit Ups

 Sit-ups are one of those exercises that I’m really not keen on. Many people perform them incorrectly, they are not safe in pregnancy or post-birth… and yet they are often one of the main exercises people will be doing.

A sit up or any variation of this movement where you go into forward flexion , bringing your upper body towards your knees, is not a good thing for postnatal women.  In fact it can cause more harm than good as it works the tummy muscles in the wrong way.  So, if you’ve recently had a baby and you’re doing sit ups, STOP them immediately.

Pilates with Priya: Why not to Curl up after having baby

Sit ups work the tummy muscles that run vetically down the tummy, called the Rectus Abdominis but commonly known as the six-pack muscle. These lengthen in pregnancy and as your baby grows and your bump gets bigger, this muscle my start to separate around your belly button.  The abdominals can take time to come back to normal after your baby has been born, so for several weeks and indeed months after birth, these muscle remains in a lengthened, separated state.

The danger of doing sit ups in this state is that you can widen any separation you may have of the abdominals and you can actually strengthen the muscles to stay in this separated state. The long term problems with separation include the risk of a hernia (the intestines poke out as there are no tummy muscles covering them), pelvic floor weakness and it also means you won’t get a flat tummy back again.

Instead of doing sit ups, you need to focus on strengthening the pelvic floor and the Transversus Abdominis, which runs like a corset around your lower tummy. By strenghtening these muscle that are deep inside you will strengthen the body from the outside in. These muscles are your foundation, once they are working then they will help realign any abdominal separation you may have and will knit you together again.

Our specialist Postnatal Pilates class and our DVD focuses on strengthening these muscles in the correct order. So we find the lower tummy (transversus abdominus) muscle first, along with the pelvic floor. We then shorten the rectus abdominus  muscles running down the tummy. When this is strong enough and any abdominal separation has been realigned, then the other tummy muscles can be worked.