WORDS | JUSTINE SWITALLA
IMAGES | DALLAS OLSEN
I HAVE BEEN WORKING ONLINE HELPING MUMS POST-BABY FOR MORE THAN A YEAR NOW AND THE ONE THING THAT STANDS OUT TO ME THE MOST IS THE HUGE AMOUNT OF PRESSURE ON MUMS TO GET THEIR PRE-BABY BODY BACK TOO SOON.
Worse is that most of the time this pressure is coming from the new mum herself.
It’s great to want to get your body moving again. However, I have seen first-hand women who did too much, too soon, and have not rehabilitated their bodies very well: they are now stuck with what we call the ‘mummy pooch’. I speak very openly about diastisis recti (abdominal separation) and I honestly feel that there is a huge lack of knowledge and understanding about it. I actually knew nothing of it during my pregnancy and was told by my midwife that I didn't have it after I gave birth to my son Leo; only to be told later by my physiotherapist that I had a 3cm separation.
“Diastasis recti” translates to the separation of your abdominal muscles ("diastasis" means separation, "recti" refers to your abdominal muscles called the "rectus abdominis”). This means your belly sticks out because the space between your left and right belly muscle has widened. It's very common amongst pregnant women – around two-thirds of pregnant women have it. Pregnancy puts so much pressure on the belly and sometimes the muscles in front can’t keep their shape.
Most women who have given birth don’t know that they have abdominal separation. After you have your baby, you return to your training regime without considering the possibility. This is, until you get six or seven months post partum, and despite training and dieting like crazy you still have your ‘mummy pooch’. Maybe then you will start to ask some questions or seek out a healthcare professional’s opinion. Whenever I do a post on social media about this, I literally get hundreds of messages and emails from distressed women who didn't know that they had it and are seeking out advice and help.
When I created Fit Healthy Mums I wanted to provide an online program to focus on rehabilitating the body the right way, by healing it, rather than smashing it. This is why I worked closely with a physiotherapist during my recovery post-baby. You have to be so careful post-baby: your body has been through a lot in those nine months. It created your baby, went into labour and brought your precious bundle into the world.
The female body truly is amazing, which is why we need to focus on treating it with the care that it needs and deserves, and give it time to heal.
You really don't want to get to the stage where it is too late, because then you’ll have a ‘mummy pooch’ and could potentially need surgery to fix it.
It’s important to remember that, when it’s time to return to your exercise routine, you need to do so very slowly. You don’t want to be lifting anything too heavy, too soon, and you should avoid moves such as crunches, sit-ups, pushups, press-ups, and front planks as they will make abdominal separation worse. Some yoga poses can make it worse too, as can sitting up the wrong way or lifting up your kids. If you are unsure whether you’re affected by abdominal separation, it’s best to see a physiotherapist who specialises in post-natal care just to be safe. It’s completely worth it to ensure you are on the right track.
You need to follow a program that will help to heal your body and treat it with the respect that it deserves, particularly post-baby. Remember that it takes nine months to create a baby, so it takes nine months to recover. In my opinion your body is never the same as it is before you have your babies; I am not saying that it’s worse, it’s just different.
When I started training post-baby it felt like I was given a clean slate to start from and I just worked on getting stronger, caring for my body and being kind to myself. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to look a certain way, by a certain time. I simply took it all in my stride, one day at a time.
Being a new mum is hard enough without this added pressure of having to look lean and shredded instantly after giving birth. I was very open about my post-baby journey with my followers and shared my post-baby belly that I was left with four days after I had Leo - I still had my ‘pooch’ and was full of fluid and puffy. My body didn't really start to take its normal shape again until I was around six months post partum. I didn't do any core work for the first four months; I stuck to light weights and RPM classes.
It is challenging being a mum at times, although it is the most rewarding job in the world, it does take its toll on us from time to time. We give and give so much to our little ones, that every now and then it all gets a bit much and we have to learn that it is okay to feel that way.
One thing that helps me on those days is the support that I get from my Fit Healthy Mums community. Having support from women who are in the same boat as you is priceless and really does make the world of difference to your post-baby journey.
Be sure to ask for help when you need it and find the right support networks so that you don't feel like you are out there doing it all on your own.