The Real Truth about that darn Mummy Tummy!
Moms of all shapes, sizes and nationalities can relate to the loving term, “mummy tummy”. You know what I mean – the pooch, pouch, bump, whatever you want to call it, that never seems to go away no matter how many crunches you do? Yep, that.
This tummy, for the most part, is usually (about 80 per cent) more about a condition that medical professionals are very aware of, than just extra fat. This condition is called Diastasis Recti, or in layman’s terms, separation of the rectus abdominis. Although doctors will tell you that only about 50per cent of women suffer from this (which is highly untrue), they usually say there is nothing to be done other than, “do as many sit-ups as you can” or, “if it really bothers you, you can have a tummy tuck”. Blah.
The problem with these two approaches is this:
1. Crunches are probably one of the worst things you can do if a separation is present. The reason is that diastasis is caused by any continuous forward forceful pressure on the recti (outer most abdominal) muscles. Pregnancy does this because your baby is constantly growing and if you are not trained properly to counteract this by doing transverse (deepest abdominal) muscle exercise, the recti muscles eventually get strained enough and separate. Crunches cause the same forward pressure on these muscles and can actually make a diastasis worse. Some can even see a protrusion or cone come up every time they lift their head in a typical crunch.
2. Tummy tucks are (after breast reductions) the leading cosmetic surgical procedure performed on women. Although there definitely is some extra fat that is removed (muffin top), the tummy tuck is most commonly done for diastasis and they either put a piece of mesh in the middle to connect the muscles or they actually sew the muscles themselves back together.
This is not a good idea unless you want to be sure to never do crunches again. Should you decide to go back to your regular abdominal exercise routine, remember, stitches pull and I, myself, have found separations on women who have previously undergone surgery and blown it. Not a great way to spend $10,000 if you ask me.
So what can be done? If you have a diastasis, the first thing is to avoid any and all movements that cause your abdominals to go forward in a forceful motion i.e. crunches, v-sits (pilates 100’s), bicycles, supine leg lifts, tennis, golf. I have had clients tell me that just from avoiding some of these things, they saw a visual difference without adding any new specific exercises to their regime.
Secondly, remember how you use your abdominals in everyday life. Your deepest abdominal muscles (transverse) is the one you use all day, everyday, so this one is your friend. If you have a separation, it only makes sense to use your abdominals in the opposite direction that got you in this situation in the first place.
So the next time you bend over the crib to pick up your baby, pull your belly back (using your belly button and that transverse) towards your spine while lifting. Do the same thing when pushing, pulling, coughing, sneezing and even having a bowel movement.
Heck, women should be doing this during labour and delivery. Why hold your breath, bear down and blow your abdominals to the side when you can use the strength of your abs to help push that baby out?
Lastly, strengthen those transverse and oblique muscles (middle abs that criss cross) to help encourage the recti muscles back together, alleviate back pain and strengthen your pelvic floor.
That’s the true meaning of your core, not just your “abs”. If you have a significant separation, there’s probably a good chance you have associated chronic back pain because the support system is compromised. Incontinence (urine leakage) is also a common side effect of a lack of overall core function.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, get yourself some help. Although they are very common, women in their 30’s and 40’s should not have to suffer. Because if you are now, what do you think the future holds?
Samantha Montpetit-Huynh is the mother of beautiful girls and the owner and operator of Core Expectations – Toronto’s only full service wellness team that delivers personal training, abdominal rehabilitation, nutrition, massage, chiropractic and doula services to the homes and offices of pregnant women and new moms in the GTA. www.coreexpectations.com