'Mummy tummy': More than meets the eye


'Mummy tummy': More than meets the eye

Physical therapy exercises can help

Kimberly Hoffman

Sunday, January 05, 2020

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AFTER nine months of housing their babies, mothers, oftentimes, are left with a not-so-small reminder of their tiny occupants: A protruding tummy.

“It's ugly”. “It's depressing”. “I have tried everything, I am frustrated”. “My spouse doesn't look at me the same”. “I just want it gone”. “I just haven't felt the same since having my baby”. These are just some of the typical answers given by mothers when asked to describe how they felt about their tummy after pregnancy.

Efforts to get rid of their 'mummy tummy' usually end in frustration, as exercises seem to make the problem worse, and fad diets, creams and waist trainers only reduce their bank account balances and not their pouches.

What most mothers don't know is that they may actually have a medical condition known as diastasis recti.

Your 'mummy tummy' may have a name: Diastasis recti

The journal Current Women's Health Reviews defines diastasis recti as a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle, more commonly known as the 'six pack'.

While these muscles are usually associated with elite athletes and movie stars, we all have them. Generally, they are underdeveloped and hidden beneath layers of fat.

During pregnancy, the prolonged tension of the 'little tenants' on the abdominal wall causes the connective tissue that runs down the centre of the rectus abdominis to weaken, resulting in a separation of the muscles that causes a bulge in the abdomen — this bulge is the infamous 'mummy tummy'.

Though it is most commonly diagnosed in mothers post-partum, it can occur in obese males or females and after certain strenuous core exercises.

More than meets the eye

Research states that approximately one-third of women have a diastasis recti following their first pregnancy, and as much as two-thirds will develop the condition after their second and subsequent pregnancies.

It is, however, frequently undiagnosed, leaving women to accept their protruding abdomen as their new norm.

A separation of 2.7 cm (two finger spaces or more) at the level of the navel is typically how the condition is diagnosed.

The key problem caused by diastasis recti is the decrease in functional abdominal strength, leading to muscular imbalance and loss of coordination. The larger the separation, the weaker the muscle, and this weakness causes a decrease in the overall integrity of the abdomen, which can lead to other related problems such as lower back pain, pelvic girdle pain and pelvic instability.

Further complications of diastasis recti include hernias, urinary incontinence, uterus prolapse, and other disorders of the pelvic floor.

Physical therapy exercises can help

Don't be fooled by celebrities who have seemingly 'snapped back' immediately after pregnancy. Surgery is an expensive and invasive option, but a structured exercise programme prescribed and overseen by a specialist, and education on improving posture and simple daily activities can correct diastasis recti.

Physical therapy focuses on strengthening the deepest abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor. However, it is important that exercises are guided by a physiotherapist, as certain go-to core exercises such as planks, sit-ups and crunches can worsen diastasis recti.

There are beneficial and scientifically proven programmes out there. The Fourth Trimester is one such programme; it starts with an information session where the patient is given the forum to open up about issues the mother may be having after pregnancy. This is followed by a thorough assessment to confirm diastasis recti or any pelvic floor disorder, mothers are educated on the findings and taught the do's and don'ts of their condition.

What is most important is that the patient understands that they are not broken or doomed and that with their cooperation their 'mummy tummy' can be rectified.

Mothers are also taught various 'mummy-safe' core exercises, breathing techniques and how to adjust their daily activities such as lifting the baby, breastfeeding, stooping, getting in and out of bed, to avoid additional stress and discomfort in the tummy.

They are often reminded of the strength of the woman and how amazing their bodies are to be able to bring forth such a miracle.

Let's encourage all women to be in control of their own health and bodies. Mothers who suspect that they may have a diastasis recti should consult their health care provider and seek the relevant treatment.

Kimberly Hoffman is a registered physical therapist at BodyForte Limited. She is also a member of the executive body for the Jamaica Physiotherapy Association.

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