Post-natal recovery is about more than baby weight. At least it should be. But for some reason, in our society and media, there is much ado about 'losing the baby weight', but precious little awareness of what holistic post-natal recovery really means.
It's good to want our bodies back, but it's also important to realise that our physical appearance is only part of that package. We need to aspire to a return to full health, rather allow ourselves to believe that the only important thing is squeezing back into our skinny jeans (if we were ever in them in the first place).
Every woman's post-natal recovery is different, with varying priorities, and a wide range of time frames in which everything is 'sorted'. The six-week post-natal check-up as you postpartum 'checkout' is wildly inadequate as, for some, the repercussions of pregnancy can take a while to surface. Pregnancy took 9 months, and it is perfectly reasonable that our bodies can take at least that long, if not a year or more, to fully recover.
For example pelvic floor issues may not manifest until a couple of years of carrying an increasingly heavy child, or many months after returning (possibly prematurely) to running or bootcamp to shed the pounds.
Common Health Problems in Post-Natal Women
It is estimated that 2 out of 3 women who have had two or more children have diastasis recti
Otherwise known as abdominal separation, 'diastasis recti' is a symptom of excessive intra abdominal pressure. [See Diastasis Recti Infographic here]. The pressure is due to less than perfect alignment and rockets during pregnancy, sometimes failing to return to normal afterwards. The resultant gap that opens up at the front of your abs to make room for your baby doesn't always close naturally.
The gap isn't necessarily a problem. It's quite possible to have small diastasis recti gap and a stable, strong core. But when you test for it, if it is 3 fingers' width or more, core instability is likely and a whole host of associated problems may arise, such as backache, a mummy tummy 'pooch' you just can't get rid of, and problems with the way your body works 'down below'...
66% of women who have diastasis recti have pelvic floor dysfunction*.
If you have significant DR, you might also experience pelvic floor dysfunction. At some point, maybe long after pregnancy, that might entail pelvic pain, urinary incontinence, faecal incontinence, even hernia or pelvic organ prolapse.
If you needed a reason to put your pelvic health at the top of your post-natal 'To Do List', then these conditions should give you a nudge!
So, here's what to do when the realisation hits you that baby bulge may be the least of your worries...
6 Steps to Post-Natal Body Confidence
1. Focus: Find, and re-connect with, your core and pelvic floor.
2. Activate: Gently and deeply work the entire core and pelvic floor with regular, targeted workouts, and with every movement you make.
3. Strengthen: Work the transverse abdominis muscle, pelvic floor and entire core with tailored exercises, which help draw together the rectus abdominis muscle and close 'the gap' (diastasis recti).
4. Align: Improve your alignment to reduce the pressure inside your abdomen and pelvis. A great first step is to ditch heeled shoes as much as possible and wear flat or 'barefoot' shoes.
5. Nourish: Eat the right foods to aid healing of your post-natal body: lots of vitamin-loaded fresh fruit and vegetables and rich sources of 'good fats' and protein, such as nuts, seeds and oily fish. Drink lots of water to aid circulation and don't consume too much sugar, caffeine or processed foods, which stress out your body and hinder its natural function.
6. Pump it up: When the foundations of core stability are established, add high intensity, but low impact, workouts to the mix, to help you to whittle your waist and shape your body to where you want it to be.
The frustration felt by many Mums when their body doesn't 'go back' to where you want it to be, when your tummy, pelvic floor, or midsection generally just doesn't look or feel the way you'd like it to... is likely to be simply down to missing out a couple of steps.
Back up, get stable, functioning and strong first, and the sky's the limit for your future fitness and body confidence!
Steps 1-6 are all covered by MuTu System programs, which teach you how to reconnect with your core and pelvic floor muscles and to strengthen them in a controlled and effective way. When your alignment is adjusted and your core more stable, then we progress the workouts. And if fat is not an issue for you, you may very well still need to heal your core and pelvic floor. The MuTu Focus program teaches techniques that restore your pelvic health and give you a maintenance program to prevent further issues arising later in life.
*There is little research on this condition; Boissonnault & Blaschak (1988) found that 27% of women have a DRA in the second trimester and 66% in the third trimester of pregnancy. 53% of these women continued to have a DRA immediately postpartum and 36% remained abnormally wide at 5-7 weeks postpartum. Coldron et al (2008) measured the inter-recti distance from 1 day to 1 year postpartum and note that the distance decreased markedly from day 1 to 8 weeks, and that without any intervention (e.g. exercise training or other physiotherapy) there was no further closure at the end of the first year. In the urogynecological population, 52% of patients were found to have a DRA (Spitznagle et al 2007). 66% of these women had at least one support-related pelvic floor dysfunction (stress urinary incontinence (SUI), fecal incontinence and/or pelvic organ prolapse).