By maternal health expert Wendy Powell, the founder of the leading medically recommended postpartum support programme, MUTU System, working with over 70,000 women in more than 150 countries – previously including Kate Middleton and P!NK.
Do you have a pregnant looking stomach even though you had your baby months ago? Is your post-pregnancy belly not squidgy, or jelly-belly like, but more pregnant looking, as if you were 5 months pregnant again?
One factor could be diastasis recti, the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles at the midline of your stomach. It is believed that 100% of women have some level of diastasis of the rectus abdominis in the third trimester and for many women the gap remains widened at 8 weeks, and may remain unchanged at 1 year postpartum. The result can be a ‘pooching’ or ‘doming’ of your stomach, especially when coming up from a lying position on your back. This can be particularly confusing if the rest of your body is relatively lean or slim, but the mummy tummy hasn’t gone away. It doesn’t *feel* like excess fat, because it’s firm and sticks out, literally like when you were pregnant.
Sometimes it gets worse throughout the day, getting bigger at the end of the day or after a big meal. Bottom line, you’re fed up with being asked when the next one’s due, and can’t understand why the rest of your body has pretty much ‘gone back’, but the pregnant looking stomach remains.
There are many factors which could be contributing to the persistent mummy tummy, most of which are caused by everyday subtle behaviours which we can address over time.
This applies especially if your belly seems to get bigger throughout the day, or if you feel bloated or uncomfortable after eating. There could be excess sugar in your diet, and/or you could have developed an intolerance to certain foods. All of these will cause swelling and bloating, as undigested food in your intestine is literally ‘pushing’ your stomach outwards.
Begin by cutting out processed foods, including sugar, and try cutting out wheat and dairy for a few weeks. None of these foods are necessary for a healthy diet so you won’t come to any harm by removing them for a while! Very often women complain of bloating which varies throughout the day – if this is the case for you, then your muscles are not to blame, this is a food and/or digestive issue.
Clean up your diet as much as you can, drink plenty of water and herbal teas to encourage digestion and eat plenty of fibre in the form of whole fruits and vegetables, high quality protein with every meal and limited carbs, such as wholegrain rice, quinoa, rye, oats and spelt (Note: the last 3 grains on this list contain gluten… you may be intolerant to all gluten-containing foods, so if the problems persist, you may need to go totally gluten-free).
Nevertheless, the best place to start is by cutting out sugar, as it may well be all you need to cut out. You will start to see a dramatic difference when you do this and it will make you feel a whole lot more comfortable.
The second possible cause is your posture, or more correctly, your alignment. The posture of pregnancy and mothering doesn’t do the profile of our tummies any favours! Imagine your pelvis is a bowl of water, which you have to keep upright to stop the water spilling… If you are over-arching your back OR tucking your tailbone underneath you, then your pelvis is not optimally aligned, and the outward pressure on the rectus muscle (the one that splits with a diastasis) as well as the downward pressure on your pelvic floor, is increased. It also further weakens your transverse muscle, the important one to strengthen to get a flat tummy.
The ‘wrong’ core exercises
Another potential reason you may be suffering with mummy tummy, is that you may be doing the wrong exercises on that part of your body. Although you are ‘exercising your core’, it is possible to go through the motions of these exercises without engaging the transverse muscle correctly. The key is what your lower abdomen looks like as you do them.
Does it bulge out at all? If so, you are unknowingly increasing intra-abdominal pressure and training the muscles to push outward still further. You may be ‘bearing down’ or pushing (yes, this relates to your pelvic floor muscles too!) when you want to be achieving the opposite. When you engage your transverse muscles correctly, the lower abdomen should hollow inwards as the muscle contracts.
Although this has been touched upon, it is important that you regain optimal core function and strength. You will need to address how you move and breathe, how you work out, especially how you exercise your abs, as well as your nutrition and hormone balance. Traditional core exercises such as crunches, sit-ups or planks could make it worse, so foundation core exercises specifically designed for a mother’s body are recommended.
MUTU System is recommended by the NHS Apps Library and specialist Women’s Health Physical Therapists around the world as effective for women with diastasis recti. The MUTU program has been designed to address the physiological complexity of a body that has carried a baby, however, you gave birth, and however long ago you had your babies. The result is a functional and strong core and a tummy that looks and feels more like you want it to, empowering you to get on with your life and get back to the activities you love. You deserve a body that works and that makes you feel good!
A bloated, painful and swollen abdomen CAN be a sign of something very serious like ovarian cancer – this is not intended to scare you, but simply to say that there’s no harm in getting checked out if you’re really concerned. This is the least likely of the lot but ensuring you at least check could make all the difference!