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That Postpartum Pouch You've Had for a Long Time May Be Diastasis Recti
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  • Most of us never had six-packs even before pregnancy, but we certainly wouldn't mind going back to our pre-baby tummy. So some of us work out and watch what we eat, but then we still have that belly pouch even when our baby is already a year old! The reason? "Diastasis recti," which literally translates to "separation of the abdominals." Your belly is sticking out "because the space between your left and right belly muscles has widened." (Actress Michelle Madrigal shared she had it after giving birth to her first child.)

    SmartParenting.com.ph reached out to prenatal and postnatal fitness specialist Mindy Lagdameo, who is also CrossFit Level 2 coach and a mom of two, to learn more.

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    What causes diastasis recti

    During pregnancy, your growing bump "causes the connective tissue between your rectus abdominis (or your ab muscles) to stretch," Lagdameo explained. "The bigger the bump or the more you gain weight, then the more the muscles get stretched. This will dictate how big the diastasis or separation will be between the muscles after the baby is out," she added.

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    Preggos who carry multiples will have a higher chance of having a bigger gap between the ab muscles. If you had it during your first pregnancy, Lagdameo said you will definitely have it in the succeeding ones. "Some women who carry small [bump] can end up with a very small diastasis during pregnancy, and it heals on its own quickly within the six-week healing period after childbirth," she shared.

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    How to tell if you have diastasis recti

    You might have had diastasis recti without knowing about it (two out of three new moms have diastasis recti). "The biggest tell of all is the mommy pouch that doesn't go away even if you try to 'suck it in,'" Lagdameo said. You may experience the following if you have diastasis recti:

    • lower back pain especially when carrying your baby
    • bad or incorrect posture
    • incontinence
    • always or easily feeling bloated
    • digestions problems such as constipation

    Ask your obstetrician for assessment. Your best bet is to find a prenatal or postnatal wellness expert such as physiotherapists or fitness coaches, like Lagdameo, who can help you check or teach you how to self-check if you have diastasis recti.

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    How to manage diastasis recti

    While the condition is not preventable, you can close the gap between your abdominal muscles (read: you can get rid of the postpartum pouch, hooray!). Lagdameo shares some tips on how you can minimize the gap during pregnancy and close it after giving birth:

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    Give your body time to heal

    The six-week postpartum recovery period is non-negotiable and a must for all moms no matter how they delivered their baby. It's crucial to wait the entire time before starting any postpartum exercises. Otherwise, it can make the gap even wider and will take longer to close.

    Wear an abdominal binder after giving birth

    CS moms are required to wear an abdominal binder, but even moms who delivered vaginally do so for different reasons. (Read more about abdominal binders here.) An abdominal binder can help you move and not put pressure on your abs while it heals.

    Don't put too much pressure on your core

    Moms who've had bigger baby bumps and those who have gained more than the recommended weight during pregnancy may need a longer time to heal or close their diastasis recti. "You can help it heal faster by avoiding movements that put to much pressure on your core," Lagdameo advised.

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    It also means delaying core workouts such as crunches, sit-ups, front planks, twisting movements, double leg raises, upward and downward dog, and backbends. You need to close the gap in your tummy first for these exercises to do good for your body.

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    Adopt a proper core and pelvic floor strengthening program

    "A good core rehabilitation program and a lot of discipline and diligence can repair diastasis recti," Lagdameo assures moms, but you will need to work out. These include a specific type of breathing technique and exercises to strengthen the deeper core muscles underneath the abdominal muscles. Extreme cases of diastasis recti, however, may need surgery.

    Strengthen your core and pelvic floor muscles before and during pregnancy

    Barring any severe complications, exercise is excellent for pregnant women. "No exercise at all will usually result in a lot of weight gained and therefore a bigger bump and bigger diastasis. Not training your pelvic floor will also result in the other side effects like incontinence," Lagdameo says.

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    Unfortunately, there's no predicting if you'll have diastasis recti or not. However, you can manage the gap, and Lagdameo says how you look after yourself during and after pregnancy will be key.

    Follow Coach Mindy Lagdameo @mamamindy.fit on Facebook and on Instagram to get tips geared specifically towards preggos and moms.

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