By Erica Willick, GORGO co-founder & CEO
Years after childbirth (yes, even if your kids are 10 years or older), your inner core and pelvic floor may not be rehabilitated properly from the stretch and strain of growing your babies. Your body will do as much self-healing as is possible in the first 8 weeks postpartum, after that you have to do specific exercises to re-strengthen your stretched out core to improve that lower ab pooch (and pant peeing) many of us moms still have.
After the birth of my second baby Faith, I quickly relived what I had blocked out in my mind from the last baby – remember the part where all your “middle stuff” feels messed up! Core, pelvic floor, everything! Being really into fitness, there was nothing I wanted more than to get right back into it. Yet I was lucky to have been introduced to some amazing concepts during pregnancy that helped me appreciate to SLOW DOWN and retrain before I trained. Unfortunately, not many women, or even health and fitness professionals for that matter, know the intricacies of the pelvic floor and core to know how to best support it during pregnancy as well as afterwards to help avoid the myriad of problems that can occur postpartum from the physical stress of childbearing and delivery.
With that massive gap in women’s health education, Bellies Inc. was founded by three experts in the area of pre/postnatal fitness and physiotherapy. These three women came together with the vision of more effective and innovative strategies for core health during pregnancy as well as for new moms. The founders heard too many of their clients and patients say, “Why did no one tell me this before?” when they explained to their clients that the postpartum complications they now faced could have been prevented with the right pre/postnatal exercises and systems. Conditions like prolapse, incontinence, back pain, diastatis recti and more. Bellies Inc. founders Kim Vopni, Julia Di Paolo and Samantha Montpetit-Huynh each brought their professional experience and coupled it with the most current scientific research on core health to create an innovative core program and system to help pregnant women prepare her “middle” for birth as well as teach them how to optimize her postpartum healing.
A surprising spin-off of their work, is Bellies Inc. now provides education for fitness professionals and physiotherapists through their certification programs, as too few are “in the know” when it comes to pelvic floor dysfunction, diastasis (remember, separate abs?) and core prehab and rehab.
Mummy tummy is the term the Bellies Inc. team applies to a condition called diastasis recti, which is, in technical terms a separation of the rectus abdominis muscles. Diastasis means “separation” in Latin. Mummy tummy is characterized by that poochy tummy that too many of us moms try to correct post baby with endless sit-ups and boot camps. However, mummy tummy cannot be improved with crunches or boot camps, unfortunately these can actually make the diastasis worse! Even world-class athletes and avid fitness fanatics who do the wrong type of ab exercises can develop diastasis over time.
Julia explains that it’s not the “ab gap” that is actually the problem for mummy tummy, instead “it is the stretching and weakening of the linea alba – the connective tissue that is designed to hold the two rectus abdominis muscles in place. The stretching and weakening of the linea alba leads to its inability to generate tension down that middle line of your abdomen which holds the two rectus muscles in place.”
STRONG FROM THE INSIDE OUT
It is this inward motion of the deep abdominals that helps realign or prevent your abs from separating, and keeps your inner ab band (tranverse abs) strong and tight! The deep abdominals are best activated by first engaging the pelvic floor. Kim and Julia explain “The pelvic floor is part of the core – it is the foundation – and it plays a vital role in our everyday movement yet it doesn’t receive a lot of attention mainly because we can’t see it and also because it is a ‘taboo’ area of the body for many. The pelvic floor is a network of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue that supports the spine and pelvis and helps keep our internal organs in place.”
HOW TO EXERCISE TO ABOLISH MUMMY TUMMY
The Core Breath described below, is one of eight restorative exercises developed by the Bellies Inc. team. You can get the full eight exercises in an online video series, called “Core Confidence” here
The Core Breath:
- Sit on an exercise ball and pull your bum flesh out from under you so you can really feel the sitz bones. Your reference points should be your two sitz bones and your perineum on the surface of the ball. Your feet will be flat on the floor and slightly wider than pelvis width apart.
Tip: Right after having baby, sitting on a ball – ouch! Instead sit on the edge of your bed until you can comfortably sit on a ball.
- Now put one hand on your belly and one hand on your ribs – breathe into your hands – inhale to expand. You should feel your ribs expand and your belly expand away from your spine as the air draws in and fills you up. Visualize inflating a balloon inside your and filling up the balloon with air.
- Once you have it, focus on the inhale for a few breaths - inhale to expand and feel your ribs inflate, as your belly expands and bring your awareness to your pelvic floor. Feel space between your sitz bones and a sense of fullness in your perineum. Focus just on the in-breath for a while and really connect with the feeling of expansion that each inhale brings to your ribs, your belly and your pelvic floor.
- You've connected with the inhale, now bring your awareness to your exhale. As you breathe out, feel the ribs soften, the belly move inwards and the pelvic floor lift. You may feel less fullness in your perineum, less space between the sitz bones, less awareness of the surface of the ball.
- Once you've connected with the out breath purse your lips and blow as if you are blowing out birthday candles - it should be a slow audible exhale through pursed lips. By pursing your lips, it changes the sensations of pressure and typically heightens the sensation of lift and inward movement of the pelvic floor and belly.
DO THE CORE BREATH FOR 1-3 MINUTES PER DAY
Author: Erica Willick is a co-founder of GORGO magazine. She is a UFE Bikini Pro Champion, published fitness & cover model, and heads up Sisters In Shape. In real life, Erica is an accountant, mommy & wife.