The latest NPR article about “Flattening the Mummy Tummy” came into my world from 5 different directions today. I read (initially between clients) and then re-read and then re-re-read this article. I desperately wanted to agree however it has my radar up, to say the least. In all fairness, I am not familiar with this specific technique, I have never been to a class and I can only speak about the method within the context of how it was written in the article. I do have some concerns (read: major opinions) and would like to open up more dialogue around this and all exercise techniques in the postpartum period.
Mummy Tummy. We need to change the culture around the ‘flat is fit’ mentality. Let’s just focus on being functionally strong and well supported in our day to day lives!
10 min of exercise will cure DR. First of all, just no. No, no, no. It is a major disservice to tell women that one exercise for only a few minutes a day will fix Diastasis Recti (DR). What about how we are using our bodies the other 23 hours and 50 min? I think it is way more important to consider how we sit, stand, carry babies, lift weights, bend, squat, and carry car seats! It isn’t about ‘exercising’ the core but rather about ‘re-training’ the core. I have worked with many clients with DR and I am certain it isn’t a simple or quick fix.
The ‘sucking in’ idea has to go. Far, far away. Sucking in the tummy muscles can do more harm than help. Think about squeezing the center of a balloon. If we create excess tension in the center, where does the pressure in the balloon go? Up and down. Either direction is problematic, but especially concerning is down due to pressure and stress on the pelvic organs and pelvic floor.
Reflexive core. I do think these instructors are focusing on the involuntary contraction of the lower abdominals by utilizing an exhaling breath. This exhale is attempting to activate the reflexive core but really it is the combined function of the diaphragm, abdominals AND pelvic muscles. This is what should kick in for us naturally as we move and I use an exhale technique to help my clients retrain the reflexive core. But I don’t cue ‘tighter, tighter, tighter’ at the abdominals. I cue a coordinated contraction among the muscles. And cue the ability to generate only the appropriate force necessary for the demand of the task. A simple roll over in bed has a different contraction and demand than when we are running or jumping.
DR doesn’t have to completely close to have a strong, functional core. Not much else needs to be said here. My goals for a client are never to decrease DR by X amount. My goal is for the client to stop peeing when they sneeze or to decrease low back pain when carrying baby.
This type of exercise isn’t functional! This is already somewhat tied into my other points. But sitting cross-legged, on your hands and knees or performing this while standing doesn’t exactly replicate life. What about holding a 30 lb toddler while reaching down to pick up a heavy bag? THIS is life. And often times, the postpartum reflexive core needs to be re-trained to know how and when to kick in with variable demand situations. A suck in and hold is just not how the core system works.
A piece of me feels this preys on the desperation of women. Fix DR in 10 min over 12 weeks? Lose inches off my waist without doing anything else? I will have a completely flat tummy again? And finally....Let’s all measure and compare ourselves during class? Yikes.
I am biased. I believe all women should have access to a Pelvic Health Physical Therapist in the postpartum period for solid guidance and support. For BIG PICTURE pelvic health and body wellness over the long term (because postpartum bodies are more complex than DR and belly fat). I am also a strong proponent of home systems such as Restore Your Core and One Strong Mama because we all provide so much more than just ‘quick fixes’. I also want to mention the phenomenal Julie Wiebe, PT as I have learned a TON from her educational series!
All women’s bodies are unique. If you would like to talk about how the above relates to your specific condition, feel free to contact me on FB. If you'd like to read more, you can visit our other blogs here.