After I had The Boy, I was shocked at what my midsection looked like. Horrified, really. “What happened here?!?!??” Postpartum bellies just look weird (and they’re supposed to). I would never in a million years have taken a picture but here’s a pretty typical tummy:
However, my belly button had also disappeared. I just didn’t have one any more. Not an innie, not an outie…there was a discolored blotch in the vicinity where a belly button used to be but that was all that remained of my own umbilicus. And when I was holding my new baby up on my chest, if he stretched a little leg down into my tummy it HURT. Like something was ripping. A baby foot shouldn’t feel like it’s tearing your midsection apart. I thought it was just the stretch marks, that they were tender and that weird tearing feeling would subside…but it never did.
When I was 8.5 months pregnant with The Girl I learned about diastasis (or diastasis recti), which is a separation of the abdominal muscles. One of the symptoms is that your belly button becomes an outie after being an innie previously; I’ve never seen anyone say that diastasis can make a belly button disappear but I was convinced that’s what I was experiencing. I couldn’t tell for sure how big or deep it was because there was a baby’s back in the way but I’m confident that I had a sizeable separation. The tell-tale signs of diastasis are:
- protruding tummy (a “pooch”)
- low back pain
- pelvic floor problems/stress incontinence (that’s the polite way of saying you leak pee when you cough, sneeze, or laugh)
- general core weakness
After I had The Girl, I started working out with Fit2B. Fit2B is an online fitness studio that is diastasis aware (surprisingly, many health and fitness professionals know little about diastasis, or believe it’s only worth worrying about when it’s severe and recommend surgery for treatment). I also splinted my abs for several weeks after her birth as well, and after that I at least had a belly button again (!). However, last fall I realized I needed more help. Bethany (the genius behind Fit2B) is always raving about The Tummy Team and how they helped her heal. The Tummy Team is in Washington so I thought it would be impossible to go there…but they now have an online program! I signed up for the Core Foundations, which is an 8-week program to rehab your core. I learned so much about alignment and my core during this program. And – I dropped jeans size! Without losing weight. Actually I don’t have a scale so I don’t know for sure that I didn’t lose any weight, but I eat chocolate chip cookies pretty much every night so it’s not likely I lost weight. I exchanged a pair of jeans I got right before starting the program for a smaller size, and by the time I finished those jeans were a bit loose, so I may have actually dropped 2 sizes; I just couldn’t exchange them again at that point.
My favorite part of Core Foundations was learning how to do everyday things like move clothes from the washer to dryer in a diastasis-friendly way (or, your dryer could break! Then you wouldn’t have to worry about that one at all! Except then you couldn’t snug up your newly loose jeans.). I don’t think my separation is closed all the way – I don’t check it very often at all – and I could definitely stand to tone up a bit more in the midsection (it’s still obvious that I am, in fact, a mother). But I have much better posture and much better functional strength – like I’m able to sit up straight for much longer now, and I even noticed yesterday that slumping was uncomfortable. That is a HUGE win for me. When I was going through the program I wondered if I would ever get to the point where sitting up straight was more comfortable than slumping. I’m not all the way there yet but I’m creeping along, turtle-style. And, I’m still nursing The Girl which reportedly lengthens ab recovery time, especially because that is one time I just get comfy and don’t worry about posture at all (that is NOT what Kelly of The Tummy Team recommends, by the way!).
Several people have asked me what the difference is between The Tummy Team and Fit2B, and which I would recommend if I could only recommend one. The difference between them is that The Tummy Team is a specific rehab program for your core, while Fit2B is more general fitness that incorporates core work. I can’t recommend only one! If you can only afford one, I would say it depends on how severe your diastasis is and how weak or strong your core is. Some people are able to close their diastasis with Fit2B workouts alone. If you have a wide separation and/or a weak core, I would recommend The Tummy Team‘s program first. But, I do think it’s best to follow up with Fit2B, or do both simultaneously. Being aware of alignment and protecting your core is a completely different way of thinking so whatever you choose to do for fitness, it’s important that you not exacerbate your diastasis or undo all your hard work to fix it.