Fact or fiction: 10-minute exercise flattens ‘mommy tummy’

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Nine months of pregnancy followed by childbirth obviously takes a toll on a woman’s body. The months that follow often include a goal to get your body back to pre-baby shape – or as close as possible.

One area in particular, the “mommy tummy,” (also called the mommy pooch) is as uncomfortable as it is stubborn to eliminate. A new and trending exercise, which emphasizes heavy breathing and pressure to the stomach, promises to eliminate those inches and restore a new mom’s abdominal muscles with a simple 10-minute exercise daily.

That sounds a little too good to be true, so we checked in with Laura Ward, PT, DPT, an orthopedic and women’s health physical therapist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. She weighed in, and also gave tips for moms seeking to get back in shape and what moms-to-be can do to get ahead of the game.

 

First of all, is there an underlying cause to these ‘stubborn inches’ after childbirth?

During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles stretch apart to accommodate the growing fetus. After birth, the muscles don’t always bounce back, leaving a pouch or a condition called diastasis recti.

Ward says the biggest sign of diastasis recti is a “cone” that can be present at the midline of your abdomen when attempting to sit-up from lying down, or doing a mini crunch.

 

Can this 10-minute exercise really eliminate diastasis recti?

The exercise is typically performed while sitting cross-legged, usually on your back with hands on your belly – specifically, with your fingers on your belly button. You then take a big enough breath to let your belly expand fully. As you exhale, suck in your belly muscles as much as possible.

Ward says the exercise is based on good ideas, but questions the dependability of the same results for everyone.

“With proper deep breathing, you do activate your Transverse Abdominus, or TA, muscle. That is a deep abdominal muscle, which is activated with pulling your tummy toward your spine,” explains Ward.

Ward agrees the cue for squeezing in your belly button is key to helping reverse diastasis recti.

She cautions the exercise is only working on half the needed muscles to truly fix the problem.

“It misses the activation of Rectus Abdominus muscles; those are the ones that separate during diastasis recti. Just activating your TA alone isn’t enough,” she says.

 

So what should new moms who have diastasis recti do?

Ward says start with diaphragmatic breathing (as described in the ‘10-minute exercise’ program), but then follow up with a physical therapist for assessment and individual exercises.

“There are many more exercises that can assist with common ‘new mom’ complaints to help with neck pain, upper back pain, sciatica pain, pelvic pain, hip pain and abdominal discomfort. But they need to be individualized to get the biggest benefit,” explains Ward.

 

What can pregnant women do to potentially avoid diastasis recti altogether?

Ward says pregnant women can use the same exercises even with their pregnant belly.

“Again, breath is key here.”

 

Are there certain exercises that should be avoided?

YES! Ward says crunches or planks should be avoided in the first few months of postpartum.

“Those exercises can be too stressful to the abdominal muscles that have just been stretched by making a home for the baby,” she says.

 

Is getting back to pre-baby shape possible?

Maybe. But Ward cautions against overly focusing on that goal.

“Our bodies change with carrying babies and giving birth. They are supposed to. That doesn’t mean you have to be unhappy with your body or live with pain.”

There are great resources to help moms and moms-to-be. Ward says the best time to start exercises is if you are currently pregnant or recently postpartum, but you can always get an assessment from a physical therapist. 

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