I really wanted to wait to write this post until I had a nice “after” picture to show my success–a picture with a nice flat stomach complete with six-pack. However, now I’m 18 weeks pregnant with baby #3, so that won’t be happening anytime soon. Might as well share the first part of the saga now.
Let me back up. I’m a very athletic person. I grew up dancing (ballet/tap/jazz) and have always been in good shape. During my pregnancy with baby #1, I gained 35 pounds (which was more than the 25 I had hoped to stick to). Baby #1 weighed 8 pounds 4 ounces. I jogged and jogged and jogged after he was born to get all the weight off. Took about eight months. Those last 5-10 pounds were very stubborn. (I later figured out that my body just likes to hold onto a few pounds while I’m breastfeeding.) But even with all the weight off, my stomach was not back to normal. It was still…smooshy. So I kept jogging. When baby #1 was 15 months old, I got pregnant with #2 and at least had a reason to look poochy.
With baby #2, I was determined to gain no more than 25 pounds. And I didn’t. Baby #2 weighed 7 pounds 12 ounces. I was determined to get my body back ASAP. I felt huge! My mid-section was a mess. After she was born, I ate a low-fat diet and immediately started jogging again. I was also breastfeeding, as I had done with baby #1. My blood sugar went CRAZY. I tend toward hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and it was kicking into high gear so to speak. My blood sugar would often get too low and I’d be shaking and breaking into a cold sweat. I even gained a few pounds, to add insult to injury. My baby actually lost weight from one checkup to the next, so her doctor told me to eat more calorie-dense foods…not what I wanted to hear since I was trying to lose the baby weight. I reluctantly gave up jogging as I was forced to accept that my body just couldn’t handle it. That helped a bit with the blood sugar levels at that point. However, later I realized the blood sugar issue was a result of needing more fat in my diet in order for my body to support my normal body function, breastfeeding, and heavy exercise. I basically put my body into emergency mode to hold onto all the fat it could for milk production. You can read more about healthy dietary fat in this post.
People just kept telling me I needed to eat less and exercise more in order to get my body back to normal. NO! NO! NO! Though that may be the answer for some (most?) people, it was definitely not the answer for me.
At that point, I decided that if I couldn’t work on dropping weight, I’d try and work on the muscle tone of my abs, since that was obviously thrashed. So I started doing sit-ups and a few other ab exercises very religiously but with VERY LITTLE results. I hated the way I looked and people asked me fairly often (at least it felt that way) about when I was due or if I was pregnant. Sigh. (Sidenote: NEVER ask a woman if she’s pregnant. All you’re going to do is make her feel fat, even if she is pregnant.)
I felt alone, ashamed, embarrassed and hopeless. What’s wrong with me??? Why can’t I get it together? And every time someone asked me if I was pregnant, it was like a knife to my heart.
When baby #2 was 11 months old, I met with a personal trainer to get professional help fixing my body. He told me that if I could do the workouts 3 times a week, then I should start seeing some good results in a couple months. Hope was restored, and to the gym I went. Faithfully. After a couple months, I definitely saw some improvement (thank goodness!), but not nearly what I had hoped for. I was starting to get some definition on the very upper abs (like a two-pack…ha!) but those lower abs were just stubborn, stubborn, stubborn. Still poochy.
(On a side note…in France, doctors can prescribe and the national health insurance plan actually covers “abdominal re-education”…basically, postpartum physical therapy to help you get your abs back to normal. I learned that when I read Bringing Up Bebe. Hmmm….)
Back to my story. Along the way, my husband kept telling me, “I think something is wrong.” I had several thoughts/reactions to that: 1) That’s just a cop-out; if I work harder and keep at it, eventually I’ll see results (though it’s taking FOREVER). 2) Something is wrong with me for not being able to conquer this issue. 3) My husband doesn’t understand what I’m going through and doesn’t have any confidence in me. 4) If something is physically wrong, what on earth could it be?
When baby #2 was 16 months old (5 months after meeting with the personal trainer), I finally got so desperate from the lack of significant results that I decided to do some research to see if there might actually be something physically wrong with me. I had lost all of the baby weight and my body fat percentage was super-low…yet I still looked pregnant. I had no idea what I was even looking for. I ended up Googling “abdominal pregnancy injury” to see what I could come up with. I ended up finding information on a condition called diastasis recti–aka abdominal split. I had never heard of this, and no one else seems to have heard of this. I think a lot of other people probably struggle with this unknowingly, which is why I really wanted to write this post.
Basically, during pregnancy (or with obesity), your abs can split apart down the middle and after baby is born you are left with a bulging belly and still look pregnant. I read somewhere that 95% of the time, your abs will naturally heal back together after the baby is born. I happen to be one of the lucky 5% that didn’t heal. I did the little test to check if my abs were split and discovered that the gap between the two sides of my abs was 3 fingers wide. Although this was bad news, it almost felt like good news in the sense that I could at least identify the problem. [Update March 21, 2013: After reading the books mentioned at the end of this post, I think the problem is much more widespread than this 5% statistic I read somewhere.]
I was happy to learn there are exercises you can do to help your body heal the split. (Click here and here for some video demos.) So hope was again restored (I had slowly been losing heart), and I started working on those exercises. Unfortunately, I also learned that traditional abdominal exercises (like sit-ups) can make the split worse. ARGH! So I had been killing myself in the gym and potentially making it worse! Somebody shoot me! But you just have to move forward. So I started my new ab routine.
About a month into the new routine, though, I got pregnant with #3 (and therefore once again had a reason to look poochy). It’s been about 5 months since I started the new routine, but there was about a 6-8 week hiatus as we traveled after Thanksgiving and then took a 5-week road trip to California for Christmas. So I’m now 18 weeks (4+ months) pregnant and have been trying to work on the split, knowing that eventually baby #3 will get big enough to make me stop. I finally gave in and stopped working on it about two weeks ago, though I probably should have stopped sooner. I just didn’t want to give up yet. You don’t want to do these exercises and have pressure (such as a baby!) pushing your abs outward. That defeats the purpose. I’ll just have to get back on it after this one is born in August. And though I’ve made a lot of progress on the split, it will probably split back open again with this pregnancy and I’ll lose some or all of the progress I’ve made. But, at least I’ll be starting off from a better place than I would have if I hadn’t done any split repair, and at least I know where to start. Forget the jogging. Fix the abs!
I’ll probably invest in a special splint and/or find a physical therapist experienced with this condition after #3 is born. Surgery is also an option, though one I really want to avoid. Hopefully, I’ll be at a better place emotionally compared to the first two postpartum experiences since I know what I’ll be up against.
Pray for me, if you’re so inclined :)
Update March 21, 2013: After posting this, I read two GREAT books on this subject by a registered nurse named Julie Tupler — Lose Your Mummy Tummy (also a DVD) and Maternal Fitness: Preparing for a Healthy Pregnancy, an Easier Labor, and a Quick Recovery. Every mom and mom-to-be should read these books! Tons of great info and exercises for keeping your body in shape before, during and after pregnancy. Hint: Sit-ups are not the answer and may actually CREATE an abdominal split even when there wasn’t one! As it turns out, you can still do ab exercises while pregnant. You can prevent a split, stop a split from getting worse, or even make a split smaller….even while pregnant! Yay! Now I’ve got some new exercises in my tool belt to fight this problem.