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We all experience the physical and emotional changes that accompany pregnancy and postpartum differently, including the impact these experiences have on body image, confidence and self-esteem.

You have permission to feel all the things you feel even when it means you're holding completely contradictory emotions all at once—what I call the "Paradoxes of Parenthood." For example, loving the new softness of your belly while your baby rests on it dreamily, yet still feeling frustrated that you're unable to button your old jeans. I know, I've been there!

Through the experiences of working with hundreds of pregnant and postpartum individuals (and being a postpartum mom myself), I've come to learn that the topic of healing the core can be emotionally charged. Your core changes dramatically in pregnancy and what many people don't know is that healing the postpartum core must be done with a gradual, methodical, and safe approach.

What really happens to your core post-baby

I'm often asked about diastasis recti (the medical name for abdominal separation) and believe that education is key when it comes to minimizing and rehabilitating this condition.

It helps to better understand how and why the abdominals separate. The linea alba is a thin sheath of muscle tissue that stretches along the front midline of the abdomen. Under pressure, such as during pregnancy, this muscle sheath stretches and instead of holding the abdominal muscles in close proximity as they typically would, the muscles give to accommodate the growing belly.

The research in this field is evolving, but we can glean a few things from what we know now:

  1. Most of us are affected by diastasis at some point in pregnancy.
  2. The body does "some amount" of healing on its own in the initial stages postpartum without any additional intervention.
  3. The body benefits from (and needs) our help (ie: exercise training and physical therapy) as there is a limit to the healing that naturally occurs.

I generally assume that all of my postpartum clients have some degree of separation. If you've had a baby, you should assume you do too.

How do you know if you have abdominal separation?

If you're curious, it's possible to check yourself for abdominal separation. The test involves placing your fingers above and then below your belly button while doing a small sit-up. If you can feel any bulging or separation between your fingers, then chances are, you have an abdominal separation.

If you try this at home and feel separation, please try not to worry! Find comfort knowing that this is very common and that there are strategies you can employ right away to facilitate the healing process.

Personally, I'd suggest asking a professional for a thorough assessment at the 6-10 week mark. You can ask your healthcare provider at your postpartum check-up, or can connect with a pre- and postnatal fitness specialist, or reach out to a women's health physical therapist.

Independent of your timeline postpartum, the priority is focusing on strengthening your pelvic floor and the deep abdominal muscles which lie under the rectus abdominis, or your "six-pack muscles." These deep muscles are known as the Transversus Abdominis (TVA).

Strengthening the abdominals after birth, and specifically the TVA and pelvic floor, is much like building a house. We begin by establishing a solid framework and foundation. By working on strengthening the deepest muscles first, then focusing on the more superficial layers when the body is ready, there's a greater likelihood that your abdominals will realign to their original structure and function.

This foundation provides the integrity necessary to keep up with the busyness of being a mom and allows you to return to higher intensity activities such as running, skiing, climbing, or heavy lifting.

How to start healing the core

Here are the top recommendations to begin the healing process and prevent the abdominal separation from getting worse:

1. Gently and regularly reconnect to your core in everyday life by working on your alignment. Your goal is to find "neutral" alignment as much as possible. In this position, you should notice your inner core muscles (TVA) as they gently flicker to life.

2. Utilize diaphragmatic breathing or "belly breathing" to further connect to the core. With practice, you can begin to strengthen the core with this simple breathing exercise.The practice is much more than simply bringing your belly button back toward your spine. This blog article does an excellent job explaining how to do this well utilizing a "wrapping motion."

3. Practice inhaling through the nose and actively breathe into the rib cage laterally—allowing belly to gently expand. On the exhale, practice actively drawing the belly back toward your body with a wrapping motion utilizing your TVA. You can imagining the rib cage knitting together side-to-side.




4. In forward leaning positions in which your abdominals experience additional pressure, such as hands and knees, bending from hips, hinging to lift a car seat or stroller, placing baby in a crib etc, utilize "bracing" for support. Bracing is a combination of good alignment with an exhale breath to hug belly back toward spine.

5. Practice log rolling instead of jack-knifing to sit up. To practice this, move to the side with your legs narrowed and push yourself out of bed from the side with a log-rolling action. Utilize support from your upper body while bracing with your core and breath.


6. Refrain from movements and actions that strain the abdominal wall or increase intra-abdominal pressure; i.e. straining, heavy lifting, intense torso rotations, full planking.

7. Avoid traditional abdominal exercises, like crunches, sit- ups and leg lifts. Instead, focus on corrective exercise that begin by strengthening the TVA first.

8. Be mindful of anything that makes belly bulge. You might notice this while attempting abdominal exercises, especially those that target the top layer of abdominal muscles, or those that are more challenging. Look for "doming" or "pooching" and back off if you see it as this is a sign that your core is not quite ready for the exercise you're attempting. Remember that your core is healing. We want to work on strengthening the inner layer of muscles first so we avoid continuing to stretch an already vulnerable and healing core.

9. Hands-on work in the form of massage and soft tissue strategies are proving to be effective and important. As the research continues to evolve, it's becoming more and more clear that "healing" diastasis requires a multi-disciplinary approach. So, reach out to a qualified Women's Health PT to ask about their experience using these modalities to help with healing.

10. Practice patience and connect with specialized professionals who have the skills to help you progress with safety and efficiency.The path to healing postpartum will look a little different for every mama, but these techniques are helpful in ensuring your core strengthens a little a time.

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So far 2020 has been a year of big changes for Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. Earlier this month the royal couple announced their plans to step back as senior members of the royal family. Initially, the plan was for the couples to retain their royal tiles and raise their "son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born" while also give themselves the space to work and live in North America. Sometimes young parents have to make tough choices to do what's best for their new family and that can mean making changes that impact your family of origin.

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On Sunday, during a speech at a charity event for Sentebale (an organization Prince Harry co-founded to get support children living with HIV in Southern Africa), the Duke of Sussex explained that stepping back from being a senior royal wasn't easy but had to be done.

"The UK is my home and a place that I love," he explained. "That will never change...The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly," he said. "It was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges. And I know I haven't always gotten it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option."

This follows the Queen's announcement earlier this weekend. She stated that her family has found a way for Harry and Meghan to move forward, and it means they're not only not senior royals anymore, they do not have HRH titles (His Royal Highness or Her Royal Highness) anymore and "are no longer working members of the Royal Family."

The statement from the Queen reads, in part: "Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family.

"Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family.

"I recognise the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life.

"I want to thank them for all their dedicated work across this country, the Commonwealth and beyond, and am particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family.

"It is my whole family's hope that today's agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life."

The Queen's statement explains that Harry and Meghan have "shared their wish to repay Sovereign Grant expenditure for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their UK family home."

Basically, they're serious about being financially independent and they're going to pay rent on the cottage.

Untangling family issues can be hard, and it is difficult for anyone to imagine what it must be like to live this out on the world's stage. In her statement, the Queen said she understands the role the intense press scrutiny has played in the couple's decision to forge a new path, and that they will always be her family.

Whether you're leaving the royal family to move to Canada, or just trying to explain to your parents that your own family needs to move to another state, the challenges are real.

Here's to a new chapter for Harry and Meghan and all the other new parents writing their own stories.

[This post was originally published January 18, 2020. It has been updated.]

News

Motherhood is a juggling act. Whether you have one child or many, work outside the home or don't, have a partner or are doing this whole thing solo, you are always juggling something. So how on earth do we keep up the act? How do we ensure no ball gets dropped?

We don't.

All of us, every single one, lets something slip through our fingers on some occasion or another. And that's totally okay.

A friend from college recently commented on Instagram how peaceful and sweet my children seemed. I laughed out loud, and not an endearing chuckle, a wholehearted cackle. What a glorious and erroneous idea that my children are peaceful and sweet. I have three of these beautiful monsters, ages 12, 5 and 4 months. Our house sounds more like a child run circus than a zen meditation retreat.

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It is true that my children are sweet at times. And I will admit I try very hard to create a peaceful life and home, but those are not the two words I would ever use to describe our family. I might choose words like rambunctious, spirited, passionate and intense.

What I realized as I simultaneously smiled and snorted in laughter, was that I put a lot of work into creating a life on social media that looks just like that. Peaceful and sweet. I choose my words carefully, I edit my photos and of course choose only the best ones, the ones where everyone is smiling and we appear to love each other. The pictures of my children pulling each other's hair, stealing snacks and shouting that they hate each other don't get quite as many likes.

Don't get me wrong—my children often smile and we do love each other very much. But by carefully curating the life I post on social media I have unintentionally created something laughable. What a jolt to realize the very thing I'm striving for makes me laugh out loud when someone names it. Is there anything more inauthentic than that?

I am working to strive for authenticity and perfect imperfection.

I make mistakes, hurt those I love, burn dinner and that is what makes me human.

I drop the ball every single day in some large or small way—and that's okay. It is to be expected really.

It's what can give us the gift of connection. We can connect with one another via our faults and our vulnerabilities. We starve ourselves of this by pretending to be perfect.

As I write this I'm sitting in the front seat of my car in the parking lot of our local skate park, my youngest is napping in his car seat, my oldest is wearing a helmet and pads and is driving his new BMX bike as fast as he can up and down hills and ramps set at odd angles with weird curves among them.

This moment feels ideal t. The breeze blows through my open windows as my oldest is getting a great workout and my youngest slowly wakes up cooing.

We can only enjoy the moment if we are present within it. When I live my life constantly in a state of distraction, constantly keeping my eyes on all the balls I'm juggling, I'm not enjoying any of it.

I am not a master juggler at this moment in life. I don't think what I'm doing even looks like juggling. I do not have my eyes on all the balls, I am not even attempting to catch or toss them all in that perfect arc that looks so magical.

I prefer to relish these kinds of moments, soak up their joy, their peace, their sweetness and to do that I have to let go of the charade, I have to accept imperfection in the form of letting some balls drop.

I want to live a life full of authenticity and joy in the simple moments.

I want to live without the pressure of doing it all.

I want to give myself the gift of not doing everything the way it should be done by the imagined deadlines that cannot be met.

I want to enjoy my rambunctious, passionate children.

So I let the ball drop—and I'm okay with that.

Life

Feeding your new baby can be a beautiful experience, but it can also be really hard. We at Motherly have talked about it. Amy Schumer has talked about it. And now Kate Upton is talking about it, too.

Upton and her husband Justin Verlander became parents when their daughter Genevieve was born in November 2018, and in a new interview with Editorialist, Upton explains that while she loves motherhood she didn't always love breastfeeding.

"Having VeVe has changed my life in such a wonderful way," she explains, adding that in the early days of motherhood she felt "so much pressure"..."to be doing all these things, like breastfeeding on the go—when the reality, for me, was that breastfeeding was sucking the energy away from me. I realized I needed to calm down, to allow my body to recover."

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Breastfeeding can take up a lot of a mama's time and energy in those early weeks and months, and while Upton doesn't explicitly say whether she switched to formula, combo fed, pumped or what, it's clear that she did give herself some grace when it came to breastfeeding and found the right parenting pace by taking the pressure off of herself.

Upton took the pressure off herself when it came to her demanding breastfeeding schedule, and she's also resisting the pressure to keep up with a social media posting schedule.

"I want to be enjoying my life, enjoying my family, not constantly trying to take the perfect picture," she says. "I think my husband wants me to throw my phone away. We talk about it in the house all the time: 'Let's have a phone-free dinner.' We don't want [our daughter] thinking being on the phone is all that life is."

Whether the pressure to be perfect is coming from your phone or from society's conflicting exceptions of mothers it's a force worth rejecting. Upton is loving life at her own pace, imperfect as reallife can be.

News

After the treat-filled sugar rush of holidays and birthdays, it can be hard to get back on track with eating healthy as a family. (What can I say, I love cake—and my kids do, too.) It's totally okay to hold your boundary for sugar in your kid's diet, no matter what that boundary is. And you can do it without being the bad guy.

Putting a positive spin on "the sugar issue" (letting kids know that they can have treats sometimes, but not all. the. time.) will help prevent sugar becoming an ongoing power struggle, which nobody wants.

Here are a few phrases that can help your kids eat less sugar, without creating a power struggle over treats:

1. "Holiday and birthday treats are so fun, but they're not for every day."

Acknowledge that all of the extra treats were fun (they were!). You can talk about how some foods are for special occasions and others are the ones we eat every day to have strong bodies and feel good.

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2. "I feel so much better when I eat lots of fruits and vegetables."

Instead of putting the emphasis on why sugar is bad, try focusing on all the good reasons to eat healthy foods. You can talk about how eating carrots gives us strong eyes, eating oranges keeps us from getting sniffles, or eating kale helps us feel good and have lots of energy for playing.

3. "Which fruit would you like to have with your lunch?"

Keep it fun by letting your child choose which healthy foods to eat. Two or three choices are fine. You can let them help pick at the grocery store or let them pick from the options you've selected—the important thing is to offer choice.

4. "Let's see if we can make a rainbow on your plate!"

Who doesn't love rainbows, especially among the under-six crowd? Use their universal appeal to your advantage and encourage kiddos to make their own edible rainbows.

Make it extra fun by writing a checklist with colored pencils, one checkbox for every rainbow color, and bringing it with you to the grocery store. Let your child choose one item from the produce section for every color.

5. "You can choose one treat with dinner, but candy isn't a choice for snack today."

Make sure kids know that they will still be able to enjoy treats sometimes. Instead of saying "candy makes you crazy," or "sugar rots your teeth," just let them know when you're okay with them having a treat. It may be every night after dinner, only on Friday nights, or it may not be until Valentine's Day, but having a clear boundary will help reduce the constant pleas for sweet treats.

6. "I think treats feel more special when we don't have them every day."

Talk to your child about how part of the fun of holiday treats is that they're out of the ordinary. They are special traditions we get to enjoy each year and they help make the holidays feel magical. Just as it wouldn't be as fun if we had a Christmas tree up all year or wore a Halloween costume every day, treats aren't as fun if we eat them nonstop.

7. "I hear that you really want candy. I can't let you have it right now, but it's okay to be disappointed."

Let your child know that you empathize with their feelings about not being able to eat what they want all of the time.

Sometimes children just need to be heard. It might be more important to them to know that you understand their feelings about treats than to actually get a treat.

8. "Let's think of a healthy treat we could get at the grocery store next week."

Brainstorm with your child and come up with a list of healthy treats you could bring home from your next grocery shopping trip. This might be a kind of fruit they haven't had in a while, a granola bar you don't usually buy, or the makings of a fun trail mix.

Part of the fun of treats is the ritual—you can still enjoy the sweetness without the extra sugar.

9. "Would you like to bake with me?"

Carry those fond memories of making Christmas cookies together into the new year to help wean kids off the holiday high of constant treats. Just find something you're okay with your child eating regularly, like a healthy muffin recipe, baked oatmeal, or energy bites—whatever meets your own nutritional guidelines for your family!

10. "I noticed you didn't sleep well when you ate those treats before nap time. Let's think of a better time for treats together."

You can explain the effects of sugar on the body without vilifying it. Sometimes just saying sugar is bad makes it all the more desirable or pits you against your child. But that doesn't mean you can't give them the facts. Just tell them plainly that sugar makes it harder for them to sleep well, makes it harder for them to concentrate, or whatever other effects you've seen.

Here's to a healthy 2020—you've got this, mama!

Learn + Play
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