A Blogazine, based out of Park Slope, Brooklyn, that features fun and interesting articles. Topics include: parenting, society, real estate, career, style, spirituality and more. Written contributions are always welcome!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Mummy Tummy Time" with Frances Darnell of Pilates Garage

Fran Darnell, Pilates Instructor at
Pilates Garage in Park Slope, Brooklyn

HSM: I had a baby about a year ago and I still feel like my stomach never really bounced back? I exercise regularly, so I've lost most of my pregnancy weight, but I can't seem to get rid of a post-partum "pot belly"? What am I doing wrong?

FRAN DARNELL: Congratulations on losing your pregnancy weight! Cardiovascular workout is great for burning fat and can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight. But if you want to flatten your tummy after pregnancy you need to do the right exercises and rebuild the abdominal muscles.

During your pregnancy your body went through many changes. The abdominal muscles had to stretch to accomodate a growing baby inside. You have identical sets of abdominal muscles on the right and left side. In the middle between the rectus abdominus, the muscles nicknamed the "six pack", there is connective tissue called the linea alba, "white line". Sometimes during pregnancy the linea alba becomes linea negra, as the line appears darker due to change in hormone levels. To create more room for the growing baby the abdominal muscles elongate and sometimes there is some stretching of the connective tissue of the linea alba. This connective tissue also becomes thinner, imagine taking saran wrap and then pulling on it from both sides. It will stretch and thin in the middle. Postpartum you are left with weak and elongated abdominal muscles and there is a possibility that you have a diastasis recti. A diastasis recti is when there is a separation between the rectus abdominus and the connective tissue has stretched and is thinner.

HSM: How do I check for diastasis?

FRAN DARNELL: You can check yourself for a diasitis. First lay down on your side, and then roll onto your back. Keep your knees bent with the soles of your feet flat on the floor. You are going to test for the diastasis in three places. First at your navel, second three inches above your navel, and third three inches below your navel. Use one hand with your fingers pointing down towards your navel and your palm facing you so your hand is at its widest. Relax your abdominals and gently press your fingers downwards into your abdomen. Try to maintain relaxed abdominals as you lift your head an inch off the floor. You are feeling for a space or hollow in the abdomen. If you feel a hollow, then you do have a diastasis. Measure how many fingers wide it is and observe how deep you feel with your fingers. Check all three points, and record this as your starting point.

If I have diastasis, are there special exercises I can do to bring the abs back together?

FRAN DARNELL: If you do have a diastasis please read the following!There is a specific technique to get the abdominals back in shape called the Tupler technique created by Julie Tupler, RN, of Maternal Fitness in Union Square, NY. The Tupler technique can be used both prenatal and postpartum, and is effective for new moms as well as moms who had their babies a long time ago.The technique focuses on strengthening the inner-most abdominal muscle, the transverse muscle. Strengthening this muscle is very important to bring the abdominals back together. If you have a diastasis the support of your spine and your organs are compromised because you do not have as much strength to support in the front of your body. Our goal for bringing the abdominals back together is to have a two finger separation or less. This is possible by strengthening the tranverse muscle used during the Tupler technique, and engaging it during all daily activities.The following are things that you should do to get the separation back together.

Things to DO:

  • DO contract the abdominals inward towards your spine. Anytime you are doing an action in which you need to stabalize whether it is to pick your baby up or defacating, be aware of how you are using your abdominals. You may be pressing your abdominals outward and bearing down. This will only encourage the diastasis to get larger. To prevent this, protect your back and to bring your abdominals together, engage your abdominals toward your spine.The following exercise is part of the Tupler technique for strengthening the transverse muscle. You can find out more about this in the Lose Your Mummy Tummy Book or DVD.

30 Second Hold
To do this: Place your hands on your abdominals one on the navel and above, the other on the navel and below. Narrow your abdominals together and then engage back towards your spine. Focus on keeping your spine still so that you do not round your back, and hold your abdominals deep towards the spine. Try holding this contraction and counting outloud for 30 seconds.

  • DO always roll to your side. Any time you are getting up or down from your back, roll to your side first to press with your hands to sit up, or lay down on you side first to roll onto your back. Using this method will help support you and prevent increasing the diastasis.
  • DO wear a splint. A splint is like a supportive girdle that wraps around your waist. It allows you to narrow the two sides of the abdominals together and keep your spine and organs supported. Always wear a splint when exercises, and when babywearing, especially when wearing the baby on your front. If you have had a "C" section avoid wearing the baby on the front until your stitches have healed.
There are specific exercises you should avoid until you have brought your abdominals together because they could actually increase the separation.

Things to AVOID:

  • Do NOT flex forward with the upper spine from a back lying position. That means no sit-ups/crunches! And no rolling back down to lay on your back. Do not do sit ups. This will encourage the abdominal muscles to develop outwards. We want the abdominal muscles to develop inwards to support your organs and your spine.
  • Do NOT do any rotation with forward flexion. That means no oblique crunches.
  • Do NOT do any activities that are high impact, such as running or step. The compression of the spine during these activities put you at risk for disk herniation because you do not have your full abdominal support.

HSM: I'm planning on having a baby again in the future, should I get back in tip top shape prior to my second pregnancy or should I wait until after?

Yes! Start to get your stomach in better shape today. By focusing on strengthening your abdominals your body you will feel stronger now as a new mom, you will feel better during your second pregnancy and your abdominals and back will be in better shape during the second pregnancy and postpartum.

The specific exercises of the Tupler technique are groundbreaking and will help you get rid of that Mummy Tummy. It is best to learn them from personal instruction so that you are performing them correctly. Once you have learned how to engage your abdominals together do it often!

To learn more about the Tupler technique visit www.maternalfitness.com.

Frances is a certified Pilates Instructor at Pilates Garage in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She received her certification as an instructor from the Kane School of Core Integration in New York. She is certified in the Tupler Technique by Julie Tupler, RN. She is also certified in pre-natal and post-natal exercise by Debbi Goodman, MSPT.

She was first introduced to Pilates at Sarah Lawrence College where she studied dance and nutrition. Frances continues to study under Bob Liekens at Power Pilates.
Her classes are fun and challenging. She enjoys helping moms-to-be and new moms reach their goals in health and fitness. Her philosophy in teaching is to inspire the joy of moving and living a healthy and balanced life. She is also a certified hang gliding instructor who has been featured on MTV. In addition she surfs and runs half-marathons. Fran also performs as a dancer in NYC.