Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I want my body back

Two pregnancies later I can say I am starting to feel happy with my body again.

Having kids is one of the most beautiful events in life, but one of the hardest and the most taxing on a female body.  You find yourself loving these tiny human beings more than you could ever imagine and your life becomes a chaos of baby bottles and spit ups, swimming lessons and carpools.  In the middle of all you find yourself looking back at pool party pictures from a pre-baby era that once represented the life you lived.  Those same pictures have now been replaced with images of cute dirty faces of your baby learning to eat at dinner time.  You think to yourself: Oh my! I used to have a flat belly! What happened!? I’ll tell you what happened.  Pregnancy takes a toll on your body and you look down and you see stretch marks, lose skin and worse of all, the mommy pooch. Furthermore your pelvic floor is weak, you are fatigued all the time because of the sleepless nights and if you are anything like me, you feel the pressure to be back to your pre pregnancy weight/body not feeling good about yourself. You end up being a mom. That’s it.  All is not lost though.  It takes time, it takes self love and some extra care.  With some good tips and exercises things start going back in place and you feel a little closer to your old self again.
There are a couple of things I wanted to share with you that I learned about my body.  I think you’ll find them useful as well as on your journey to getting back in shape.  Let’s start with two big issues most post baby bodies that should not be ignored - pelvic floor muscles weakness and abdominal muscles separation.

After having kids, I used to pee when I sneezed or coughed – embarrassing to say the least!  Pelvic floor weakening happens to all of us.  Yes, they say Kegel exercises are necessary and you should do it every time you are at a stop light. I agree, but to regain your floor muscles strength you need just a little more than that.    
What you don’t hear much is that weak floor muscles can lead to constant UTIs and later in life serious dysfunctions.  Pelvic floor muscles provide support for various organs in men and women.  Uterine prolapse, urinary incontinence, constipation, all happen due to weakened floor muscles.  Doing Kegels correctly will help you strengthen those muscles and avoid future complications. Not to mention the added bonus of better s-e-x.

How to properly do Kegels 

You’ve been doing Kegels wrong all along. Here is how you regain strength in your pelvic floor muscles.  While sitting or lying down on your back, contract your pelvic floor muscles for 5 seconds as if you were stopping the urine stream – Your abdominal muscles should not move during this exercise.  If you find that you are moving too much of other muscles you can try to find the pelvic floor muscles while actually urinating by trying to stop the stream.  Then relax for 5 seconds - push out slightly as if starting to have a bowel movement.  Repeat 5 times. Once you have mastered 5-5-5, then you can up the seconds and repetitions to 8-8-8, then 10-10-10.  It is important to relax for as long as you squeeze for these exercises to more effective.  Do this at least 2 times per day. You can still do the short ones squeeze 1 second, relax 1 second at the light in addition to the long ones. To make it easier search for Kegel apps.  Yes, they exist.  And they make your life much easier with reminders and timers and sound cues to squeeze and relax.  I usually do mine on the way to or from somewhere, in the car, while answering the “why” questions.  I’m happy to report that I no longer have to cross my legs when I feel a sneeze coming.

My once flat belly is now protruding out even after I lost almost all the weight – I remember looking at a picture of a pool party I went to before my husband and I decided to start having kids.  My stomach was so flat then.  The muscles were not stretched out.  I did not have a mommy belly. I remember thinking.  I don’t want people to know I have kids just by looking at my belly.  Once you have kids of your own, you start to learn to identify the other women who had babies.  Even if they are slim you can still see the muscles look different.  I want people to know I am a mother because they see me with my kids or because I proudly told them of the silly things my kids say or do.  And when they learn I am a mother I want to hear “Oh wow! You look amazing!”
After my son was born my husband gave me as a gift work out sessions with a trainer. I looked fit but I still wasn't happy about stomach. I knew I was going to get pregnant again but I thought after all the workout and abs I was doing my abs were going to look amazing.  They didn’t look bad, but not as good as I thought they should be.  Since I became pregnant again when my son was 10 months I didn’t investigate further to see what else I could do.  Within a year of having my second I was down to almost my pre pregnancy weight.  I had a few more lbs to go but I again, I wasn’t happy about how my stomach looked.  Then one day my husband saw an article on the web that changed my life.  And my belly. 
Did you know that in France women receive post natal care that involves strengthening their abdominal muscles? I was in shock. How had I never heard about that? I had a doula for my first child, I had an awesome doctor who delivered both of my kids. Why neither of them (or anybody else for that matter) told me about diastasis recti and that I’m not supposed to do crunches at the gym after you have a child? I believe that if my case was really bad my doctor would have told me, but since it wasn’t a medical issue, just the vain appearance one, I just didn’t hear about it. Even though small, these stretched out muscles do change the appearance of one’s belly. My question is why is it not more prevalent in our society to know that? We are left with a totally different body and what you might think is helping you might actually be hurting your progress. Damn you crunches! I do remember seeing this French mom at my son’s swim lesson and thinking her stomach looked really flat after two kids, and I remember being baffled that she was showing it in a string bikini. I was very pregnant at the time and wore a tent for swim suit, so I might have been a little bit jealous. I am not a prude and I do like to wear small bikinis myself, but only after feeling comfortable again with my body and at the right kind of vacation that involves no kids. Now I know she was exercising her abdominal muscles correctly and she had all the right to be proud of it.
Mom’s bodies need special attention and care. Even if you had strong abdominal muscles before, you will likely have some degree of DR. The only way to close the gap in mild cases is by exercising the right muscles. But first you have to learn how severe your case is. If it is really bad I suggest you seek medical assistance first because apparently some cases require surgery to be repaired.
Pelvic floor and abdominal muscles should not be ignored. Just like your triceps, biceps and quads and any muscle you work at the gym these need attention as well. If you exercise muscles they get toned. The same is true with pelvic and deep abdominal muscles. While we are crossing our legs to sneeze without peeing ourselves our French counterparts are laughing at us with perfectly tight bellies and completely dry. So let’s get to work and tighten these muscles once and for all. 

How to find if you have diastasis recti:

Starting position
Lie on your back with knees bent and heels close to your bottom.  

Place the tip of your fingers on your belly about 3 fingers distance (about 2 inches) above your belly button.  Place your hand on your belly with fingers pointed straight down towards your spine, only tips touching belly (if you look at your hand you'll see the palm side of your fingers facing you).  That way you can count in terms of fingers, how wide your gap is. The DR gap runs up and down your abdominal muscles, but it will be the widest just above the belly button.   (see detail below)

Proper position of the hand
Head and shoulder raise

While holding your hand in that spot lift your head and shoulders off the floor slightly, as if you were starting to do a crunch, but don't go all the way (all you want is to create some tension on the muscle wall so it tenses up and you can find the muscle).  When you raise your upper body you will be able to feel a ridge in between your fingers as you move your hand side to side. That gap you feel between your fingers is DR.

After you find out how severe (or not) your case is, you can start targeting those muscles with the proper exercises to close the gap and improve the appearance of you belly. Anything greater than 3 fingers gap is considered a wide gap, 2 fingers would be considered a moderate.  

Remember, with love and care you CAN and you WILL get your body back, or get it even better than before.  I want to help you in this journey.  It takes time, it takes effort but it is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself.  So let’s get to work! 

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