The Fit Girls Guide to Postpartum Recovery and tips to heal Diastasis Recti
I think we can all agree that recovery from childbirth is pretty gnarly. As my husband likes to put it, its like our body is recovering from a bad car wreck. I’m not 100% sure about this analogy because it’s also a beautiful and miraculous experience… buuuut it’s kind of true. I vividly remember not being able to sit down properly for 2 weeks, my back ached for 2 months after, and I didn’t fully feel normal down “there” until about months 5 into recovery. Yet we get through it and somehow make it to the other side! All while getting back to work, raising a baby through the difficult newborn stage, sleep regressions, and the Holidays. If you are in my position, go ahead and just give yourself a big ol’ pat on the back for your resilience, give your adorable baby a kiss (for the millionth time today), and then go tell your husband you are getting a massage this weekend. You’re welcome!
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Ok, back to the point. Although we can all agree the recovery is intense, it’s also different for everyone. Your birth experience might be completely opposite from the person next door to you in the delivery room, so naturally our bodies will all recover in different ways. But, I do believe that there are many commonalities within our recovery process and we can make it a bit easier on ourselves by using some of the tools I have (and was given) to recover in a way that is safe and effective. I am happy to say that I am feeling like myself again and my little bundle of joy just turned 6 months. Holy moly, did time fly! And how thankful I am that I took the steps to get here in only 6 months! It may seem like a long time to some, but remember, it took our body 9 months to create a baby and it’s going to take a lot of time for it to recover. It might never be 100% the same… and THAT’S OK! Because you brought life into the world and you have the scars and a kid to prove it. You go, Mama.
My Diastasis Recti discovery
This particular story starts one day in a Pilates class that I was teaching. I am co-owner of Shine Studio in Redondo Beach and at the time of getting pregnant, was instructing 13 fitness classes a week. During class, about 4 months into my pregnancy, I looked down during our warm up and saw a “coning” of my abdominals while explaining a move. It looked like a long bulge down the middle of my stomach that did not seem normal by any means. I immediately had the thought — but it was confirmed when I brought it to my doctor’s attention– I had Diastasis Recti. This is a separation of the abdominals that happens to some women during pregnancy as our bodies expand to create room for a baby. I was immediately bummed out and worried that my goal to remain active and in shape during pregnancy would not be possible anymore. I was also concerned that I had overdone it with my workouts and the number of classes I was still teaching, and had done irreversible damage. But through further research, I learned that not only is it normal, but also that I did not give myself Diastasis by overdoing it on planks and sit-ups. Don’t get me wrong- you still need to modify exercises and be safe, but it wasn’t my level of activity that caused it. It occurs in women simply because of the way we are built and it can happen even when you decide to skip the whole working out thing during pregnancy (which is totally fine, btw). I did feel of a sense of relief that it wasn’t my “fault” and of course, continued to modify my workouts during my pregnancy. I focused on small movements to keep my core strong while not making my Diastasis worse, and also did a fair bit of research about postpartum recovery and how to go about it. From there, I surrendered to my body and just did my best to accept that it might shift and change. Might I note, it will be SO worth it because we will have the title of “MOM” for the rest of our lives. And that is so much more important than a 6-pack.
Exercises for recovery and repairing Diastasis Recti
Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty. After I had the baby, I discovered my Diastasis wasn’t as bad as I initially thought during my pregnancy. It was about 2 fingers width in some areas, which is pretty common, and I definitely felt confident I could heal it with time. I attribute my healing to these exercises I did at home and during my Pilates practice. The first and most important thing to remember: you need to remember to START SMALL. Baby steps. Haha.
Whether you have Diastasis or not, you are not going to want to jump back into your Soul Cycle or Barry’s Bootcamp class just yet, even if you just got your “all clear” from the doc. You want to heal your body first, slowly, from the inside out. At Shine Studio, we do work with ladies who have just been cleared to exercise and we make a point to scale all our workouts, so its important to find a class that will work with you on modifying, if you insist on going right back! My business partner, Yaya, had a baby during our first year of business, and me the second, and we have a ton of clients that we’ve helped to continue to workout through pregnancy, and after, when they are good and ready. You just need to communicate with your instructor and let them help you start out again!
With the help of my Pilates training and years of dancing, I know my body pretty well. But I still had to be very mindful of how I moved and start with super small movements, stemming from my core and pelvic floor. These exercises below will get you honed in on those muscles that we lost while our bodies prepared us to push out a tiny human. I would recommend doing these daily and in this order after you are cleared, and for at least a few weeks before jumping into a full workout. Remember- start small! I recorded these exercises when I was 7 weeks postpartum, so you can see that I am a bit wobbly at times, taking it super slow, and you can see a bit of my belly and Diastasis “bulge” when I breathe. It’s all totally normal at this stage in recovery.
Breathing- on wall or floor
Take a deep breath, expanding your ribs as if you are inflating a balloon in your stomach. Exhale all your air out slowly and pull the belly button to the spine, contracting your TVA (Transverse Abdominus- the muscle that wraps around the stomach, underneath your abdomen). Repeat 5-7 times.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Slowly glide one heel out until the leg is extended. Then, pull the leg back in, activating the core and exhaling as you replace the foot. Repeat on the other side and alternate the legs for 10 extensions.
Roll up into a bridge with your knees aligned over your ankles. In your bridge, lift one leg to table top, engaging the core, then replace the leg, keeping the hips up. Repeat on the opposite side and alternate the legs for 10 marches.
Bring your legs up to table top position with the knees over your hips and legs at a 90 degree angle. Keeping the leg at the same angle, tap one toe to the floor (inhale), and then bring it back to the table top position (exhale). Repeat on the opposite side and alternate the legs for 10 toe taps.
All fours extension
Get on “all fours” with your hips aligned over your ankles and your shoulders over your wrists. Engage your core first, and then extend one leg, reaching through the heel, and then the opposite arm. Repeat on the opposite side. Once you get comfortable, you can try and do both the leg and arm at the same time, trying to keep the hips still and even. Repeat for 10 extensions.
Modified moving plank
Starting on all fours with your hands slightly forward, push back on your hands until your hips hit your heels. Then, shift your hips forward and your weight into your hands until you create a long diagonal line with your torso, from your shoulders to your knees, engaging your core as you execute the modified plank. Push back and repeat 10 times.
Now that you’ve taken the baby steps to start to understand your body again, and after doing these exercises consistently for a few weeks, find your favorite class or format and get back into your workouts! Any great instructor will be able to help you with modifications so that you can workout smart as you are getting your strength back.
Using other resources to can help you with your recovery journey
I am very lucky to know a lot of amazing and knowledgeable women in the South Bay. Each of them helped me recover and learn about how to handle my new body and new baby. I am mentioning them here because I actually used each and every one of these women and businesses and highly recommend them.
We’ve heard the saying, ladies, but its true… “It takes a village.” The more you lean on those who have learned and gone through the postpartum recovery process, the better!
BirthFit South Bay with Nicole Foster
BirthFit is a wonderful program to help Moms on the road to recovery from birth and even during the prenatal journey to prepare the body. The program focuses on functional movement inspired by the way a baby moves and develops their strength.
Hormone Health with Katie Bressack
Katie is nutritionist who is an expert when it comes to women’s hormone health. She gave me advice on what supplements to take and how to eat to prepare my body for pregnancy. After meeting with her and seeing an acupuncturist, my cycle got back on track and I conceived quickly. Her advice really stuck with me (as I saw improvement in my energy, skin & mental clarity) and her tips helped me balance my hormones after giving birth as well.
Mom and Doula advice from Courtney Nicole Satow
Courtney is a good friend and also a Yoga instructor, Nutritionist, and Doula here in the South Bay. She gave me loads of amazing advice, but the one I remember most was her trick to unclog a milk duct and keep me from a dreaded case of Mastitis (its way TMI, so message me for this one 😉 ).
Acupuncture and herb supplements with Stephanie Cortner
Before getting pregnant, I was on birth control for many, many years. Combining acupuncture with herb and vitamin supplements, I got my body back into my regular cycle in less than 2 months and was pregnant by the 3rd. Nuf said! I also saw her post-pregnancy for a “hormone reset” and it was simply amazing to lie on a bed for 45 minutes in the quiet by myself. Haha.
A few other tips and tools I’d recommend — having a Lactation Consultant on hand or finding a local lactation class or group, trying placenta encapsulation to help with preventing Postpartum Depression (and many other benefits!), and joining a Mommy and Me group as soon as you feel like starting to get out of the house. There is nothing better than knowing you’re not alone when you’re a sleep-deprived new Mom! Find more resources and start to create your village here.
Give yourself unlimited time and focus on wellbeing
Now, I know what you could be thinking- “This girl is a full-time fitness instructor- of course she is back in shape in 6 months!” This fact of course helps, but you need to remember that we are all on a different path. Its okay if it takes you 3 months or 3 years! But giving yourself the time and attention you deserve after birth is important for your health and especially, your wellbeing. Remember that.
One last thing I’d like to acknowledge here is that I NEVER had a deadline of any sort to get my “body back.” As an owner of a fitness studio, I could have easily put pressure on myself to get back in shape immediately or feel bad about myself until I did. But instead, I just took my time. I knew that with teaching workout classes and mindfully moving with modifications, I would get strong again. So, I decided to accept my body and feel amazing about the fact that I had created life and it’s okay if I didn’t look the same as before. And notice the quotation marks around “body back,” because ya NEVER. LOST. IT. What you do get is a new motivation to stay healthy, and that is sticking around a long time to be there for your little one. What you do get is a way to show your baby that self-care and self-love is important. This is what it’s all about! Feeling great from the inside out, so you can create memories and play right along side your kiddos after taking the time we need to recover properly. So, we can be our best selves for our family.
Shine on Moms… you got this!
Hillary Lewis is a former pro dancer turned Fitness Instructor. She co-owns Shine Studio in Redondo Beach and is a new Mom to baby Molly. Learn more here: www.shinestudiorb.com