Armed with this experience, when I became pregnant with Savannah I decided to take a different approach. I was determined to have a vaginal birth after the terrible experience I had with Carter's c-section (vaginal birth after c-section or VBAC) and was prepared to do everything I could to have a natural birthing experience. What this meant to me was exercising consistently throughout my entire pregnancy. I worked out 3-4 times a week, including cardio (row machine, running, stairmaster, kickboxing class) and light weight lifting. I also did exercises to keep my core strong. Of course, once my belly got to a certain size, I no longer did traditional crunches or any other ab exercises where I was lying on my back. However, I did do planks (traditional and side), push ups, and some yoga poses (upward dog). Little did I know, what I thought would help me have a successful natural birthing experience and get me back to pre-pregnancy weight quickly after the baby, ended up having the opposite effect. I ended up having another emergency c-section and I still have MY BABY BUMP!
This is what my stomach looks like now and Savannah is 4 months old. I'm probably the same weight I was pre-pregnancy but my stomach is still poking out. Now, I know my stomach isn't huge in this pic but it's not what I remembered happening after Carter so it's out of the ordinary for my body. With Carter, I was back in a bikini with a flat tummy in 5 months; and I wasn't working out nearly as intensely or eating as clean as I have been for the last 2 months. This prompted me to do some research and I discovered that I have a condition call DIASTASIS RECTI.
Diastasis recti is a separation between the left and right side of the rectus abdominal muscle, which is the muscle that covers the front surface of the belly area and creates a flat belly when defined. About 30% of pregnant women develop this condition due to increased tension on the abdominal wall. The risk is higher with multiple births (e.g. twins) or with multiple pregnancies. The risk is also higher when
women who are more than 12 weeks pregnant do exercises that stress the abdomen (e.g. crunches, planks, upward dog - basically, everything I was doing). Making matters worse, women with tight abdominal muscles prior to pregnancy are at a greater risk because it's more difficult for the muscles to stretch with a growing uterus. Prior to Savannah's pregnancy I was probably in the best shape of my life. Not only was I competing in half marathons and sprint triathlons but I was also doing crossfit a couple times a week (shout out to Crossfit Zionsville). Again, I thought this was a good thing. Not so much!
Once I made this disheartening discovery I contacted my doctor who then referred me to physical therapy. I have now been in physical therapy for 2 weeks and have seen a little improvement. The bad news is that everything I've been doing for the last 2 months to lose MY BABY BUMP (e.g. crunches, v-ups, etc) has likely made it worse. Great! The good news is with the proper exercises I should be able to bring the muscles back together. Basically, I need to strengthen the transverse abdominal muscle (and not the rectus abdominal muscle) which gets its nickname as "the corset muscle" because it has the effect of pulling in a protruding abdomen. What this means practically is that I walk around with my stomach sucked in all day to try to strengthen this muscle. To give you an idea, here's what my stomach looks like sucked in:
I'm glad I found out about my condition relatively early so I can start the work to correct it, but I'm kind of disappointed that I wasn't equipped with this knowledge during pregnancy. What makes it worse is that I actually did research on exercises to avoid during pregnancy and discussed the same with my OB/GYN. Of course, the research revealed that I shouldn't do crunches or exercises on my back; however, it did not reveal that I shouldn't do planks, push ups, upward dogs, stretch my back on a stability ball, or any other exercise where I stretched my abdomen. Likewise, my doctor did not caution me against these exercises.
If you think you may have diastatis recti, there are plenty of online resources that fully describe the condition, demonstrate how to test for the condition, and provide exercises to repair the condition. You should also consult your physician and/or a physical therapist.
As if pregnancy wasn't hard enough...