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Growing babies is hard work! The chances are good that nearly every woman struggles with self-image during pregnancy, some more so than others. A good many women gain more weight than they’d hoped, and all too many of us struggle to lose that weight after finally giving birth. And what’s worse is that even when you start getting close to your pre-baby weight, sometimes you discover that you’re still a long ways from your pre-baby body. Case in point: the dreaded “mom pooch.”
Officially, the main cause of that poochy belly we all hate is usually Diastasis Recti. DA is a medical condition where your two ab muscles actually split apart during pregnancy. It’s caused by pressure on the ab wall—from, you know, growing a baby! For other women, that pooch is just a deposit of stubborn belly fat which we only wish we could spot train away. But if you’re expecting, what you really want to know is: Can I prevent it? The answer? Possibly!
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It’s a well-established fact that women who are moderately overweight or obese are more prone to developing Diastasis Recti in pregnancy than those who are a healthier body weight to start out. In addition, there are tons of other benefits to getting healthier before putting the bun in your oven. We know this doesn’t really help any mamas who are already expecting, but if you’re still just thinking and dreaming, now’s a great time to try to shed a few pounds. Reduce your weight first, have a healthier pregnancy and easier labor, and lower your chances of developing a pooch after!
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If you want a strong core during pregnancy, the most important factor is having a strong core before pregnancy. Simply put, don’t wait until the baby is already in there before you start trying to build up those ab and back muscles! Pregnancy is hard work, and having a strong core before you start gives you the right foundation. A strong core will help with many of the other ideas on this list and will make pregnancy feel much more manageable overall. Ideally, you want to enter pregnancy strong and fit, with a solid core to help carry you through.
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You might not notice it during the first and second trimester, but by the time you hit those last few months, let me tell you. Your belly will likely be huge! And heavy! Your back may be aching because of it, and you might be struggling to maintain good posture. A good belly support can help fix that. You want a band or a wrap that can help lift your belly up, which will help your bladder (hello, fewer bathroom breaks!) and your back. And wear them constantly. Not just when you’re working out, not just when you’re walking, but when you’re at your job, when you’re in front of the television, and maybe even while you’re sleeping. You’ll be happy you did later.
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Unless you’re a physical therapist or dedicated athlete, there’s a good chance you have no idea what Kinesio taping even is. Kinesio tape is a special kind of tape that athletes use to help with healing injured muscles or to hold them together during intense exercise. Kinesio tape can also be used on pregnant bellies, to help hold those abdominal muscles together. There are many ideas out there for how to most effectively tape the abs, and the chances are good that any Kinesio tape you purchase will come with instructions as well. Start doing this regularly about halfway through the pregnancy, and you’ll lessen your chances of DA and a postpartum pooch.
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There are tons and tons of benefits to exercising during pregnancy. Maintaining an effective workout schedule that’s also appropriate for pregnancy can help you maintain stronger muscles and gain only what you need to in order to grow your baby. And contrary to popular belief, pregnancy doesn’t have to be a time of walking, swimming, and yoga (although those are all excellent ways to stay fit!). Keep your body healthy and toned with weight lifting, running, spinning, and more. Many exercises can be made pregnancy-friendly! Look for nearby classes, watch videos on YouTube, hit up that friend who’s always trying to sell you Beachbody workouts, or pick up a book on prenatal fitness.
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Yes, you should exercise. But you have to be careful not to overdo it. And, most importantly, pregnancy is not the time to be focusing on your ab muscles. Those are the ones that can develop the problem during pregnancy and postpartum, and working them too hard with a big, round belly increases the chances of that separation occurring--and the pooch that goes along with it. Of course, a strong core is beneficial for the process of labor and birth, but you can keep those muscles strong without crunches or planks. Focus on keeping your tummy tight while doing other exercises and your core will stay strong.
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Maybe your workout doesn’t feel complete without some ab work. Or maybe you’re just trying to shake up your routine since pregnancy leave you feeling off-balance and all your regular exercises no longer feel right. If you do want to build your core safely, you can do that. A little. One idea? Look to yoga. Consider getting some cat/cow time in to oversimplify, get on all fours and alternate between rounding your back and arching. Or try a bird dog. Standing with a pelvic tilt. Bridge. Find a prenatal yoga class with an experienced teacher and give it a shot!
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You probably think we’re kidding. If you can’t slouch when your back is aching like crazy in the midst of pregnancy, then when can you? But channel your overly-critical mother’s voice for a moment and remind yourself—constantly, if necessary—to sit up straight. This will help with the aches, especially once it becomes a habit and not something you have to do consciously. And, weirdly enough, it helps your stomach muscles be strong while also reducing the pressure they might feel from you slouched over. Good posture reduces your likelihood of developing DA. Grumble all you want, but you’ll be thankful later.
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Tell a woman not to gain “too much” weight during pregnancy, and she’ll likely get indignant or downright mad, or at least roll her eyes at you. But here’s another area why it’s so important to be careful of how much weight you pick up. Just as being overweight pre-pregnancy leaves you predisposed to developing DA, so does gaining too much weight in the process of growing your baby, especially if you gain it too quickly. By keeping from packing on the pounds, you reduce your risk of developing that dreaded pooch. Plus, just like being healthier pre-pregnancy, gaining a normal amount of weight sets you up for a better birth experience.
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Strangely, there’s a lot of controversies out there about the effectiveness of kegel exercises. Most pregnancy experts favor them as an easy-to-learn, easy-to-do way of building and maintaining strong pelvic floor muscles. Keeping those muscles strong is recommended primarily because it helps pave the way to an easier labor and birth experience, but most people don’t really understand just how interconnected the muscles of our body are. The fact is, a strong pelvic floor is intimately related to the muscles of the core. Kegels strengthen the muscles around your bladder and your rectum, and strengthening them leads to better posture, better breathing, and ultimately, a stronger core.
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Many women look forward to pregnancy simply because, food-wise, it’s seen as a time of indulgence. You’re growing a baby, after all; eat for two, my friend! Except that’s not really true. In all reality, you don’t need to eat that much more during pregnancy; most doctors and books recommend just an extra 200-300 calories per day by the end of gestation, and less during the first trimester. Tempting as it may sound, pregnancy is not the time to let your diet go off the rails and start living off ice cream and french fries. It’s far better to eat as healthy of a diet as you can manage (sometimes cravings and/or morning sickness makes that hard). Think nutrient-dense: lots of veggies and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Your body and baby will be better off for it.
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I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth hydration has to do with your abs. Well, for non-pregnant ladies, the answer has to do with water weight. For those of us who are expecting, however, the answer is a little different. Hydration is important. Always, but especially during pregnancy. Your total bodily blood volume increases dramatically when you’re growing a baby and maintaining the brand new organ that keeps her or him fed. Water helps keep your skin nourished, which will hopefully make your skin at least a little less saggy after giving birth. And water is your number one weapon in the fight against unhealthy pregnancy eating. If you think you want salty or sweet or whatever, drink a glass of water instead. Your body will be that much healthier as a result.
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Different people have different styles of getting out of bed when they’re not pregnant. Some rollover and sit up; others are already sleeping on their tummy and just push themselves up. Those lucky ones with a strong set of abs may be used to simply sitting up, and if that’s you, know that’s the worst way to get up from a supine position when you have a big preggo belly. Remember how crunches and other lying-down ab exercises are a big no-no? Sitting up to get out of bed in the morning works the abs in the same way, and can have the same disastrous consequences. Get in the habit of rolling to your side, then push yourself up to a seated position.
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Preventing that pooch relies so strongly on being conscious of how you’re using your abdominal muscles throughout pregnancy, and on not taxing them in the wrong way. Another thing you may not be thinking about? How you lift heavy objects! The fact is that you should never be using your back muscles to do the bulk of the work when you lift. As the saying goes, lift with your legs. Especially when you’re pregnant. This goes for all manner of even remotely heavy lifting. Really full bags of groceries? Squat down, grab and stand without hunching over. Boxes? Furniture? Other kids? Use your legs, sister! Be gentle on those abs!
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Impossible, right? Yes, you’re right. Unfortunately, there’s not really much you can do to prevent coughing (except maybe keeping cough drops always at hand) and sneezing (rub your nose? Look at the light? Take some kind of preggo-friendly allergy med?). Also, unfortunately, coughing and sneezing can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, causing those already over-stretched ab muscles to tear. If you can’t prevent it, at least you can try to protect your belly somewhat. Suck in your core as best you can by pulling your belly button toward your spine. It just might help.
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Sometimes, despite a mama’s best intentions, her baby ends up needing to be born surgically. Or perhaps a cesarean is chosen as the best route because your doc is VBAC-shy. Or maybe you, for whatever reason, chose a cesarean because you feel it’s the best birth for you. Let’s get one thing straight: cesarean sections are stillbirth, and they’re still hard, and they still require a lot of recovery. Unfortunately, they also make new mamas a little more prone to developing a postpartum pooch, due to the nature of how the doctors have to get to baby in the first place and the healing process afterward. It’s not anyone’s place to judge anyone else’s birthing decisions, but if the pooch is something you’re worried about--well, just keep this in mind. And if there’s any reasonable route to avoid having a cesarean, consider taking it.
That belly pooch is most often caused by damaged ab muscles (in the form of DA), but it’s also exacerbated by other unhealthy habits: poor posture, bad habits, and not breathing right. The thing is, there’s breathing, and then there’s breathing. Still confused? Simply put, certain breathing exercises can help with keeping your ab muscles strong in all the right ways. Think deep yoga breaths, the kinds of breathing you do when you meditate. Throw in a little conscious ab work at the same time by sucking your stomach in after breathing out completely (this exercise is sometimes called the “vacuum”). It might help, or it might not, but if nothing else, it’ll bust some stress along the way.