There are so many things that could happen to your body after you have a baby that nobody tells you when you’re pregnant….. Obviously not everything happens to everyone and scaremongering pregnant ladies is never a good idea but something completely unexpected happening to you can come as a bit of a shock!
For me this shock came in the form of Diastisis Recti (or Abdominal Separation).
For my whole pregnancy people were telling me how lucky I was that I didn’t look like I’d put on weight anywhere apart from my ever increasing bump – this sounded like a good thing but little did I know (not that I could have changed it) that this was a contributing factor to the substantial separation I suffered with my abdominal muscles.
Pre Mr Small my go-to exercise had always been Pilates, swimming and walking and I felt like I was pretty fit and healthy, all through my pregnancy I followed an easy pregnancy Pilates programme and tried to swim once a week. After the birth I started following the post baby section of the programme with gentle stretches and then once I’d had the 6 week check with the GP I started to do a few Pilates ‘roll-ups’ and a bit of ‘plank’ to see if I could make any in-roads on my tummy, which still felt very doughy and round.
It was a bit of a wake up call, when a friend who had a baby the same day as I did, said that her GP had measured her abdominal separation. This rang some bells in my head my GP hadn’t examined my stomach muscles at all. I went back and asked the question and was told “oh, you can’t really examine for that but as long as you feel fine you should be able to start exercising”…. Not very helpful! At this point the Google research commenced and I started to learn more.
WHAT IS DIASTISIS RECTI?
Diastisis Recti is the separation of the rectus abdominus (the six pack muscles). This can happen during pregnancy as your bump gets bigger and the connective tissue between the muscles gets stretched and weakened. For some lucky people the body snaps back quite quickly but if you feel like you still look pregnant months after giving birth, or your tummy is domed, you may have diastasis.
You can check for a diastasis by doing the following:
- lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent
- put your hand palm down on your tummy, facing your fingers to your toes
- gently press down on your tummy as you slightly lift your head (tucking your chin into your chest)
If you have a diastasis you will feel the edges of the muscles as they contract. Most people measure the separation in ‘fingers’, a two finger gap between the muscles when contracted is considered as a diastasis and three fingers is considered severe (the gap can also be different widths above and below your belly button).
I established that I had a diastasis of what I thought was about 4-5 fingers.
As I learnt more I realised that traditional abdominal exercises like sit-ups, roll-ups, planks etc can make the separation WORSE and not better… this was pretty gutting to find out and obviously I stopped doing any of these things immediately but it was disheartening to think that
a) I could have made my separation worse and
b) that nobody had been able to tell me these things.
After finding out about diastasis I then commenced a significant amount of online research to establish how to close this gap as I wasn’t happy to settle for a life of ‘mummy tummy’. Now that I’m armed with more knowledge, I honestly think that a lot of people just accept ‘my tummy looks different after having babies’ but just don’t realise what it is and how they can actually change things.
I narrowed down to what I felt were two options:
THE MUTU SYSTEM
THE TUPLER TECHNIQUE ®
In a nutshell this is how both programmes describe themselves:
MUTU – The natural way to heal your Diastisis Recti and strengthen your core and pelvic floor… a medically reviewed exercise and recovery program
TUPLER TECHNIQUE® – A research and evidence based exercise program to treat diastasis recti which is a separation of the abdominal muscles.
Both programmes have their advocates and their naysayers and it was really hard to decide between the two. From my point of view the main differences seemed to be that the Tupler Technique® required you to wear a splint (a type of support belt for the duration of the programme) and focused very much on the abdominal muscles, whereas MUTU didn’t have a splint and seemed like more of an overall body programme.
In the end I felt like for me to make the decision I needed to find out more about what both systems actually involved on a day to day basis, and what did I think I could fit around life with a 3 ½ month old baby.
I ended up purchasing the MUTU programme online and also getting in touch with Tummy Tribe, a UK specialist in the Tupler Technique®.
I went along to meet Rachel at Tummy Tribe at one of her free belly clinics, where you can have a 10 minute private consultation to check your diastasis and find out more – what sold me on the Tupler Technique® was:
1. Rachel herself
She is a qualified personal trainer who was unable to get rid of her ‘mummy tummy’ after her second pregnancy until she discovered the Tupler Technique®. She subsequently trained with Julie Tupler to become an abdominal rehabilitation specialiast – actually meeting someone for whom the programme was super helpful
2. The splint
Although the idea of wearing a belly wrap for 24 hours a day for the duration of the programme (from 6 to 18 weeks depending how long you want to commit) was quite mind boggling, I liked the logic…
Julie Tupler likens the use of the splint to heal the connective tissue to the use of a cast to help bones heal (i.e. you are physically supporting the body in the right position to allow it to mend) – this made sense and assuaged the concerns of people who dismissed Tupler Technique® as generally it seems they either hadn’t done the exercises along with wearing the splint or they hadn’t persisted and worn the splint for long enough
NOTE: I got so used to wearing the splint that it felt odd when I didn’t have it on after a while
3. The time required
For me, abdominal pulsing exercises 3 times a day (most of which you can do anywhere e.g. on the bus, driving the car) felt a lot more achievable than finding a solid 20 minutes a day to exercise
Also, while I still really liked some of the aspects of MUTU, the biggest shock was that when Rachel measured my diastasis, she measured where the muscles are when they are relaxed rather than contracted i.e. your maximum gap and MY GAP WAS OVER TEN FINGERS!
She couldn’t actually feel the muscles but she could feel my insides pulsing through my very weak connective tissue… With this in mind I thought I would try Tupler Technique® first, with the help of the splint to try and start the healing process and then I could always do the MUTU programme in the future once I was on the way to recovery.
In that first initial chat with Rachel I bought a splint and exercise log book and booked in for a full consultation with her to get me started on the programme (you can get a book with the details of the exercises but I preferred to have someone else measure my gap ….. I found it turned my stomach trying to measure it myself as my connective tissue was so weak…. and it was helpful to go through the exercises and make sure I was wearing the splint properly).
One thing I would say about the Tupler Technique® is that when you look at the log book the first few weeks look manageable and then suddenly it’s asking you to do 7 x 100 reps of ab squeezes 3 times a day! However, Rachel was brilliant and we discussed personalising the programme to make it more manageable for what I could fit around Mr Small.
At the first appointment my measurements were;
Above belly button 10+ finger gap (diastasis) Deep connective tissue
Belly button 10+ finger gap (diastasis) Deep connective tissue
Below belly button Too big to measure! Deep connective tissue
After 4 weeks I went back and the numbers showed what I was feeling (that something was working!):
Above belly button 5 finger gap (diastasis) Medium connective tissue
Belly button 6 finger gap (diastasis) Deep connective tissue
Below belly button 6 finger gap (diastasis) Deep connective tissue
I HAD ALMOST HALVED MY DIASTISIS IN 4 WEEKS
Now 18 weeks have passed and hand on heart I have worn the splint nearly all the time (just a handful of days or nights off) and I have managed at least some of the exercises once day on bad days, three times a day on good days and these are the final stats:
Above belly button 1 finger gap (diastasis) Shallow connective tissue
Belly button 3 finger gap (diastasis) Medium connective tissue
Below belly button 2 finger gap (diastasis) Shallow/medium connective tissue
I AM THRILLED!
So for me, the Tupler Technique® has been a winner, I’m still on the journey and will gradually wean off the splint but continue to do some of the exercises as long term maintenance, and to try and close the final gap.
I can’t comment on MUTU as I haven’t done it but I do know I have raved to anyone who will listen about the Tupler Technique® and Tummy Tribe. As well as helping to heal diastasis the Tupler Technique® can also help with pelvic floor issues and lower back pain, and be used during pregnancy to prevent such severe abdominal separation…. I’ll definitely be going back to see Rachel if Mr Small gets a sibling one day!
If you’re interested in getting in touch with Rachel at Tummy Tribe, drop me an email and I will send you a discount code for £10 off your first consultation.
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