Friday, July 14, 2017

Abs of Mush... And More Doctors

Postpartum is a high-risk time for injury. I’m trying my best to stay healthy: build back up slowly, eat right… and sleep…? (Riiiight... Well, I’m doing what I can.)

Normally that routine would also include core workouts and yoga. A strong core helps prevent injury and its role in running was never more obvious than the first few postpartum runs when my abs were getting more of a workout than my legs, heart, or lungs. I find that yoga helps as well so, in addition to almost daily core exercises, I usually do short, at-home yoga routines once or twice a week.

But since Baby, I’ve been scared to reintroduce either of those pre-hab activities. When researching coming back from pregnancy for this article, many sources said you should be checked for diastasis recti—a separation of the "six-pack" abdominal muscles. The ab muscles that were stretched apart to accommodate the growing baby sometimes don’t come back together on their own, and if the space is larger than two finger widths your core isn’t able to function properly, potentially leading to back and pelvic problems. Many doctors recommend getting checked before resuming exercise and certainly before starting core work, as certain exercises (such as the ever popular plank) can make the separation worse.

When I asked about it at my six-week checkup, my doctor said it was too early to check for diastasis, but she still gave me the go ahead to resume running, core work, yoga, whatever I liked.

So I did. But I continued to worry about my core, which was complete mush. Certainly that’s normal to some extent post-baby, but when I did the self-test it seemed I did have a separation. And it felt like it was getting worse (although who knows if I was self-diagnosing properly….)

From all I read, it seemed like my doctor should have checked. But I was reluctant to see another doctor and get assessed. I didn’t want to make a fuss, taking the time to go to appointments and see more doctors. (Haven’t I been to the doctor enough in the last year??) I felt guilty worrying about it, like I was being overly or prematurely concerned, when everyone else was telling me to relax about running, give it time, and just focus on enjoying/surviving being a new mom.

But when I was able to run again, it was like a switch flipped and I was able to survive—and enjoy—being a mom that much more. I want to keep doing it, which requires staying healthy. An anonymous comment on my last post really hit me; just go see a doctor, it said. “You aren’t meant to be hopeless.” My mom also encouraged me, and having your mom say it’s okay to do something as a new mother is pretty freeing.

So I made an appointment to get a “belly check,” a quick ten-minute assessment at a nearby women’s health physical therapy practice. (Honestly, the fact that it would only take ten minutes and not be a whole big thing made it a lot easier to go, so I suggest looking into that if you find yourself in a similar situation.) And I do have a separation, of three or four fingers’ width in different areas. At my belly button, the doctor said it was so deep she could almost feel my spine. (Told you my belly was mush.)

Mommy and daughter exercise time.
So now begins the process of correcting it. I have weekly appointments in which I’m learning to reengage my tranverse abs, which basically means a lot of subtle movements focused on breathing properly. And here’s the best argument for seeing the doctor/not being as hesitant as I was: all the exercises I had found online to correct diastasis weren’t helping because I wasn’t doing them properly; my tranverse needs to do the work, but my other, overachieving ab muscles take over. Meanwhile, as I suspected, nearly every kind of core/yoga/stretching position (anything on hands and knees, deep twists, forward bends, planks) is off limits at the moment.

Going to the doctor (with Baby in tow) that often is a pain, as is finding the time to do the exercises four times a day. And at my first real appointment I felt silly explaining what was wrong: Was I in pain? No. What every day movements couldn’t I do? Well I can run, but I’m hesitant to do the things I need to do to run well. Yeah, I’m only a few months postpartum... but there's nothing wrong with getting my body back to working properly sooner than later. 

Besides, lifting this growing beast of a baby will be a lot easier with a functional core.

Dream big,