"I see you have another one on the way!" my neighbor said after I gave birth.
With that comment, my frustration level hit the roof.
From the day after my C-sectionwhen I insisted on walking through the hospital's rooftop garden with the back of my hospital gown flapping open in the breezeI have been exercising. But at 11 weeks postpartum, my belly is still much larger than it was after the birth of my first two daughters.
It was only after I performed a specific test (digging my fingers into the area over my belly button while I lay on the floor with my head and ribs lifted) did I learn that I've experienced abdominal separation. That's the nice way of describing what happens when the right and left sides of your former six-pack separate in response to your uterus pushing against them.
Although most postpartum women will exhibit some of this separation, a woman who has just given birth to her third babyparticularly a 9-pound, 5-ounce whopperis more likely to have a greater abdominal separation.
I've also developed a painful umbilical hernia. Frankly, the last thing I need is another protrusion from my jiggling belly, particularly one that hurts when I carry the baby in front of me. So now I'm faced with this floppy, pregnant-looking belly that shows no signs of deflating any time soondespite my healthy diet, plenty of nursing, and an active exercise routine.
I find it endlessly aggravating, yet motivational, that Heidi Klum modeled underwear at eight weeks postpartum, and I am currently obsessed with healing this separation. Could hernia surgery and a tummy tuck be in my future?
Maybe not. I found a trainer who specializes in this particular area: Helene Byrne. She helped an athletic friend of mine whose baby belly refused to retreat for two years postpartum. My friend learned a series of exercises from Byrne that eliminated the "When are you due?" comments altogether.
"Your floppy belly is a sign of laxity," Byrne told me. "Your abdominal musculature is both weak and too long. It's not uncommon for third and fourth pregnancies to cause increased laxity."
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But how do I fix it? As it turns out, the exercise I was doing to help get rid of my belly was probably exacerbating it.
"All high-impact exercises should be avoided in the postpartum period due to ligament laxity," Byrne told me. So all the jogging was a mistake. She recommends that women wait to resume high-impact exercise until they are 20 weeks postpartum, "when your connective tissues have regained most of their former density."
And the yoga class I took? Another error. "Yoga poses that stretch the abs, or stretch and twist at the same time, or even Boat Pose, can exacerbate diastasis, during and after pregnancy," Byrne said. "Upward Facing Dog primarily extends the lumbar vertebrae, and after pregnancy, almost all women are overextended in this area already."
I cringed when I learned Byrne's recommendation regarding yoga: "For positions that stretch the abdominal wall, I suggest you hold off until about nine months postpartum. The slowest part of abdominal restoration after pregnancy is abdominal shortening, and you do not want to do any movements that impede that progress."
It had felt so good to be active after descending into that anxious sedentary state during my pregnancy, and I badly want to start my former running routine along with power yoga classes. But for nowcounterintuitivelyI must lay off the tough stuff if I want to get rid of my Homer Simpson–esque physique.
It's long walks and localized abdominal work for me. And guess what? Ever since I cut out the jogging and yoga, the umbilical hernia has retreated back into my abdomen.
And the last two nights, I've hit the floor of our family room with Byrne's DVD, "contracting" and "scooping" my abdominal muscles. Perhaps it's my imagination, but I already feel slightly tighter in my belly.
Although I will probably not be parading down the catwalk anytime soon, I do hold out hope that I'll see my old shape sooner rather than later. At the very least, I may convince my neighbor that I'm no longer pregnant.