I’ve been thinking a lot about the Mummy Body recently and the changes that Motherhood brings to our bodies. Along with the changes that I’ve seen and experienced in my own body, I’ve also gradually come to terms with this new shape that I now possess. With Motherhood, I think I am more physically aware of my body but at the same time, more accepting of it. Yes, it’s a little wider at the hips and waist, and yes, the skin around my tummy is evidence of having been stretched for 9 months to accommodate a baby. However, this new self is also stronger and capable of things I never thought possible.
In TT’s first year, we were very concerned with her weight gain. She was only 2.1kg, which was considered a low birth weight. So naturally with each visit to her paediatrician, we would be eager to find out if she had gained any weight, and were thrilled (and relieved phew) that she did. I’m sure that all parents focus on these things; we all want our children to be healthy, happy and holistically-developed. So why shouldn’t we want these things for ourselves? Why are we so concerned with other things that end up taking up so much of our precious time, and which create insecurity, fear, frustration and even resentment?
Instead of worrying about my weight and putting my husband in a catch-22 situation with silly questions like “Do I look fat?”, I should be focusing on the important things that we seem to want for TT. SO, my focus shall change. I want to get stronger and healthier and happier. And this is why I enjoy Pilates so much; it has made me less obsessive about the exterior and how I look, and made me focus on building strength instead. The exercises may not produce the same endorphin-high from cardio workouts (they’re still tough though!), but they challenge me and I get a huge sense of satisfaction after each session. Happy core, happy me!
Core strength isn’t about doing crunches, or getting a six-pack and flat tummy. The core includes not just your abdominal muscles, but the side (oblique) muscles in your torso as well as the lower back muscles. A strong core aids in one’s posture, and also supports your spine and organs. For a mum, it’s really important to have a good core as you need strength to carry out all the activities (bending, lifting, carrying) and chores that are coupled with looking after a baby. You might not know this, but during a pregnancy and child-birth, many muscles are weakened and need rehabilitation. Many of us neglect this and focus on shedding the baby weight instead of rebuilding our core.
We see the physical changes of pregnancy easily as our tummies grow before our eyes, but what happens under that bump? When your baby grows, your abdominal muscles actually separate to accommodate your growing baby. For some, this separation (also known as Diastasis Recti) may heal, but for others this divide might not join back even with rehabilitation. My friend, Kerry, suffered from this. After three boys, her abdominal muscles had a divide that measured “1&1/2 man hands” wide (yes, sounds scary and probably is!). Things did not improve with physiotherapy and it caused her a lot of pain, so eventually she went for surgery to rejoin her abdominal muscles.
For some Mummies like Kerry, Diastasis Recti can be severe. For others, the divide can be improved with exercises that rehabilitate the abdominal muscles and encourage them to close back (Note that not all exercises are effective and some, like crunches, exacerbate the problem). I’ve found that Pilates is extremely useful in helping to rehabilitate and heal the body. It helps not only to strengthen the abdominal muscles, but stabilise the spinal muscles as well. In addition to this, it retrains and tones the pelvic floor, which would have been weakened whether or not you had a natural birth or C-section.
I asked Maria, my Pilates instructor in Muscat, for some help in showing some of the exercises that will strengthen not only your core, but also the pelvic floor and back muscles. All these are important in rehabilitating a mummy’s body and can usually be done 6 weeks after delivery once your gynaecologist has given you the all-clear to resume physical activities. They are gentle and, in my opinion, relaxing. Even though I only went back to classes when TT was about 15 months old, I was doing some of these on my own soon after she was born. I wasn’t able to do a simple curl-up after the delivery, now they’re easy-peasy lemon-squeezy! It takes time, like all good things. But give them a try and your core will definitely be strengthened. Here are some Pilates exercises that I find very effective:
Tip from Maria – The exercises should be done paying attention to engaging the pelvic floor and gently scooping in the abdominals (no popping out of abs). You should also be aware of the pelvis and spine stability, i.e. no rotation of the pelvis while doing knee openings, no arching of the lower back during leg slides etc.
I was looking through my Instagram feed the other day and saw a picture that my friend, Marianne had put up. She had commented that she was hoping to make regular swims and aimed to #livestrongin2015. She had been inspired by a yoga movement #bestrongin2015, which challenges you to try new moves and build strength. It’s great to see inspiration out there and pushes me a little bit harder to seek out a few things that should be important to me. Building a good physical core is one of them. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” – It’s time to focus on the core things in my life, and this is a good start.
p.s. Many thanks to the lovely Maria for her enthusiasm and assistance in posing for the pictures in this post. Maria is trained and certified in the Body Control Pilates Method. If you would like to know about about her, check out her facebook page “Pilates by Maria” or contact me for further details.
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