The most common comment I hear from posptartum women is how their belly has changed; the belly bulge, the mommy-tummy, the reason your pants don't fit like they used to. Too often I hear comments like - "I just need to work harder on my abs," as if doing more sit-ups would solve the problem (it won't). Core Dysfunction is a very common cause of a persistent bulging belly after childbirth. But it's not the only reason. Let's discuss how to differentiate Core Dysfunction from another common source of bulging belly - the Bloat, and how you can find your flat tummy again!
Core Dysfunction happens when the deep abdominal muscles of the core aren't working correctly. The source of dysfunction may be weak muscles from inactivity, stretched out muscles after pregnancy or deactivated muscles due to surgery (or tearing). The Core System is a unique set of muscles that works to prepare the body for movement and protect it against injury. The Transverse Abdominus (TA) is one of the first muscles we work with at Mommy Ready to help mothers restore Core System function after childbirth. The TA is a paired muscle that wraps around the torso like a corset and cinches the belly in. A strong TA gives you a waistline and a flat belly. So when it's not working correctly, you can be left feeling like a tube, with the bulge, or even a diastasis rectus abdominus - which is also a symptom of Core Dysfunction.
Learn more about Rectus Diastasis here.
Abdominal bloating is a totally different story. Bloating is bulging of the belly often caused by gas, sometimes fluid or what I call "intestinal congestion." Bloating from gas changes throughout the day. To determine if you have this type of bloating you can measure your waist at the belly button in the morning upon waking, then measure it again in the evening 1 hour after dinner. Dr. Robynn Chuktan, MD, Functional Gastroenterologist explains that if you do this several days in a row and your measurements change by more than an inch morning to evening, then you are experiencing bloat. You may have daily bloating or you may always feel bloated. I call this persistent bloat intestinal congestion, because it reminds me of a chronic sinus infection - you have constant inflammation from your body sending cells to that area to fight off what it thinks is an intruder. The trigger of inflammation in your intestines is a food sensitivity, and leaky gut is often what sets the stage.
If your bulging belly is a result of Core Dysfunction, then at one time, you had a trigger. Childbirth, abdominal surgery, back injury, car accident, or just inactivity then jumping into an exercise regimen that was too intense. You will have symptoms of Core Dysfunction which may include abdominal weakness, rectus diastasis, recurring back pain or misalignment, hip or pelvic pain, pain with sex, poor balance, leaking urine, stool or gas (even if it's just a little when you jump or cough), pelvic organ prolapse - to name a few. If you have a trigger, and are having symptoms - even if they are intermittent, your bulging belly can improve with the correct reactivation of the Core System muscles either through the online Mommy Ready Postpartum Program, or by working with a Core System Specialist who is trained to identify the cause of your Core Dysfunction and teach you how to correct it.
Even if you have Core Dysfunction, you may also have Bloating. Taking care of the underlying cause of both symptoms will help you feel and look your best! How do you get rid of bloat? I often work with patients to determine which foods are causing bloating and learn how to heal leaky gut. Childbearing years for women are a prime time when these symptoms may show up for the first time. If you're just discovering that you have this - you are not alone. Tom Malterre, a nutritionist, and Functional Medicine expert from Bellingham, WA, has written the best book I have read on how to heal leaky gut and eliminate bloat. It's called "The Elimination Diet." I often use this book along with other handouts, and coaching to guide my patients through discovering their own food sensitivities and stopping the intestinal congestion.
A flat tummy and a defined waist may not be the most important thing on your list of priorities. But should it be? Correcting Core Dysfunction and restoring the Core System will protect your body from injury, make you stronger, and help you find success in your fitness goals. Identifying sources of abdominal bloat and removing triggers of intestinal inflammation can remove years of tiredness, irritability, brain fog and move you toward your ideal weight. These banners of motherhood may be better spoken of among friends as the things you left behind when you decided that a flat tummy was one of the most important things you could do today.