Loving (and Healing) your FUPA (aka Mommy Tummy, Diastasis Recti)

Photo Source:     Tiffany Smith Instagram

I don’t do SPANX (anymore). A while back, I admittedly got seduced by their advertising, so I went ahead and ordered some. They made me bloated, contorted (read: not flattened) my stomach rolls, constantly hiked up my thighs and my body looked strange. I thought, “Oh, I just ordered the wrong type”. So I ordered 3 more versions of essentially the same thing until I put my proverbial foot down. I’m no longer suckin’ in sh*&. Instead, I run around my apartment singing “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly…” And after giving birth, for the first time, I, like many other moms, got a FUPA.

I can’t remember the first time I heard the term FUPA. But I do remember that it was in the 1990s and it was the slur that “mean girls” threw at others during middle and high school (i.e. “Ugh, whatever she’s got a FUPA”).

Now, in 2018, Her Royal Highness Herself, Beyonce, is owning her FUPA with pride (though I watched her Coachella performance and didn’t notice it). And the just-now-appointed FUPA queen, Tiffany Smith, even created a FUPA-line for all of us to love ours… whether we keep it or seek to lose it (she just lost 85 pounds).

I will personally admit though, that while I will not spank my FUPA into submission, I do want it to shrink. That does not contradict what I said above. I won’t hide my FUPA, I’m gonna wear it proudly AND I want it to shrink. Both/And.

It actually has shrunk, thanks to physical therapy to heal my diastasis recti, I just want it to shrink more (FYI: Nothing in this post is sponsored). So I sat with my physical therapist and friend, Renuka Pinto, who specializes in healing diastasis recti (aka fixing the FUPA/mommy tummy), to ask her about the mechanics of the FUPA and why it’s so hard to heal.

Before we start, can you just tell us what it was like working with Serena Williams?

Oh, Serena, she is such a fun person and she is very thoughtful on what she wants. I worked on her during tournaments while I was with the Women’s Tennis Association. She has really good muscle tone and she is really strong. Strength is definitely her strength. She also has a great sense of humor. She is soooo funny.

What is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis Recti (DR) is when your stomach muscles separate. The stomach muscle slingshots from your rib cage to your pelvis and the muscles and tendons stretch when one is pregnant, which causes a split of the abdomen muscles.

Every person who gives birth will have a diastasis, that’s a given. It’s the size that will differ from woman to woman and it depends on how much of the ab wall was stretched. For example, for my first child, I gained 30 pounds, she was 6 pounds and I had a 2 finger diastasis. Two years later, I had a 9-pound baby and I had a 4 finger diastasis. The important part is closing the diastasis. Some women heal really quickly, but many don’t. Most women don’t know how “mommy tummy” works and this (lack of knowledge) has been accepted for so long. People think you give birth and then this (the tummy) is normal. It’s not normal. Pain during sex is not normal. Headaches are not normal. So many illnesses and ailments have become normalized due to our quick, everyday speed. We can slow down and heal instead of taking more pills to ease pain.

How does one check for Diastasis Recti?

You need to check at 3 points. Above, below and at the belly button. Remember everyone carries differently, so a diastasis will be located in different places. Lay on your back with two fingers in your belly button. Lift your head up and feel if there is a split between the ab muscles.

An issue I see is that most women don’t even learn that they have diastasis recti until their 6 week check-up with their OB/GYN. Most doctors just state that the patient has DR, they don’t tell the patient how to heal it. The awareness is not there. New mothers should be taking care of the diastasis well before the 6 week visit.

On average, how long does it take to heal DR?

It takes time. Be patient! Don’t believe what you read in those blogs and don’t believe the superstars (Psst: Fazeela here. I did interject at this point to highlight the irony in that last statement). With a first child it takes at least 6-7 months to heal and even longer with each additional child. Remember, it is harder for a full-time working mother to heal since active rest is so important. But I say it over and over again, good posture and active rest are the quickest route to healing.

Are there countries in the world treating this right?

In the West, The French have got it right. All women who give birth in France follow a 6 week postpartum regimen (including physical therapy) that is a part of their health system. Here we have to go back to work at 6 weeks. In the US, the postpartum period is treated very differently.

Also, in many other countries, women stay at home and don’t have to do much childcare at first. Take India for example. [Many] women stay at their mom’s after they deliver. This may be frowned upon by us “career girls”, but think about it. Your body just gained and lost weight, is dealing with fluids and hormones and now needs to restore itself to produce milk. How can someone also do chores!? Women over there are not on bed rest, but active rest and that’s the fastest way to heal. There is wisdom in other ways.

Renuka suggests using a  double binder li  ke this

Renuka suggests using a double binder like this

Can you discuss the importance of a good binder?

Everyone puts binders on [in India]. It’s a given. Here, in the US, it’s optional. Many women from countries throughout Asia and Africa bind. This is where I find the biggest difference between the US and other countries. I got myself my own binder since the one they gave me in the hospital didn’t do the job.

After giving birth we have to bind our bodies back together to give them the muscle memory of where tissues were 9 months ago. Tissues heal better when they have a reference point. I got a $7 double binder. You don’t have to spend a ton of money. I prefer double binders because they give the most support. Here is an example.

When should one start wearing the binder?

I would say time is of the essence. If you did not have a c-section, I would put it on within the first day, if possible. Think about it, starting on Day 1, you will lift your head up. That creates tension which affects the diastasis.

If you had a c-section, I would wait until the stitches come off and then wait to see when there is no pain.

I get frustrated that in the US, after giving birth, the focus is all about lactation/latching. There also needs to be a focus in teaching new mothers how to get up! Or in clinical terms, how to transfer. New mothers should roll off of the bed, like a log roll. Ideally, they should roll to the side only using their arms to push up and swing their legs over.

Can you discuss your research on diastasis recti and gravity?

Yes, NASA is about to publish new research on gravity. This pertains to that. Most of us are sensory dead since we spend so much time sitting at desks and looking at the computer all-day. When it comes to childbirth and physics, new mothers lose the length-tension relationship in their abdomen. It’s gone. But they don’t have anything to help them re-find the length-tension relationship. New moms literally don’t know where their abdomens need to be. Some will have bad posture while sitting and their stomach will pooch out, yet they stand perfectly and vice versa. So the GravityFit belt beeps when the core tension is eased. After my third child, for example, I used the GravityFit belt all day long. It would beep and I would re-activate my core. I closed my diastasis much faster than with the first two…

What advice would you give someone who does not have access to physical therapy and wants to heal their FUPA?

Remember, the abdomen is a flat muscle. So if you pull it (the stomach muscles and tendons) together you are actually pulling them (the muscles and tendons) apart . . . Think of a slice of bread with a hole in the middle. When you fold it, the hole stretches. DR is like that. Crunches actually prevent the stomach from healing and stretch out the muscle tendons. Here is my advice:

  1. Focus on the transverse abdominis (TA) muscle. The TA is the deep lower core and can be activated by thinking of narrowing the obliques or envision your ribs meeting your pelvis. Remember, do not do crunches or planks at first.

  2. You can check to see if your TA muscle is activated by putting your hand on your stomach. If you lift your head up and your stomach is even (stays flat), you are activating the core. If your stomach goes up, you are not activating it.

  3. Lunges and squats are really good to do after the 6 week point (postpartum). They hold your spine in a really good position.

  4. Try sitting on hard chairs with a firm base. Couches are designed for 6’0 men, not shorter women. It’s not good for our posture to sink into a couch. If you have to use a couch, use tons of pillows to prop yourself up.

  5. Use the GravityFit belt if you can. I make sure my clients use it.

I hope this was helpful to you! I worked with Renuka during my pregnancy and for months afterwards. Her pregnancy program helped me ease so much pain while walking, sitting, etc… Renuka Pinto, MPT, PGDR, CES, has a private physical therapy practice in Manhattan (and she accepts insurance!). Feel free to email her at renukapinto@yahoo.com or call 212-333-4884 if you seek physical therapy for your diastasis recti.

Do you have any tips on loving and/or healing your FUPA?