Having a baby is one of the most beautiful, miraculous and incredible things a woman can do, but there's no denying the physical toll it can take on the body — especially the abs.
"Mummy tummy" and "mommy pooch" refers to that soft, smooshy postpartum belly that most women end up with after giving birth. A recent study by BabyCenter.com showed 86 percent of moms felt their stomachs still hadn't returned to normal two years after having a baby.
If you think you're suffering from the separation of abdominal muscles that doctors call diastasis recti, personal trainer Leah Keller might have the solution. Keller, who has studios in New York and San Francisco, maintains she has devised a scientifically supported workout called The Dia Method that can shave several inches off the waist in just three weeks' time. And get this: It only takes 10 minutes a day. Hallelujah!
"We will see a dramatic change," Keller promised to NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff, who committed to three weeks of the class. "You can easily expect to see two inches off your waist in three weeks of time," Keller says. "That's not an unrealistic expectation."
Keller and Dr. Geeta Sharma, M.D., an OB-GYN at Weill Cornell Medicine, did a pilot study on the program — finding 100 percent of the 63 women who took part in the daily exercise had fixed their diastasis recti after 12 weeks. And that is pretty incredible.
"We had patients that were even one year out from giving birth, and they still had such great benefit from the exercises," Dr. Sharma says. "We love to see that there is something we can do to help women."
Dr. Linda Brubaker, M.D., an OB-GYN at the University of California, San Diego, tells NPR that the rectus abdominal muscles — the ones that give you that much desired six-pack — should be directly next to each other on each side of the belly button with very little gap. "People think these muscles go horizontal across the belly. But they actually go vertical from head to toe," she explains.
But what happens during pregnancy is a gap forms between the muscles and around the belly button. Sometimes it will close on its own postpartum, but not always. Left behind is a spot in the belly, sometimes one to two inches wide, with almost no muscle. This is what causes that mommy pooch. To get these muscles to realign, exercise is crucial, but Brubaker warns that most of the information available online isn't good and can even be "potentially harmful." Bicycle crunches and crossover crunches can "splay your abs apart in so many ways," she warns.
Keller's method is one of the few that doctors and physical therapists support — and it's actually quite simple. "The exercise is a very small, very intense movement that's almost imperceptible," she explains.
Here's what she says to do: Sitting on the floor with crossed legs and hands on the belly, take a deep breath, letting the belly expand fully. On the exhale, pull in the belly muscles as far back toward the spine as they will go. "Now we're going to stay here near the spine. Hold this position," she says. Then take tiny breaths, and with every exhale you pull the stomach back further and further, "tighter and tighter." And then repeat for 10 minutes.
According to NPR, all the moms in the class succeeded in either completely closing off their abdominal separations or losing inches from their bellies. One even shed almost four inches from her midsection. Doucleff didn't completely close hers up, but she did drop more than an inch from her belly circumference.
"And I am quite happy with the results," she wrote. "My abs are definitely firmer. And regularly doing this exercise brought a bonus benefit: My lower-back pain has almost completely gone away."
What Do YOU Think?
Did you have "mummy tummy" after having kids? How did you deal with it? Would you try Keller's class?