Bouncing Back Post Baby | Diastasis Recti & Safely Working Out Again
Hi, and welcome to a new episode of the Mom Bosses Abroad podcast. Today we are here with Gemma Ovens and she is going to share everything she knows as an expert on how to safely return to exercise post baby and how to check for diastasis recti. So Gemma, welcome to our podcast. We're so excited to have you here with us today.
Thank you so, so much. I'm really looking forward to it.
Yeah, so Gemma, you are the founder of the Postnatal Fitness Hub. So once moms have built a strong foundation, you support them in the Moms Strength Academy, where the focus isn't just about the exercise but also how to make time for you, build confidence, set goals and create new habits. That is amazing. So welcome also from me.
Thank you so much.
And this subject is something that can be split up, I guess maybe in two camps a little bit like, you know, moms that are really, really aware of what is happening to their bodies with regards to their diastasis recti and moms who really are not even sure or who are expecting their first baby, and they probably say: ‘is this something that I need to worry about? Is this something else that I need to add to my plate?’ So Gemma, just starting off a little bit with that overview of what, you also know as ab separation, what diastasis recti really is and what is it all about? You know for those of us who are not really sure how to explain it.
Yeah, of course. That's brilliant. Yeah, you've explained that really well. There and it's quite difficult for me in terms of what I do to keep getting that message out there because the mums that are aware of it will contact me and they then just want to know how to check and how to heal and the ones that aren't aware of it_slowly, hopefully through the messaging and really trying to raise awareness eventually kind of thing. ‘Oh, maybe I need to check’. So I'm really, really focusing on raising awareness of this cause if it is not picked up and it's not healed, and you know, there's a plan in place, it can cause long term issues for moms.
And I think a big part of it is there are so many moms that are probably walking around with backache, they might be walking around struggling a little bit with incontinence, whether that's just certain movements that they do. Mums might say, ‘Oh, I still look pregnant’ and I'm you know, I had my baby years ago/months ago. These are all signs, classic signs of diastasis recti so I mean there are a few others. But these are generally the most common symptoms of diagnosis. So what I tried to do is just make moms aware of these symptoms, and then we go through how to check so there's a simple check that you can do just to see if you do have it and it can be very mild, it can be very, very mild, your abs might come back together. But the ligaments and the middle of the ABS could be quite weak. So it's more about for me, everybody should do some form of rehab and core strength post baby. So there's probably about eight out of 10 moms that will still have ABS separation about eight to 10 weeks after having their baby and this is usually the time when ABS will naturally come back together. But the percentage of moms that still have some form of ABS separation beyond this time is higher than you think. And I have it and it really frustrates me that as moms we cannot in every country. There's definitely countries that have nailed the postnatal care for moms, but, again, nine times out of 10 It's kind of like you've had your baby, off you go and everything's kind of focused on the baby. We get a little bit of a red carpet six to eight weeks, but there's no check for it. I know it's too early to check for abs separation, but there needs to be something else in place.
There really is no discussion whatsoever. Yeah, it's mostly the baby, breastfeeding. And if you were C-section it’s obviously taking care of the scars or sutures. But yeah, going back a little bit just again to like very high-level questions. Because I raise my hand in that I was not really aware of, you know, abs separation and all the effects that it can have. But also, is it something that happens regardless of what type of birth you have- is just a pregnancy related situation that happens?
Yeah, it is. So basically, our abs abdominal muscles have to separate to allow room for the baby to grow. So that's all completely part and parcel of pregnancy and that will happen to Yeah, every every month, the post birth once hormones settle and things start to return. I mean, if you really break down when the body goes through during pregnancy is absolutely fascinating. You know, the ribs move in. And so then we have obviously that recovery period after we've had the baby and that's where the hormones begin to settle. Everything starts to move back to its kind of original place. But unfortunately, not always. And I was one of those moms and I think it's happened again this time, where I had quite bad ABS separation and I did have a C section as well. But you're right in what you've said there either that why would you be aware of it because there's nobody talks to you about it.
So Gemma like I'm I'm 10 weeks postpartum now so how would I check by for myself now if I had that or not?
So there is a simple check and I do have a video that I just send to people so that you can do the check yourself at home. It's really really simple. But yeah, I do have a video I can I can explain it but it's easy to watch it
Yeah, that makes sense. How early do you think I've been I'm sure it differs after different pregnancies or different types of births you've had as well but how soon can you start doing something about it? Let's say for example, I had a vaginal birth and I feel okay. I think like after 10 weeks is it okay to start already? A lot of people say wait until 12 weeks, some people say no start straightaway. What would you say?
Yeah, really good question because it all depends on what exercise you start with as well. The moms I work with just that have, you know, a safety precaution I always make sure that they've just had that all clear from the GP. So usually around the six week mark, but you can, if you've had a vaginal delivery, you can actually start some breathing and pelvic floor exercises within days if you feel comfortable and ready. Actually start that early. And that would be very, very basic, pelvic tilt sliding on the floor, a little bit of connection breathing. So it really does depend on the Mom, how you feel, the type of exercise that you're doing for moms that have had a C-section, obviously that waits is longer. So I've just had my second C-section now and I've I would say at the four week mark, I started just doing a tiny bit of stretching, a little bit of connection breathing and only now am I building on that. So yeah, very, very basic to begin with.
I know because we haven't mentioned as well that you yourself are also just had your second one about four weeks postpartum now
So 5 weeks this week, so recently as well. Congratulations and trying to keep him quiet here
Yes mine here maybe though they'll start having their own little conversation.
So I just want to circle back just a little bit you are from the UK right and you also told us just before we started recording that you are currently living in Dubai. So do you want to tell us a little bit how long you've been there and where in your journey you decided, hey, ‘I want to start, how I need to start getting this message out there. I want to start communicating this and teaching as well.’ What did that journey look like?
Okay, please stop me if I start waffling because I am a teacher as well. So I do tend to talk. So yeah we moved to Dubai five years ago and I've always wanted to live and work abroad. I love the sun as you know the UK weather isn't amazing. So we decided to just take that plunge five years ago now came over with 60 kg of luggage and we've now got up to two children and a full house of bits and pieces. So you know very different. So yeah, I mean in terms of my backgrounds, I've always been into fitness and sport that stems from when I was five years old when I was starting to compete. And I competed until I was about 17, studied sport, went to college and studied SPORT SCIENCE went to Uni, did the same there. So everything's been about fitness and then went on to teaching I did my PGCE and was teaching secondary physical education. I did all my fitness qualifications and set up a business in the UK. And then it was only when I had so I did my pre and postnatal many years ago the qualification because I was attracting moms. And I thought I really want to make sure that I'm giving the right information and the right exercises for moms. And then I had my first child two years ago via C section and even with my knowledge and backgrounds, I was overwhelmed with ‘where do I start?’ after surgery. Whereas I want to get back into exercise. That's what I do. It's what I need. I was 16 kilos still overweight, not that that was my major concern. I felt my posture was terrible. I had backache and had this surgery. I just thought ‘Oh, am I ever going to be lifting weights again, and am I ever going to be you know, posture?’ but I just found it really overwhelming and when I searched about rehab post C-section there was hardly anything out there. And honestly, I was gobsmacked.
And then I was checked, I knew that I had to check for my own ABS separation. So I did that. And I was like, ‘Oh, brilliant.’ So just to add on top of everything I had a three and a half finger gap. So I was in it. I was in pretty, pretty bad shape. So yeah, it was just through my own research, my own trial and error of different exercises. What worked I did my own rehab journey for about four months and then by nine or 10 months, I was back in the gym squatting, deadlifting with a strong core and my abs were strengthened
Gemma and what I love and I'm going to interrupt you a little bit but what I love about your story and I believe this is something that really needs to be highlighted. With like yellow highlighter and underlined and double lined as much as possible is that this is not a vanity issue. This is not about you know, getting your your beach body back. This is about more than that. This is about your body going through a big change and making sure that you don't have long term consequences that are negative because of something that could be completely avoided through rehab as you say, allowing your body to go back to where it needs to be. So that you can go on with your life and your motherhood journey and your business journey and everything else that you have going on in between, in the best shape possible. This is a health issue. So, it is so important I think to just highlight that this is not ‘oh I want to go back to the gym and look great in a bikini.’ This is about your body just went through a big change in delivered a baby, brought a human being into the planet and things got moved around. And now we need to help you get back right as you say so. So Gemma, I am so happy that you're sharing this with us because we need to hear it in this context. And from a different perspective,
We do and we need to repeat it often and often because what I can't stand is you know social media is absolutely amazing for the right things. But what I cannot stand is certain people, whatever, you know influencers, famous people whoever they might be bouncing back in six weeks, you know back in their bikini. Really? Rarely you know one actually does that. And two that is not a message that needs to be going out there because yeah, it makes my job harder because I get moms coming to me saying at six weeks saying ‘Gemma, can you help me lose weight?’ and I have to say no, I really can't right now. I will not help you lose weight. What I will do is help you pick the right foods that will help balance your hormones, give you energy, get you through this really tired period, you know night feeds, and I'll also teach you about your body and help you to rehab and connect with it again. And then you can start building up the fitness, building up the strength and the by-product of all of that is the weight loss if that's what you want to have ranked. The main thing is the strength, the posture, connecting the mind back to the body, moving everything back to where it needs to be. You can have a baby and even though you might feel amazing eight weeks, then I'm going to go out for a run today. You reconnect,
You have to be careful. You've got to rebuild that foundation, right? Yeah. Because otherwise, you may be in the short-term thinking ‘Oh, that's great. I'm out running and everything’ after a while you're you know, this may have serious consequences.
And there's so many people that think it's normal to have incontinence issues when they're running or doing exercise and you know,
Exactly it's not- it's not and that's why I love what you do with your Academy because you don't just focus on the exercise or on the losing weight game, right. But you also really teach moms how to make time for you because as we know, that's really not so easy right now, especially when you also already have another child right? So this then you have a baby so you how do you possibly make time for you? That's really, really important to build your confidence back, right? Because there's so many things connected to postpartum I just shared as well that I had a really bad case of mastitis. And these are things that you don't plan you don't you know, they don't they come totally out of the blue sometimes. And it takes time to kind of build your confidence because a lot of mom guilt comes to that have I failed? Have I done something wrong? Was I not careful? So the building confidence I love that you incorporate that and then and then the next step? How do you set goals again, right how do you kind of start getting back onto track but how do you set a new path for yourself? How do you create new habits so I think this is all encompassing and this is this is really, really fantastic.
Well, this is the other side of the of the coin right? We said it shouldn't be a vanity thing. The approach should not be as you said, Gemma, I want to lose weight because I need to look like you know, whoever it is promoting this this out of reality image that you're supposed to look like you didn't even have a baby three seconds after delivering. At the same time we don't want to press the panic button and say, ‘Oh my God. Now diastasis recti is a thing. And if you don't do something the moment the baby's out it's done-it's irreversible.’
So if you can share a little bit with our listeners, you know that medium which is like how, how gradual to go about it, not to panic and to say now I need to start thinking about, separation, and I'm still struggling to, produce milk or whatever it is that you're going through after giving birth, but at the same time, don't allow it to become ‘Oh, I'll get to it eventually.’ To get to a point where it's like well maybe if you had done something sooner, it would have healed faster and things would be a little bit easier. So maybe you can also help us, you know, direct our listeners in that direction so that they understand that it's about striking I guess, some sort of harmony in between those two perspectives.
It really is. So I come out with rest, rehab, heal. So once you've had the baby, just forget everything. Just enjoy baby cuddles. Get yourself through each day one step at a time. Sleep when you can't get the house work and fuel your body with you know food and water. And you do that for as long as you need to do. Every new mom’s journey is completely different, you know, might be getting more sleep than another mom, your priorities might be different. Mine I can't I don't care if the house and I've got nappies laying around from the night feeds, I'll deal with it the day after. Whatever you need to do to get through that period. And then the rehab you've actually got to ideally, you've got a two-year window with starting that healing of separation. So you've got plenty of time to check for the ABS separation and decide what you want to do in terms of you know, rehabbing the core. So you have got time and I have worked with moms years and years postnatal that didn't realize they were struggling with these symptoms. And we've actually made massive amounts of progress even years later, so it is never ever too late at all. There's lots of different core and full body exercises you can be doing years later when the time is right for you. Obviously, for me what I say to moms, if you can find when you're ready, 10 minutes a day for maybe three or four days a week just to do some breathing, stretching and rehab. It's a bit of you time as well. Right?
That's right, you can combine these two together right and take that
And who doesn't have two minutes. I mean, we do have two minutes to do other things.
I tried to put that message out there politely. But you know, I lay on the floor yesterday with Logan next to me just did five minutes agree then he's on the mat next to me. I take some deep breaths into some core connection breathing. And it might only be five minutes, but then I think okay, well that's five minutes that I've had for me. And now I don't mind having to go and clean and do other things. No, you're not really resentful. Because you've just had a little bit of time for you and don't feel guilty about that either.
Yeah. It's workable mindset wise. Five minutes, 10 minutes. It's workable fraction_ it's a workable pocket of time as we like to say here in the podcast
And we scheduled so many things throughout the day, right? If it's appointments or things or kids or something, if it's something we also need to do, if it doesn't come naturally to you, schedule it in. That is definitely what I had to learn. I'm very much a person who is always on the go, has so many things. I'm always using every single pocket of time I can get to maybe work on my business or do something. I really had to learn to take care of myself, right. And I always say that Iva as a big person, like a person really, really helps me with this as well. But especially now after the second one. I was like, wow, it's I really need to do this. I can't, I don't have to feel guilty about it. It's actually necessary. It's necessary, right? It is this journey. And like you said, it doesn't matter what the house looks like, it doesn't matter that some things just have to wait maybe for your business or something because you are the most important. If you are not well, you also cannot take care of your children.
Yeah, right. So yeah, look after number one and it's mental health as well as physical health and the straw for healing absolutely got to feel happy mom means happy baby.
I always had to say like sad like I don't have time or it's like a waste of time and that is so wrong. It's so completely wrong because it's it's part of it. It's it's again laying the foundation for everything to come.
Yes. And it's just, it's your it basically what I say is if moms are saying I don't have time, you're basically saying you don't have time for you. You're not prepared for a time for you and that comes down to self-worth or your values- you know you can and this is why I say it's not just about exercise by you find in five minutes you either meditate or do you breathe in or do some stretching. What you're actually saying to yourself and to the world is ‘I do value myself. I am worthy of this time and I am going to do it’ and connect it around. Rather than say is ‘Oh my God, I'm such a bad person. I've got really bad mom guilt. Why am I doing this? I haven't got five minutes, I need to be doing this and this.’ No actually flip it around. I do deserve this. I am worthy of this. And if I do this, I'm able to do everything else. Feeling much happier.
I was sharing about this with someone yesterday and we touched upon this precisely. We need to stop with the hustle badge of honor going around. We need to stop thinking that going through a burnout is somehow looked upon as you're such a warrior. You were doing all the things and running yourself to the ground. I'm sorry. You ran yourself to the ground. It's irresponsible. Yeah, very harshly but it is irresponsible because how can you have the strength, the energy, the presence of being there for you? Right? Yeah, what did they get? Or what does everyone around you get afterwards? They get a tired, fatigued, burned out, you know, mom, that cannot really keep on going at that pace anymore. So, it's very, very important to highlight that as well. Yeah.
Also as an entrepreneur, I had a conversation with my mom while she was still here. And she said, Des, this is why moms have maternity leave, you know, you need to slow down. She told me this just before I gave birth, right because I'm still running around doing everything and she said, slow down. You’re about to have a baby, and you're right, you're right. You know it takes your mother to travel all the way here to tell you that too. And then afterwards as far as like, this is why people have maternity leave, you know, they get home from work so they don't work anymore. They can safely take that time to focus on themselves. Do some preparations, maybe but take that time for themselves. As entrepreneurs because we don't have that right. We don't have this employer that sends you home because we are our own bosses. We decide on our working time, on our working pace. So we have a lot more responsibility I feel to do that to say exactly you know what, I am only 10 weeks postpartum now right? I still have some time to just that time is mine that time is the time to bond with the baby as well because she's not gonna get smaller. She's only gonna grow up and I'm gonna regret it maybe one day not having, you know, looked her in the eye while nursing her or, you know, just these precious moments. Yes, taking care of myself and that's why I love that you have this rehab program and I think especially for entrepreneur moms like mompreneurs it's so, so valuable to take that because you forget
Yes and catching on what Des said, Gemma, this is so amazing that you have a live Online Six Week Rehab Program, that you’re offering and we would love to learn a little bit more about that. How does it work and how can people really take advantage of working with you and really handling in a very responsible way as we said, obviously, you know, clearing with their doctors and making sure that they are mentally not going for ‘I just need to lose weight and look good in my body’. But it's because I am doing this because long-term, t's very beneficial for me. So can you share a little bit with us?
Yeah, of course. So the six week program I developed as I've said, after my first C-section, I was running it live for about a year. And then I took it to a self-study program. So it's always available for moms to just buy and complete. But even if they're doing a self-study we have a zoom call, we chat through everything. And I also check in on their techniques or they send videos so there's always that accountability and that safety aspect to it as well. In terms of the live that I'm about to run this month I'm obviously, we have decided to do the six week program live. So mums again will have a bit of an introduction with me. I explain a little bit more about the program but I also find out about them individually so there's no kind of generic program for every mom because every mom is completely different in terms of their postnatal journey, what symptoms they might have, the time that they've got available. So I like to know everybody's current situation, what symptoms they have so that I can tweak certain exercises for each of the modules within the program. But the program is really relaxed, so I'll probably have Logan with me. The other ones might have their babies with them. It's really, really relaxed and we just do the exercises over zoom together. And it's nice because you've got other mums as well to just be having a chat to and checking in. We can have a, you know, a little it's perfect. I've really enjoyed running it live before so I'm quite looking forward to doing it live again. And then yeah, we chat about all things that sense of community as you say, yeah.
Also so nice to know that there are other moms doing the same thing, towards that same goal and that’s amazing energy of collective support and connection.
Yeah, I think you need to know that- since I know as a when I had my first child you don't know what's constitutes with the norm until you speak to other mums and it's ‘Oh, right. Okay, so that's normal to feel like that.’
Yeah, every everyone is different as well. There's also too much comparison. But, you know, it really depends on your body, on your circumstance on your baby. And it can even differ from one child to the other, right. Yeah, exactly. So no, this is fantastic. We're gonna hop on your website straightaway after this.
Yes, we are going to share everything in the show notes and we're also going to share the link to a freebie that you have. Well, would you like to tell our listeners what it’s all about?
Yes, of course. So the freebie is an e-book and this is for any mums really. So if you are a new mom is perfect because you get some very basic exercises just to start with, there's some nutrition information in there as well. And scar tissue massage information is also included for any mums that have had a C-section, but it's also really good for any mums that might be years postnatal, but I've never started any exercise and they're unsure where to begin. So this will just give them a really basic, it's not too overwhelming and you can just follow exercises, there's a week's worth of exercises in there. So, it just helps you create a little bit of a routine. And then if you think ‘oh yeah, I can do this’. Then you can build on it from that as well. But the scar tissue massage, that's another thing that you don't get told about with a C-section. So I do make sure that that's in lots of the things that I provide it will be in the six week program as well. Because again, this is a vital part of recovery. If you've had a C-section
Right of course. And that is so great.
And what I love about your message today, Gemma, that you shared with us is that there's no rush, right? Enjoy, enjoy the period, enjoy, you know those precious moments with a new-born because they quickly become you know, babies and toddlers and so forth. However, there are tiny little things that you can do with very, very small pockets of time. As long as the baby And that way you are sure to go in a very safe and a very responsible journey towards the healing and also, you know, recovering right? It's not about vanity is about recovering. It's about allowing your body to go back to where it needs to go. So we are so happy that you came and shared with us today, Gemma, we loved everything that you that you shared and your message of course towards all the moms out there and even if you've been you know already a seasoned mom with some years of motherhood under your belt. There's always something that can be done if you have this suspicion that ab separation might be playing a little bit in the background. So if you want to connect with Gemma, you can find her on Instagram. Her Insta handle is @postnatalfitnesshub, and we're also linking to her Facebook, LinkedIn accounts and of course her amazing freebie and the program in case you're interested in really continuing this journey directly with her. Thank you so much Gemma for being with us today.
Thank they really enjoyed it.
Thank you -yes so so happy we’ve connected and I'm sure I'll be reaching out to you several times. Thank you so much.
No problem. Thank you.
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Gemma is the founder of Postnatal Fitness Hub and works with mums raising awareness of Diastasis Recti and how to return to exercise safely post baby. Once mums have built a strong foundation Gemma supports mums in her Mums Strength academy where the focus isn't just about exercise, but also how to make time for you, build confidence, set goals and create new habits.
DR Information Sheet (what is it and how do we check? Basic exercises included.)