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The Do’s and Don’ts of Fixing Mommy Tummy

I've always prided myself on being a healthy person. Not a health nut, but healthy. Early in my teens I figured out the perfect balance of activity and indulgence to maintain my figure, and while I never sported a six-pack, I certainly never had anyone tell me I was fat.

That all changed six months after I had my baby. The first few months postpartum I did carry some weight, but that was to be expected. I had sported a giant baby belly and was practicing compassion with my amazing new body. I was chubby, but the weight was slowly melting away and I was starting to look like my old self again… until I started exercising.

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Within weeks of starting Pilates classes I noticed my boss nervously glancing at my bulging midsection. A pregnancy test confirmed I wasn't expecting, but a delighted "Wow! You're pregnant again! How wonderful!" from an out-of-town visitor confirmed that something was definitely wrong. A quick check with my doctor confirmed: My ardent exercise had exacerbated a formerly tiny diastasis recti—commonly known as a split tummy muscle—and my muscles could no longer support the weight of my guts, which were happily spilling over my waistline.

As I looked into the condition, I found out that all of my efforts to regain my figure, from diet and exercise to lifestyle, had contributed to my bulging midline, but also found out that it's perfectly possible to regain your figure without corrective surgeries or tummy tucks.

My exercise routine, consisting of running, pilates and yoga, had all contributed to a split in my abdominal muscles, while my lack of sleep, walking and time spent with my husband were keeping my stress levels high, and telling my body to hang on to excess fat as an insurance policy.

The key to repairing my midsection was a two-fold approach: rebuilding my abdominal muscles and healing my diastasis recti, while also eliminating the stress hormones that were keeping a protective layer of fat on my tummy.

Here are the do's and don'ts of getting rid of your mommy tummy once and for all!

Don't Do Crunches

Crunches, sit-ups and other traditional tummy exercises put tremendous strain on your muscles, which are already compromised, and end up further pulling apart your tummy and strengthening the wrong muscles.

Do Relax

All American moms run on adrenaline for the first few weeks postpartum, which eventually leads to high levels of cortisol, one of the biggest causes of tummy fat. Taking time for yourself, enjoying simple pleasures and just letting go help reduce your levels of adrenaline and cortisol, and tell your body it's okay to drop some of its emergency storages of fat.

Don't Do Yoga

Up until I developed diastasis recti I loved winding down after a long day with yoga. While winding down is a critical part of losing abdominal fat, many of the positions in yoga—such as the plank, child and camel—apply pressure to the abdominal muscles or stretch them apart, thus worsening the diastasis recti.

Do Take a Walk Instead

Walking is not only a safe exercise, but can help lower cortisol levels in the blood, which will help slim down your waistline. Be sure to actively contract your stomach during the walk so that you're strengthening the right muscles and not reinforcing bad posture. You can also go on a slow jog if your stomach muscles are strong enough or you use a splint or wrap. But beware! If your stomach is not supported during a jog, the weight of your legs and stomach pushing against the muscles can tear them wide open.

Do Use a Splint or Wrap

Many traditional societies in Asia and South America practice postpartum binding, in which the mom's abdomen is wrapped up tight in order to allow it to heal properly. While most of us have missed the boat on this, using a splint or wrap physically pushes together the split abdominal muscles and supports your stomach as the muscles around the diastasis recti are strengthened.

Do Focus On Your Posture

Maintaining a strong posture with your tummy tucked in retrains the muscles in your abdomen and back that lost tone while you were carrying your baby, which are also the same muscles you need to hold in your guts and reshape your mommy tummy.

RELATED: The Lines on My Body Tell My Story

Don't Use Your Tummy as a Nursing Pillow

Many nursing moms puff out their tummy unknowingly to support their baby's weight while nursing. This stretches and weakens the muscles around the Diastasis Recti and also trains the other muscles that they should be sticking straight out.

Do Cuddle

Cuddling with your baby, husband and dog releases oxytocin (aka "the cuddle hormone") which combats cortisol and helps slim down your midsection.

Image via Flickr/Rumpleteaser

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