Ask The Experts
Monday, 01 February 2010 00:00
Post-Baby Abs, More Passion & Stepfamily Solutions
Amy Cady owns ABC Pilates in Laguna Niguel and is a Master Teacher Trainer for Pre- and Post-Natal Pilates in Southern California. www.abcpilates.com
Q (For Mom): I gave birth recently to my first child and want to get my abs back in shape. I've been doing crunches and sit-ups every day for past few weeks, but nothing has changed. What am I doing wrong?
A: This is a common question I get not only from new moms, but also from my "seasoned" moms. As a mother of two, I know the stress of motherhood and the desire to get your figure back. I also experienced abdominal inadequacy after my deliveries. It wasn't until I experienced this myself that I really put a focus on treating this. I discovered, through research and training, that the problem generally stems from a condition called "Diastasis Recti" or separation of the rectus abdominus ("the six-pack"). A couple things can cause it: the stretching of tissue that connects the two sides of the muscle, which can cause a split wider than normal, in conjunction with the pregnancy hormones that soften the connective tissue. It usually can be identified by a cone-shaped bulge in the midline of the abdominals when flexed during pregnancy. The gap is evident in the postpartum mother when she lies down and the loose skin around the belly button sinks into the split. It's usually not diagnosed after pregnancy and often confused for out-of-shape abs. However, it's very important to note that continued, incorrect exercise can cause further damage to these muscles.
Diastatsis can happen to any mom due to multiple babies, petite women, those with a pronounced sway back, or those with poor abdominal muscle tone. Genetics can also play a role‚ and surprisingly, the fittest are susceptible because they continue to perform crunches or sit-ups during the course of their pregnancy. The action of the crunch pushes the uterus against the abdominal wall and the muscles are too tight to accommodate the pressure of the growing uterus, which can cause the split. It's recommended that mom's do not go into forward flexion or "crunch" their abdominals after the fourth month of pregnancy. While it's important to exercise during pregnancy with your doctor's permission, it is also crucial to do the correct type of exercises using only the internal and external obliques and the transversus abdominus (low abs) to support their movements.
If diastasis is determined after pregnancy, flexion of the torso should be avoided until the gap is closed to prevent widening of this gap. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the width. After birth, you should always be checked for this condition and be cleared by your doctor before starting any exercise program. If left unchecked, the integrity of abdominal strength is compromised which may cause low back pain and pelvic instability.
How do you know if you have it? A small amount of separation of the midline (one to two fingers' width) is common after most pregnancies, and is not usually a problem. However, if the gap at your midline is more than two fingers and it doesn't shrink as you deepen the work of your abdominals or you can see loose skin sink at your midline, then you need to take precautions during exercise and other activities.
What do you do about it? Find an instructor who knows what they are doing, preferably someone with a reputable pre/post-natal fitness certification and training. They should be able to determine the extent of the gap with simple testing. Don't panic! It's common right after delivery to feel a "hole" in your belly. Everyone's midline is slack after childbirth. As you recover, your midline will slowly regain its integrity and shape, and the "hole" will become narrower‚Äîand if you do the right exercises, your abs will recover and be more like your pre-pregnancy state.‚Äî Amy Cady
Source: The Center For Women's Fitness
Rekindling the Flame
Bio: Todd Creager, LCSW, LMFT, is a Huntington Beach-based marriage and sex therapist. His newly released book is titled "The Long, Hot Marriage." www.toddcreager.com
Q (For Parents): I've been married for almost ten years now. As time goes on‚ with work, kids and other routine events I feel like our passion isn't what it used to be when we were first married. How can I rekindle the flame?
A: The truth is, marriage and long-term intimate relationships can be passionate, juicy and alive. If you don't believe that, you're not alone. About 15 months ago, when I told my brother the title of my book, "The Long, Hot Marriage," he asked if the book started with the words, "Once upon a time." Funny, yes, but it's also an example of how the majority of people have come to believe about marriage and sex.
The problem is we are all copycats, we do what we have seen and heard throughout our lives. If we have not witnessed our parents having a "juicy" relationship, unless we consciously make new choices, we will create the same thing. Then, we believe that our self-created reality is the only reality. It's not. If you think, do and say new thoughts, behaviors and words, anything is possible. Also, if we live life "on automatic", we will think similar thoughts, do similar actions and say similar words as our ancestors when it comes to intimate relationships.
How many of us have seen one parent look lovingly into the other parent's eyes, maintain the gaze, and do it consistently, not just at their silver anniversary party? How many of us have seen one parent say to the other "I am angry at you" and the other maintain an emotional presence and without defensiveness, retreat or hostility say, "Oh, tell me more about what you feel?" Hardly any of us have witnessed these kinds of scenarios.
So, it's your turn (and mine) to do it differently so the next generation does not have be totally in the dark as to what makes relationships thrive as we have been. I have realized that making a relationship thrive has a lot to do with creating an emotional intensity between two people. For many people, when they first started dating the intensity was already there‚Äîin other words, the intensity just happened. As we get further in our relationships, we have to create it. It requires courage, vision (to see what is possible in the future) and most of all, the desire to grow and be more of who you are. You have to be willing to resist slipping into that comfort zone that ultimately gives you less as opposed to more of what you want from your partner. Be willing to tolerate some anxiety because, in all probability, you have spent more time trying to reduce tension than to open up to more of your own and your partner's emotional experience. As funny as it sounds, there is a certain amount of anxiety that has to be experienced and mastered as you get closer to your mate. Mastering anxiety does not mean getting rid of it. If you stop feeling anxiety, you are probably slipping into another comfort zone. It means that you don't let anxiety limit your behavior or choices. This leads to more aliveness in you and ultimately in your relationship. So take a deep breath, exhale and experiment with as many of the following items on my list as possible.
Ways to Increase Emotional Intensity With Your Partner
Look deeply into your partner's eyes and perceive him (or her) as someone who can truly benefit from receiving your love.
Ask your partner to communicate some difficult-to-express pain and relax your own body so that you listen without closing up.
Take time daily share meaningful feelings and thoughts with each other.
In the bedroom, touch your partner, but do it slowly, as if he will absolutely know how much you cherish him through your caressing.
Hug him a little longer then usual. Or kiss her a little longer than usual. Go past the point that is comfortable for you.
Whether your partner expresses his "wildness" through pain or pleasure, look at is as an opportunity to stay in rapport with him.
With your eyes, words and touch, you can have a major positive impact on your partner. We unconsciously underestimate our own power to love our partner and we are usually stuck in our own need to feel loved and approved by our mate and react when we feel "we are not measuring up in his or her eyes." Love your partner fully, create emotional intensity and let him or her respond to you. Never wait for your partner to make something happen. Do it yourself, it's a much more satisfying way to live. Experiment with these ideas and behaviors and see if your relationship gets better or worse. I'm guessing it gets better.
Double Standards in Step-Parenting
Bio: Yaffa Balsam, LMFT, is a Los Alamitos-based marriage and (step) family therapist. Her guidebooks and teleclasses information are available at www.remarriedwithchildren.org.
Q (For Mom): I'm recently remarried and have kids from my previous marriage and now stepkids. At home, my husband avoids disciplining his children, but is strict with mine. The double standard is driving us apart. What can we do?
A: Your question is not one out of the ordinary. Many men find themselves spending much more time with their stepchildren than with their biological children, simply because of their custody agreements. Fathers see their biological children's stay with them as visits, rather than "living with them," so they treat them like VIP guests and set fewer limits and looser behavioral expectations. A father may also allow their biological children free rein in the household in compensation for the little time they spend together‚Äîwithout regard for the opinions of their wife or stepchildren.
Fathers who do this hold a double standard. You may discover, after discussion, that you share family values and parenting styles, in theory. In practice, your husband applies the agreed-upon standard to you and your children, but not to himself and his own. This may leave you confused, frustrated or resentful, and at a loss for how to explain the situation to your children.
These double standards foster mistrust and divide the entire family. A wedge is driven between the couple because of ignoring issues deeper than mere differences in parenting styles. His children end up confused over the power gap between them and their stepsiblings. Your children feel unimportant and betrayed by their stepfather, and grow to resent their stepsiblings.
Here's some of my tips on how to deal with such double standards, and restore closeness in your relationship:
Communicate your concerns to your husband. Empathize with him; validate his predicament by acknowledging that he may not see his children as often as he would like. This will prevent him from feeling attacked and becoming defensive.
Encourage your husband to set aside time alone with his biological children, to nurture the bond between them.
Develop a unified parenting style. While it's okay to feel differently about biological children and stepchildren, they need to be treated the same.
Allow about 18-months to establish a close relationship with your stepchildren. Remember, your marriage is a significant life transition that requires major adjustment from all of you‚Äîone which may be filled with anxiety, fear and hope.
Evaluate whether your 'emotional divorce' is complete. Lingering feelings about the previous relationship may be in the way of emotional intimacy in your present marriage. Even things like anger toward your ex, or guilt toward the children for changing the family, can damage all of you.
Talk daily for 15 to 45 minutes. Use this time to voice feelings, opinions and thoughts about your day at work, the children and whatever else needs to be addressed. This practice will increase emotional intimacy, reduce resentment and clarify misunderstandings before they grow out of proportion.
Schedule activities for a weekly date night. Your life is very busy‚Äîapproach it with excitement, not as a chore. Focus on your couple relationship during your date. Do not discuss children; they monopolize enough of your time as it is.
Seek therapy with a therapist trained and experienced in stepfamily work. A therapist experienced in working with stepfamilies can be valuable because the dynamics of the stepfamily are much more complex than the biological family.
Following these suggestions will help you and your husband develop deeper emotional intimacy, which will strengthen your relationship. The daily talk and date night, in particular, ensure that issues come to light early on, and are not given the time to develop into something that drives the couple or family apart. ‚ÄîYaffa Balsam