Now you see the pregnant belly, now you don't. That's what happens right before your very eyes in the "belly pumping" videos that are popping up all over social media and causing quite the ruckus.
It's easy to see why people are taken aback by the videos. I mean, one minute there's a big, round baby bump there, and the next, you see nearly flat abs. Take a look.
It's not as crazy as it seems, though.
The women are actually performing an exercise known as "belly pumping," which is part of the Bloom Method that teaches women breathing exercises using deep core engagement to provide a better pregnancy, birth, and after-birth experience.
Where does the baby go, you ask (because we certainly were asking that question when we first saw these)? Brooke Cates, a certified personal trainer and the founder of the Bloom Method, explains that as a woman does the exercise, the baby actually moves temporarily up into the mother's rib cage. While Cates says she's seen women able to make the baby "disappear" who are as far as 28 weeks along, typically the women who are able to completely flatten their stomachs are in their first or early second trimester. "Once the baby is structurally sound, movement is much less drastic and the baby can't fit into the rib cage," she explains.
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Still a little weirded out? Plenty of people are. Cates tells CafeMom that since her videos have gone viral, there's been a backlash from some claiming that her methods are dangerous, but she says that couldn't be further from the truth. Belly pumping is basically the exercise version of diaphragmatic breathing, which she says we all come into the world doing, but stress moves our breathing up into our chests. Teaching women to go back to the natural state of breathing while activating and softening the pelvic floor is what belly pumping is all about.
"It [the technique] has actually been around forever," Cates told CafeMom. "I'm just helping women tap back into what their bodies innately want to do. And I just added a little bit more oomph and education to help women connect to an area of their body that needs attention in order to have a more empowered birth."
Beyond just being a fun party trick, belly pumping is also associated with a host of health benefits, including eliminating everything from back pain during pregnancy to incontinence and painful sex after birth.
Lisa Waldo, a birth and postpartum doula with more than 30 years of experience, says when she first witnessed belly pumping she was concerned about the babies. But, after extensive research into the method and consultation with other caregivers, she is now a strong proponent of it. She says clients that use the method push out their babies much faster and more controlled than others, and they have less tearing, higher rates of satisfaction around their birth, and faster postpartum recoveries.
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Cates says belly pumping can be done throughout pregnancy and even during birth. And, while she does advise women with high-risk pregnancies to consult with their ob-gyns before using her methods, she claims the exercises are safe for nearly anyone, and Waldo seems to agree.
"Motherhood is one of the greatest honors in life, but it can also be physically and emotionally exhausting and taxing on women," Waldo says. "For this reason, when a client now asks me what she can do to set herself up for a strong pregnancy, empowering birth, and a positive postpartum healing experience, without hesitation I tell them to do the Bloom Method ... of course with their care provider's approval."