Post-partum women often express surprise that for some time after giving birth, they still look a little, well, pregnant. It can be a little disappointing or annoying, but it’s a fact of life: after giving birth it just takes a little time to start feeling–and looking–like your old self again. But if you are 4, 6, or even 12 months postpartum, and you still have a bit of a baby bump, it’s possible that you have diastasis recti. To be clear, this won’t look like a little residual weight or extra skin (hey, your body worked hard for nine whole months, wonder-woman!) instead, it can resemble a round, distended pouch or even the early stages of pregnancy. Why? Well, diastasis recti is just a fancy way of saying that your rectus abdominal muscles–your “six pack” has separated at the middle, along your linea alba.
It might sound a little gnarly, but in fact it is very common, rarely painful and wholly cosmetic. And the best part? If you’re anxious to bid adieu to your mummy tummy once and for all, there are a lot of diastasis recti exercises that you can do to repair your separation and get you looking like your old self again. We know the entire postpartum experience can be a whirlwind of pure bliss and crazy stress, so don’t let this minor matter freak you out. Try learning a little deep breathing to center yourself, and then read on, we’ve got you covered.
What Diastasis Recti Isn’t
If you Google diastasis recti, you may be in for a little bit of a shock. There is a ton of conflicting information out there, a lot of it ambiguous or downright false. Talk about overwhelming! Let’s just take a second to separate fact from fiction.
- Diastasis recti is permanent and causes permanent damage
- Nope! There are diastasis recti exercises that you can do to repair your abdominal wall, and in some cases, the separation alleviates itself over time.
- Diastasis recti weakens the abdominal muscles
- Wrong! Your muscles are still your muscles, you just have two three-packs instead of one six-pack. There’s no convalescence in your future.
- You need surgery to repair diastasis recti
- Gutter ball! Surgery is not a necessity. In some extreme cases, it’s an option, but that’s only in the rare cases where the condition leads to umbilical hernia in infants (more on that in a second).
- Childbirth “ruins” your body and your muscles will never be as strong as they were pre-pregnancy
- Do we even need to justify this with a rebuttal? Barring any serious pregnancy complications, you can do all of the things you did pre-pregnancy after you give birth, except maybe get a full night’s sleep!
- You MUST wait 6 weeks to 6 months until you can exercise after giving birth
- Wrong again! The point at which you can exercise differs from woman to woman. Of course, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be running a marathon a week after discharge, but if you had a fairly “normal” vaginal birth, you can do light stretching and Kegels a few hours afterwards. You should always consult your doctor to find what works for you, and above all, take your time!
- Just do some sit-ups!
- No, don’t. This common exercise might seem like the obvious way to repair separation, but it’s not. We’ll talk about the diastasis recti exercises that actually work.
- Only pregnant women experience diastasis recti
- While diastasis recti is totally common in pregnancy, it’s definitely not exclusive to it. In fact, infants sometimes present with diastasis recti, especially if they are premature.
What Diastasis Recti Is
The fascia is the connective tissue that holds the abdominal muscles together at the center line, or linea alba. Diastasis recti in pregnant women is caused when the fascia thins and weakens, due to the growing uterus pressing on the abdominal wall. This is where the “pouch” or “mummy tummy” comes from–you’re actually seeing your uterus close to your skin. Cool, right?
Or, not so cool if you’re hoping to alleviate it. Diastasis recti should never be painful, and if you are experiencing abdominal pain, that’s a reason to phone your doctor right away. However, if diastasis recti doesn’t go away on its own, it can make it difficult to lift objects–say, for instance, an adorable baby–and cause some back pain. That’s why learning to do diastasis recti exercises can be so helpful. In the meantime, it never hurts to learn a little about improving your posture.
How Do I Know If I Have It?
Before we get to the exercises, let’s just talk about identifying the separation. It’s super simple:
- Lie on your back
- Bend your knees so that they are pointing straight up and the soles of your feet are resting on the floor.
- Relax your body and press your fingertips along the midline of your abs.
- Roll up into a gentle crunch and feel above and below the navel for separation.
- A gap of 2 1/2 finger widths or more that does not lessen while your muscles are contracted is a sure sign of diastasis recti
A quick note: If this self-test is painful, if you feel a hard, round lump at your midline, or you’re just uneasy, speak to your doctor right away.
Okay, so once you know that you have diastasis recti, let’s talk about fixing it. As we mentioned before, crunches and sit-ups actually worsen the separation. Instead, you want to use gentle core strengthening exercises paired with the diastasis recti exercises below:
- 20 Wall Squats:
- Place an exercise ball between your back and the wall in a standing position. Widen your feet to shoulder length and then lower into a squat until your knees are bent to 90 degrees. Gently contract your abdominal muscles by pulling them toward your spine as you roll back up the wall to stand.
- 50 Sit and Squeezes:
- In a seated position, lengthen your spine and place your hands on your stomach, one below the navel and one above. Draw your abdominals halfway back to your spine, hold the contraction for 2 seconds, and then draw your abdominals all the way back. Hold for 2 more seconds and the return to your starting position.
- 20 Standing Push-ups
- Stand with your palms pressing against a wall and your arms straight out, just as you would for a push up on the floor. Slowly bend at the elbows, and then engage your core muscles to push yourself back to arm’s length.
- 10 Abdominal Compressions:
- In a seated position, use the same hand placement that you used for the sit and squeeze. This time, use a slow, controlled motion to draw your abdominal muscles all the way back to your spine and hold for 30 seconds.
There you have it! A gentle diastasis recti exercise regimen for “minding the gap”. It’s important to go slow and not get discouraged. Typically you will see results in about 6 weeks, but it can take a few additional weeks or even months before you’re done. Easing in to some post-partum yoga techniques will ultimately help strengthen those muscles even further, just remember to stay away from poses that stretch the rectus abdominus too much, like up dog and backbends. If you’re experiencing any residual back pain, try learning about the preventative measures you can take every day to outsmart it.
Motherhood is stressful enough without worrying about “mummy tummy”! Soon, if you stick to those diastasis recti exercises, you won’t have to!