If you are wondering why no matter what you do, you cannot seem to get rid of the postpartum belly pooch, or “mummy tummy”, you could have lingering abdominal separation known as “Diastasis Recti”.
Not to fear, this is a completely normal side effect of pregnancy and whether you are five months postpartum or five years, it’s never too late to start healing your core.
You do not have to accept the physical changes to your body after baby as your new normal!
Postpartum body confidence is challenging when there is a lack of optimal body function caused from a weakened core after pregnancy.
Do you know what is more beautiful and admirable than a flat tummy and toned abs?
A woman who willingly sacrifices her body, time, independence and sometimes sanity for the development, birth and life that she gives to her children!
In this post, I share everything you should know about Diastasis Recti and exercises that have helped me restore my core after all three of my pregnancies.
Save money on all those fancy postpartum waist trainers and strengthen your core the right way instead!
What is Diastasis Recti and How Does It Happen?
You may know Diastasis Recti as the “mummy tummy” or the lingering “post-baby pooch”.
During pregnancy, the connective tissue that holds and supports the two hemispheres of the abdominal muscles stretches to make room for the growing fetus.
This may sound scary however this separation is completely normal, natural and healthy. Our bodies are designed stretch to make room for a growing baby.
At the same time, during and after pregnancy, mamas need to be mindful to protect the linea alba. Incorrect movement, incorrect exercising and incorrect breathing can put too much pressure on the tissue.
However, the depth and width of the separation that remains after pregnancy can cause many problems such as urinary incontinence, chronic back, pelvic pain, and a belly pooch that seems impossible to get rid of.
If your Diastasis has not closed at 8-12 weeks post birth then specific strengthening exercises are necessary to help the gap close and improve core strength and function.
Many mama’s spend their entire pregnancy fearing Diastasis Recti.
However, there are different degrees of adominal sep
understanding that this connective tissue must stretch in order to make room for the growing baby.
Clinically defined as a two finger gap or more between the two hemispheres of abominal muscles called the Rectus Abdominis.
Why Does it Matter If I Have Diastasis Recti?
A strong core is much more than just losing the pooch and getting your abs back after pregnancy.
It is about developing proper strength, support and function of your entire body.
In both my personal and professional experience, too many women underestimate the importance of having a strong core after pregnancy only to be left suffering in silence from things like chronic back pain, urinary incontinence, painful intercourse, pelvic organ prolapse or an overall feeling of disconnect from your body.
Are you wanting to lose excess baby weight?
If you are unable to exercise without peeing your pants, the chances of you reaching your postpartum weight loss and fitness goals is very slim.
Healing your core and pelvic floor will help you feel stronger, more confident in your postpartum body.
How Do I Know If I Have Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis Recti is often characterized as a protruding postpartum stomach that does not reduce despite regular exercise and healthy eating.
The most obvious sign that you have any abdominal separation is if you notice an “coning” or protruding down the midline of your belly.
This indicates that the connective tissue between the rectus abdominis muscles is weak and cannot maintain proper support of the abdominal muscles.
In some cases, the abdominal muscles will close on their own after pregnancy.
However, for most, these muscles can remain separated for months, even years unless proper measures are taken to help reduce the degree of separation.
From personal experience, most doctors won’t check for diastasis recti so you will have to do it for yourself!
How To Test For Diastasis Recti
It is recommended to wait 6-10 weeks after having a baby to test for Diastasis Recti.
This allows your uterus to continue to shrink and will make identifying any separation easier.
Testing for abdominal separation is the one and only time you are allowed to do a postpartum crunch because you must do this movement in order to properly test for separation.
It is important to record the separation to test for improvement.
Take note of the separation in these four areas:
- Just below the sternum
- Just above the belly button (this is the most common and severe place of separation)
- Just below the belly button
- Lower abdominal area 2 inches above the pubic bone.
Diastasis Recti is clinically defined as the separation being 2.5 fingers wide or more.
More current research suggests that the depth of the gap and integrity of the connective tissue may be more of an indication of poor core function rather than just the width.
Take note of not only the width of the separation but also the depth and integrity of the connective tissue. A deeper gap with thinner tissue may take longer to heal.
Can I prevent Diastasis Recti?
What Happens If I Don’t Heal My Diastasis?
Your abdominal muscles act like a corset around your midsection.
If the integrity of that corset is compromised, then it cannot function properly to provide necessary support for optimal core function and stability.
The lean connective tissue is not able to provide proper abdominal support for the organs which results in a noticeable protrusion.
The function of the rectus abdominis muscles is trunk flexion such as bending over or performing a crunch type movement.
When standing, these muscles support the organs, holds the rib cage and pubis together and gives support to your spine.
When the integrity of these muscles is compromised and weakened, such as during pregnancy, you can quickly see how this can affect things such as a weakened pelvic floor, incontinence, and back pain.
Exercises To Avoid if You Have Diastasis Reciti
Many moms are eager to start doing ab exercises after pregnancy however certain exercises can make the condition much worse.
Your first focus should be on healing and strengthening the core muscles properly, then slowly building to more challenging exercises once you can maintain proper form.
When you start exercising again after having a baby, it’s important to do proper exercises so you don’t make your diastasis recti worse. You have to focus on healing and strengthening your core, as doing too many things too quickly can be a recipe for disaster. Certain exercises that you think may be helping you strengthen your core, can actually make the condition much, much worse, so it’s imperative you avoid certain exercises and do others on a regular basis.
Can a Waist Trainer Help Diastasis Recti?
there are some situations where a postpartum belly bind or corset is necessary such as after having a c-section
A strong core is much more than just losing the pooch and getting your abs back after pregnancy.
It is about building a strong foundation to support your postpartum body so that you don’t continue to suffer in silence from things like
Accepting and appreciating our postpartum bodies is important but that is hard to do when left feeling weak and broken.
I know this because I have experienced these frustrations first hand.
It’s about building a deep core and it’s about gaining a new appreciation for your body postpartum.
We also need to know the rehabilitating the deep core takes time, patience and strategy
“Mummy Tummy” is a derogatory term for the belly pooch that remains after pregnancy.
Despite the negative connotation of this phrase, any woman who has been pregnant knows exactly what I am referring to.
What happens if I don’t repair my Diastasis?
The most common complaint is the “mummy tummy.”
How to test for DR?
It is recommended to wait 6-10 weeks after having a baby to test for Diastasis Recti. This allows your uterus to continue to shrink and will make identifying any separation easier. It is important to record the separation to test for improvement.
Testing for DR is the ONE AND ONLY time you are allowed to do a crunch because you must in do this movement in order to properly test for separation.
Exercises and movements to AVOID until you have healed your abdomen postpartum:
Anything that causes flextion of the torso or coning:
- Crunches or sit-ups lying down or on exercise ball
- Oblique Twists
- Incline sit-ups
- Bicycle legs
- Hanging leg raises
- Pilates “The Hundred”
- Pushups in a plank position
When going from lying down to sitting up, always roll onto your side then sit up in order to avoid the dreaded “crunch” position.
Remember, connective tissue holds the two hemispheres of your abdominal muscles together. Any movement that places excessive pressure on this connective tissue can cause further separation.
How you can reduce (NOT PREVENT) the severity of Diastasis Recti:
- AVOID EXCESS WEIGHT GAIN!
- Fuel your body with good nutrition.
- Exercise both during pregnancy and postpartum (with doctor approval)
- Bring awareness to your posture.
I STRONGLY encourage mamas to test their degree of separation (if any) before resuming exercise routines to prevent compromising the integrity of the facia tissue any further.
Why it is so important to check for Diastasis Recti?
If you are unware of any abdominal separation, many common movements, such as lying down and sitting up, can make the degree of separation worse.
How Do I Know If My Abs are Functioning Properly Postpartum?
It is still possible for the abdominal muscles to function properly even if your separation has not completely healed. Ask yourself these questions to identify if you have an optimally functioning core:
- Do you still experience bladder leakage?
- Are you able to hold a good, upright posture?
- Does your stomach look flatter?
- Does the integrity of the connective tissue feel thicker and stronger?
- Do you continue to have back or hip pain?
If you continue to experience any of the above symptoms, I encourage you to continue rehabilitating your core. Be patient! It took 9 months to create abdominal separation, it could take just as long for the healing process.
Knowledge is POWER! Being aware of Diastasis Recti may not prevent separation, but it can help prevent you from performing movements that might make it worse!
Okay, the moment you have all been waiting for…..
EXERCISES TO HELP RESTORE YOUR CORE
NOTE-These exercises are ones that I have used personally to help regain strength in my core postpartum. Please speak to a medical professional and obtain proper clearance to resume exercise postpartum. You can read my personal disclaimer here. I am not an expert nor a pelvic floor physical therapist. However, with a degree in exercise science, experiencing two full term pregnancies and seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist, my goal is to help bring awareness to restoring out bodis after babies.
It is important to do your Kegels while performing these exercises. Think tightening the pelvic floor muscles while lifting them up toward your belly button. Remember, the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles work as a team.
Vacuum Breathing-Drawing In
This is not meant to give you a 6-pack. However, this exercise will help you identify and engage your transverse abdominals and keep your core tight. After I felt that I had mastered the exercise, I do this anytime I am putting makeup on, blow drying my hair, brushing my teeth, washing dishes, etc
Hip Rolls or Pelvic Tilt
Abduction with Core Activation
Bent Knee Drops
Yikes, this was a lot of information! Remember to please consult with your doctor before resuming ANY exercise postpartum. If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, think PREVENTION. Being aware of Diastasis Recti can help possibly reduce the degree of separation however there is no guarantee of prevention. Here are some of my favorite prenatal exercises to help strengthen your core which help reduce pain in hips and back as well as give you strength for labor and delivery.
PLEASE NOTE: Following and/or participating in any exercises, workouts, or following any tips or advice is solely your discretion. I strongly recommend speaking with your healthcare provider before following any workouts or tips that I provide. I am not a healthcare professional. The information I provide is based on my own personal education and experiences. I obtain a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology and certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist. However, I am not an expert in physical therapy.
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Brooke is a certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology-Exercise Science. She is also a mom of 3 girls with more than 15 years of experience in health and fitness. Brooke’s goal at Struggles of a Fit Mom is to help motivate, educate and inspire other busy mamas who struggle with finding time, energy and motivation to take care of themselves in the chaos of motherhood.