Abdominal separation or Diastasis Recti can happen to a pregnant woman. Sounds scary right? It’s mother nature doing what she needs to accommodate a growing uterus for your growing baby. This abdominal separation isn’t just for pregnant mamas! People who are overweight or have very weak abdominal/back muscles can also end up with a separation. Whats worse is that certain exercises can make the separation bigger! Many postpartum women don’t even know they have diastasis recti. It is not something most doctors check for in your postpartum check up. Here’s a basic run down of diastasis recti and how to help close the separation. For more information I highly recommend checking out the Tupler Technique and reading, “Lose Your Mummy Tummy,” by Julie Tupler.
The actual definition of Diastasis Recti according to Wikipedia is “ (also known as abdominal separation) defined as a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle into right and left halves.” It is the separation of the outermost abdominal muscles or your “six-pack” abs. The separation can cause low back pain, a permanent “mummy tummy” (as Tupler refers to it), and a weak pelvic floor.
How do you know if you have Diastasis Recti?
1. Lay down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
2. Place one hand behind your head and the other hand will go on your belly. Place your fingers at just above your belly button, press down, and lift your head off the floor.
3. Check above and below your belly button.
If you fill an opening between the muscles that is 2 fingers or more than it is most likely diastasis recti.
Exercises to Avoid
1. Traditional crunches
2. Bicycle crunches
3. Roll-ups/Roll- Downs
4. Triangle Pose
5. Back Bends
6. Ab exercises on a stability ball
7. Exercises that have you lift your head, as in Pilates. (Stick with me though because these can be modified and VERY helpful if done correctly!)
Well, that’s a bummer! So, how do I get my abs back?
It IS possible to close the separation. Sometimes it just happens naturally. For others you need to help it along.
1. Wrap or Sling. I laughed at the idea of an abdominal wrap after pregnancy thinking it was just a silly thing postpartum women did. However, this is your first step to helping the separation. The wrap or sling will remind you to sit/ stand tall and use your deeper abdominals called your Transverse Abs. It is also supportive for your lower back with all the new movements you will be doing holding that cute little baby! It is a great idea to wear the wrap when you start to exercise as it will continue to remind you to use the correct abdominals.
2. Transverse Abs. Ladies, I talk about these guys CONSTANTLY in classes. Here is a quick anatomy lesson. Your transverse abs are your deepest layer of muscle that wrap around your body like a corset below the belly button, on top of those, or in the middle is your internal and external obliques, the top layer is then the rectus abdominis or “six-pack” (these are the muscles that separate). Your transverse abs need to become your best friend.
(Quick Exercise) Take your hand right now and put it below your belly button. Now take a deep breath in, feel that expansion? It’s your transverse abs. Now EXHALE and try to pull your abs away from your hand. Remember this because I want you to do it A LOT! As in every time you perform an ab exercise. If you are doing Pilates I want you to do this every movement! It is called belly breathing. Some Classical Pilates instructors may be shaking their heads at me but for you pregnant and new mamas its one of the best things you can do for those abs.
3. Keep your head down. You need to work on stabilizing your abs (transverse that is) and not worry so much about the “six-pack”. Stop lifting your head/neck/shoulders when you do abdominal exercises. Instead, put one had on your belly, inhale, then exhale and pull your abdominals away from your hand. If you can keep doing this and add in the leg movements (such as scissor legs) then keep going. If you cannot contract those transverse abs, then bend your knees, feet on the floor and repeat the breath/pull abs in sequence. *Side note- many of you may benefit from doing the belly breath while seated with back support, instead of lying down.
Remember this is just the basics ladies. I am not a doctor nor really a Diastasis Recti expert. As I said in the introduction check out the Tupler Technique for more information.