Diastasis Recti: The Real Reason you Have a Post-Pregnancy Belly Bulge

What is Diastasis Recti?

Post-Natal women often express surprise that for some after giving birth, they still look a little, well, pregnant. It can be disappointing and annoying but this separation is a completely natural process and allows for the growth of your baby during pregnancy so please don’t worry too much! I know the entire postpartum experience can be a whirlwind of pure bliss and crazy stress, but don’t let this minor matter freak you out. Most women haven’t heard of Diastasis Recti or stomach separation until this happens unfortunately as there isn’t a lot of information available unless you know where to look, but the good news is that you can do something about it and get your stomach back (or pretty close to!) it’s pre baby shape. 

 

After giving birth it does take time to start feeling (and looking) like your old self again, but if you are 4,6 or even 12 months post-natal and you still have a bit of a baby bump it is possible that you have Diastasis Recti. It doesn’t look like residual weight or extra skin, or if you have a postnatal belly that bulges or protrudes, & seems to stick out and form a cone shape when you get up from lying on your back, then you probably do have Diastasis Recti.

 

This is a fairly common condition and it means that there has been a separation of the ‘six pack’ abdominal muscles during pregnancy which is shown in the image above. Widening and thinning of the mid line tissue occurs in response to the force of the uterus as your baby grows and therefore pushing against your abdominal wall, in conjunction with pregnancy hormones that soften your connective tissue. Separation in a previous pregnancy also significantly increases your risk of it happening again (which is why it often looks so much worse second time around!), and women expecting more than one baby, petite women or those with weak stomach muscles are also at a greater risk. Often it will just depend on how your body responds to pregnancy though. Some women’s stomach muscles close to less than 2 fingers-widths spontaneously, however for some who have a separation of more than 2 to 2.5 fingers-widths, or 2 centimeters, it can be considered problematic.  A small amount of widening of the abdominal muscles happens in all pregnancies and is normal, although Diastasis Recti occurs in about 30% of all pregnancies. 

 

How to check if you have Diastasis Recti:

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent, and soles of your feet on the floor.
  2. Place one hand behind your head, the other on your abdomen, with your fingertips across your midline—and parallel with your waistline (belly button).
  3. With stomach muscles relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your abdomen.
  4. Roll your upper body off the floor into a “crunch,” making sure that your ribcage moves closer to your pelvis.
  5. Move your fingertips back and forth across your midline, feeling for the right and left sides of your rectus abdominis muscle.

* Make sure that you don’t simply pull your head off the mat—a common mistake. To effectively contract your abs, you need to move your ribcage closer to you pelvis. 

* You can also follow the instructions here in my video here which will show you how to check your stomach muscles… 


 

For those with a separation LESS than 2 to 2 ½ fingers (less than 2cm): It is safe for you to get started on a safe post-natal exercise regime that will strengthen your core (and get you back in shape!) such as the True Vitality 4 Mums 12-Week Post-Natal Transformation.

 

For those with a separation MORE than 2 to 2 ½ fingers (less than 2cm): Firstly don’t worry! Although you have diastasis recti there are some very gentle lower abdominal activation and strengthening exercises that you can begin doing to help your abdominal muscles start to knit back together a little. The most effective way to correct a diastasis is to use core compression exercises that draw the belly into the spine and I have listed some exercises below for you to begin with. Just be sure to avoid abdominal crunches which could even make it worse! Re-learning how to use your muscles correctly and engage the transverse abdominal muscles is also important for day-to-day activities like picking up your baby is also very important. 

Your stomach muscles need to have narrowed back down to a gap, which should be no bigger than two to two and a half fingers width before any strenuous abdominal exercises can be performed. This is because a Diastasis Recti reduces the integrity and functional strength of your abdominal wall and it can aggrevate lower back pain and cause problems with your pelvis and pelvic floor. 

If you think you have a diastasis however I would strongly recommend you see a Women’s Health Physio before starting an exercise routine http://www.truevitality4mums.com/womens-health-physiotherapist/

 

 

Exercises to Reduce and help your Fix your Diastasis Recti

Just 5 minutes of these exercises below for a few weeks can be enough to correct your diastasis gap to less than 2cm, however, if your gap doesn’t seem to be getting smaller then you might like to go and see your GP for a physio refferal. You can also sign up to the True Vitality 4 Mums newsletter on the home page of the website and you will receive your FREE Daily 10-minute post-natal workout which will help you with this too. Here are a few exercises for you to try right away. 

Abdominal Isolations

Take a deep breath in and pull your tummy in, away from your waistband and exhale to release. Try doing this for 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

 

Abdominal Heel Slides

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, then tighten your abdominal muscles as you slide one leg along the floor and do a couple of tight ankle circles. Try doing this for 2 sets of 10-20 repetitions, being careful to imprint your spine and gently holding your belly button back to your spine.

 

Pelvic Floor Exercises

Pelvic floor exercises are essential to regain muscle tone to avoid incontinence, and specially designed pelvic floor exercises can help aid recovery. You can start these as soon as you feel ready after the birth and here’s how to do them properly:

 

Squeeze and Release

Tighten the same muscles you would use to hold back your urine, hold for a few seconds then slowly release. Aim to hold the contraction for 4 seconds and as they get easier hold for up to 10 seconds, and try to do about 25 a day.

 

Pelvic Tilts

There strengthen abdominals and improve posture. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Raise your hips off the floor starting with your tailbone and slowly lifting one vertebra at a time until only your waist is resting on the floor. Hold for 5 seconds and slowly return to starting position. Begin with 8 and work up to as many as 25.

 

Is there anything else you can do that will help you fix your Stomach Separation?

1.) WEAR A TIGHT TOP! Another top tip to help tighten your post natal pooch is one that I have used with all my clients over the years, and that is to wear a tight top in the first few weeks when they are out walking after having their baby…you won’t want to do but it but it will help you isolate and activate the right tummy muscles when you suck them in! If you have diastasis walking is a fantastic exercise to begin with, just remember to keep your shoulders back and hold your tummy in.

2.) WEAR A SUPPORT GARMENT. This will help you to draw the gap in your stomach closer together and also provide support to your deeper abdominal muscles and lower back. With a newborn baby around it is often difficult to remember to hold your tummy in all the time so this will do that for you. In the long term however, it is much better to strengthen your stomach muscles so that they support your back instead of the support band. A good physio will be able to recommend a good support band for you.  

3.) NOURISH AND HEAL YOUR BODY WITH EXTRA PROTEIN AND COLLAGEN. Foods containing collagen are essential in assisting post delivery healing in your pelvic floor muscles, ligaments, skin and joints after they have been strained and stretched! Bone broth, protein (vegetable animal sources), protein powder and supplements are all ideal sources. 

 

 

Exercises to Avoid during the early Post Natal Period

If you have any kind of stomach separation it is so important that you avoid any twisting, crunching or sit up type movements as these will only separate your muscles further and make the problem worse. If you aren’t sure of the correct exercises to do you should definitely see a fully qualified Post-Natal Personal Trainer or a Woman’s Health Physio www.truevitality4mums.comwomens-health-physiotherapist/ but you basically want to avoid any movement that is crunching your belly or which is forcing your stomach to bulge down the centre (where your six pack muscles are!). This is a good sign that you are doing too much.

 

So these are a few of my top tips to help you start to heal your separation. It is so important to go slow and not get discouraged because if you stick to these diastasis recti exercises, you won’t have to worry about your mummy tummy for much longer! Typically you will see results in about 6 weeks, but it can take a few additional weeks or even months before you’re done.  

If you have any questions please feel free to get in touch 🙂

Love Laura x


 

Don’t worry if you didn’t exercise throughout your pregnancy and have a fit pregnancy, you can still lose the baby weight, strengthen your core and pelvic floor and get your body back with the correct nutrition and post-natal exercise. For more information about the True Vitality 4 Mums 12 Week Transformation Programme please email laura@truevitality4mums.com xx