Diastasis recti is a condition that many mothers deal with and they may not even know it.
A woman’s body goes through many changes during pregnancy, not the least of which is the physical changes to accommodate a growing baby. Once the baby is born, many moms are anxious to know, “when can I work out again?” And if your doctor answers that question as my doctor did after my daughters were born, you’ll hear, “you’re six weeks post-partum and therefore cleared for exercise.”
The problem is that’s not all that should be considered. Not by a long shot.
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Let’s hit rewind and look at what happens to a woman’s body during pregnancy. The hormone relaxin ramps up, causing your ligaments to get nice and loose. One of the ligaments affected is the linea alba, which runs vertically down the center of your abdomen. As the baby grows, the ligament widens to allow the abdominal muscles to separate and make room. After the baby is born, it can take some time for the abdominals to come back to their pre-pregnancy position. For about 50% of women, their abdominal muscles remain abnormally wide eight weeks after delivery, and although some recover by six months, many have not recovered at even one year.
This condition of separation of the muscles along the midline of the abdomen is called Diastasis Recti (DR). In post-partum women, DR can look like a “tummy pooch” or an outward rounding of the abdomen. The most important thing to know is yes, you can safely train and strengthen your core with this condition but no, it’s not with common exercises like sit-ups, crunches, and planks. These exercises can, in fact, worsen the condition. And unfortunately, many doctors never mention it to new moms.
Do You Have Diastasis Recti?
Let’s first discuss how to find out if you’re dealing with DR. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Using the three middle fingers of one hand, press straight down into your belly just above the belly button. Tuck your chin towards your chest and slowly lift your head off the floor. Can you press your fingers way down into your belly? Does the tissue feel supportive when you press into it? Diastasis recti is generally defined as a muscle separation or gap between the rectus abdominis muscles of 2 or more finger spaces (just less than 1 inch). For a more detailed description of how to perform a self-test and see a video, click here. If you’re not sure or would like a second opinion, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns.
Even if your abdominals are closing nicely after giving birth, it’s always a good idea to train your core in the safest, most effective way possible. As I mentioned previously, the exercises you want to avoid with Diastasis Recti include planks, sit-ups, crunches, and anything with a twisting motion.
Following are four great exercises for safely training your core post-partum. They’re certainly not the only core exercises you can do, but they’re a great start!
- Toe Taps: Lay on your back and bring your knees up in the air. Hold them at a 90-degree angle. Your hands are at your sides on the floor. Keeping your knee at 90 degrees, slowly lower one toe to the floor and then lift it back up. Repeat on the other side. Throughout the exercise, your focus is on keeping your lower back pressed down firmly against the floor.
- Glute Bridge: Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Imagine peeling your spine up off the floor, one vertebra at a time. Stop when your body forms a straight line between your shoulders and your knees. Lower your body back down to the floor. When you’ve mastered this move, you can advance it by adding small marches with your feet.
- Bird Dog: Get on your hands and knees. Make sure your hands are underneath your shoulders and your knees are underneath your hips. Your spine should be in a neutral position with a long neck. Extend one arm and the opposite leg. Hold your belly to spine and try not to rock your body from side to side. Avoid sinking into your chest or lower back. Hold a couple of seconds and switch sides.
- Dead Bug: Lay on your back. Lift your legs so your knees are directly over your hips. Lift your arms straight over your shoulders. Slowly lower your right arm and left leg until they’re just above the floor, focusing on keeping your lower back pressed firmly against the floor. Return to your starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
It’s always a great idea to educate yourself on what’s best for YOUR body! A few resources that I really love are Girls Gone Strong, Birthfit, and Jessie Mundell. Working with a post-natal certified personal trainer is also a great option for helping you find your way back to feeling like your old self, both physically and mentally.
Remember, it’s best for everyone when mom feels her best!