Diastasis Recti – what it is and how to fix it
Some call it a pouch. Some call it a “mummy tummy”. Its medical name is diastasis recti, and it affects about two-thirds of pregnant women.
Motherhood earns us all kinds of badges – Best Cook.. .Best Hugger… Best Friend. But a large proportion of Mums get a badge of pregnancy – in the form of a stubborn bulge in the middle of the abdomen.
If you’re looking for exercises for diastasis recti, the odds are you’re either trying to protect your pregnant abs or you’re longing for your belly to return to its usual pre-baby self. The good news is that we are here to help. By the time you’ve finished reading this post, you’ll know exactly what causes diastasis recti, who is more prone to having the condition, and what you can do to fix it
So, without further ado…
What causes Diastasis Recti?
Growing a baby is a pretty big feat, and your body goes through some incredible changes to accommodate your blossoming bundle of joy. One of these changes is the expansion of your abdominal muscles. As your pregnancy progresses, the right and left sides of the abdominis rectus muscle come apart as the tissue between the muscles stretches to make room for your baby. Think of it like a zip becoming undone. It’s pretty amazing!
After pregnancy, many women will notice an indentation in the middle of their tummies, right down the middle of the “six-pack” area. When this gap is more than three-quarters of an inch wide, you may want to perform exercises for diastasis recti to help repair it. As well as this “gap”, you may also notice a “bulge” in your belly (particularly when you’re contracting your abdomen), lower back pain, and poor posture.
Who is more prone to Diastasis Recti?
Most women will experience some degree of abdominal separation during pregnancy, which can weaken your core and lead to back or pelvic pain.
While diastasis recti can affect anyone (and is not always exclusive to pregnancy) you are more likely to develop the condition if you are:
- Carrying more than one baby
- Pregnant later on in life
- Pregnant for the third time or more
You are also more likely to develop diastasis recti if you have had it before.
How to prevent Diastasis Recti
If you’re pregnant (congratulations, by the way!), you may be wondering how you can prevent your tummy from separating. Is preventing diastasis even possible? Are there diastasis recti exercises to avoid during pregnancy?
You may have a lot of questions that you want answered.
One of the best ways to keep your tummy muscles from separating during pregnancy is to protect your abdomen. For example, you should always use the “roll manoeuvre” when getting out of bed or up from the floor or sofa. This means rolling onto one side with your abdomen and head aligned, then using your arms to push yourself up into a sitting position. During your pregnancy, you should also avoid any heavy lifting or further straining of your abdominal muscles, support your lower back with a towel or pillow when sitting and continue to practice good posture.
You should speak to your GP, personal trainer or midwife about exercises for diastasis recti during your pregnancy. As every pregnancy is different, your healthcare provider will be able to advise on what exercises are safe and suitable for you to carry out at different stages of your trimesters. They will also be able to tell you what diastasis recti exercises to avoid during your pregnancy.
How to treat Diastasis Recti
In order to receive proper treatment for diastasis recti, it’s important to consult your doctor or healthcare professional for an official diagnosis. If you have a post natal personal trainer they can also assess you in your first session after labour.
Your healthcare professional will conduct a thorough physical exam to determine if you have diastasis recti, and if so, how severe it is. Your DR can be open (the separation is above and below the navel), below the navel, or above the navel. In some cases, your doctor may need to use ultrasound imaging or a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis
The key to healing diastasis recti is rebuilding your core from the inside out. Can diastasis recti be fixed on its own? In most cases, yes; you simply need to strengthen the transverse abdominis (TVA) muscle, which is the deepest abdominal muscle. It’s also important to build up strength in your pelvic floor and diaphragm, which work alongside your ab muscles.
For some women, diastasis recti may correct itself after delivery as the ab muscles regain their strength. If you’re still experiencing symptoms or separation eight weeks postpartum, specific exercises for diastasis recti may help. We naturally weave these exercises into all our post natal training programmes, because in most cases the abdominals need some extra love and care after labour.
Here are some simple yet highly effective exercises for diastasis recti that our personal trainers would incorporate. Knowing what is safe both during pregnancy and after is so important to make sure you avoid injury! Remember to breathe and engage your pelvic floor when doing these exercises and to consult a medical professional before starting.
Umbrella breathing with Kegal
- Begin in a standing position with your knees slightly bent. Alternatively, you can sit on a yoga ball or chair.
- Inhale and think of your ribcage as an umbrella that’s opening 360 degrees.
- Start your exhale with a Kegel. Empty out your lower tummy, then your middle and then finally your chest. Don’t forget to engage your abdominal muscles up and in as you conduct this movement.
Pelvic tilts on hands & knees
- Start this exercise on your hands and knees with your spine in a neutral position.
- Inhale deeply into the sides of your ribcage, then exhale with a kegel, bringing your tailbone down and under until your spine is curled.
- Inhale as you return to a neutral position, relaxing your glutes and moving from your lower abs.
- Perform 10 tilts, moving slowly through the exercise.
Kneeling leg and arm extension with knee tap
- On your hands and knees, start by exhaling and drawing your core up towards your spine.
- Keep your core contracted as you inhale and reach your right arm ahead and left leg straight behind you.
- Breathe out and tap your right elbow towards your left knee, inhale and return to a neutral position.
- Alternate sides for 10 reps on each side.
Toe taps lying on back
- Lying flat on your back, bring your legs to a tabletop position, with your knees directly over your hips.
- Be careful not to arch your back or tuck in your pelvis.
- Breathe into your ribcage and exhale as you tap your right foot down to the floor. As you do this, pull in your core and ensure your pelvic stays aligned.
- Inhale as you return to a neutral position.
- Perform 10 reps on each side.
Single leg reach lying on back
- Beginning in tabletop position and keeping your pelvis still, reach your right leg long on a high diagonal on your exhale.
- Inhale as you return to neutral.
- Perform 10 reps on each side.
Leg extension with weights
- Try this exercise without weights until you feel stable, then add 1- to 2-pound weights.
- Starting by laying flat on your back with your feet hip-width apart, inhale and draw your right knee to the tabletop position with your arms framing your knee.
- As you exhale, reach your leg on a high diagonal with your arms just slightly overhead. Do not let your back arch.
- Inhale and return to the tabletop position.
- Perform 10 reps on each side.
- Start by sitting high on your sit bones, with your feet wide and your hands behind your knees.
- Gently rock back without allowing your chest to sink in.
- Keeping your body back, breathe out as you pulse backwards, hollowing out your lower tummy.
- Continue this exercise for 20 to 30 pulses.
Whether you’re pregnant or postpartumpost-partum, we hope this post provides helpful information on the causes, symptoms and treatment for diastasis recti. Of course it’s important to get individual attention if you want to target your situation specifically or if you are not sure where to start!