If a postpartum pooch is making you self-conscious, we know how you feel! Diastasis recti or the mommy’s tummy affects about 40 percent of unsuspecting new moms, causing them to look pregnant even 6 months after delivery. But this jutting out of the belly is not something that happens post-delivery. Our internal organs in the abdominal region are held together by the “six-pack” or rectus abdominis muscles. This set of two muscles stands guard, vertically, on each side of the abdomen. Through the course of your pregnancy, as the tummy grows, the linea alba, the tissue that connects this pair of muscles, stretches and becomes weak. Abdominal separation is a condition in which the muscles between your ribs and hips separate. This gap can cause you to look pregnant, but only if it’s over 25 millimeters long. It usually sorts itself out after birth, however, some women still have this issue weeks later – making them appear as though they are expecting again!
It causes or aggravates lower back pain and urinary incontinence, along with other conditions like umbilical hernia or pelvic girdle syndrome (pain during sex). While severe cases of diastasis recti may need to be corrected surgically, exercise targeting the abs can make a great difference in most instances. The good news is that there are these diastasis recti exercises that will help whether your separation is just three months old or you have a gorgeous teenager to show for it! Strengthening the core and transverse abdominal muscles is integral to improving overall strength. Those who want a flatter stomach should focus more on strengthening these muscles than trying to close any gaps completely because they’re considered more vital for health and stability than aesthetics alone.
Exercises that can help you manage and heal diastasis recti
Tummy Tuck Exercise – This basic and deceptively simple move stabilizes your core and also strengthens and tones your transverse muscles. No wonder, then, that the tummy tuck exercise forms the foundation of exercises for diastasis recti.
- Lie on your back and keep your knees bent. Breathe normally.
- Pull in your tummy below the belly button, drawing in the abdomen all the way toward your spine.
- Do not suspend breathing or suck in the entire tummy as you would while posing for a photograph! The move should only involve the lower abdomen.
- Hold the move for 10–30 seconds.
- You can aim at 10 reps 3 times a day.
Once you master the exercise, you can do this contraction while sitting, standing, or even carrying your baby around.
Pelvic Squeeze – From sorting out urinary incontinence or even the inability to attain orgasm, there’s much that Kegels can do for you. This simple Kegels squeeze involves tightening your pelvic floor muscles and can help strengthen the core as well.
- Lie down in a comfortable position.
- While breathing normally, tighten the front and back pelvic floor muscles as if you were trying to stop yourself from urinating.
- Hold the contraction for 10 seconds.
- Do 20 reps three times a day.
Once you have perfected this, you can do faster rounds, squeezing for one second and then letting go. This move can be done anytime, in almost any position during the course of the day.
Pelvic Tilt – This fundamental move practiced in yoga and pilates works the transverse muscles and tightens them. The trick to perfecting this move is to keep the focus on the pelvic muscles without involving your glutes.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Place your hands, palms down, on your lower abdomen and contract your lower abdomen muscles.
- Breathe normally, while rolling the pelvis up till your lower back is flat against the floor. Keep the shoulders relaxed.
- Hold the position for 10 seconds and then relax the pelvis down. Do 5 reps of this move.
Upright Plank With Support – While the traditional plank pose is great for strengthening the core, it should be avoided if you have diastasis recti as it puts pressure on the abdominal separation. Instead, you can modify the plank pose and practice it in the standing position with a wall for support.
- Stand straight facing a wall and rest your palms flat on the wall, keeping your arms and shoulders straight.
- Draw your belly button close to your spine to engage your core, while breathing normally. Do ten reps.
- If you can hold this pose for 10 seconds and still feel strong in your core, you could give the move a boost by adding a few wall push-ups.
Upward Plank – Apart from these exercises, if you want to add another core strengthening exercise to your routine, the upward plank could be your best bet. This move has an additional perk – it also helps to strengthen your back.
- Lie in the supine position. Keep your legs hip-width apart, with your feet flat on the ground, toes pointing straight forward.
- Support your shoulders by placing your hands beneath them. Slowly move your heels toward your buttocks so that your fingers can touch the heels.
- While breathing in, lift the hips up off the floor.
- While breathing out, press your hands into your shoulders and spread out your collarbones. Now breathe out slowly.
- Hold the pose for at least 5 breaths – you can gradually bring it up to 20 breaths
Deep Belly Breathing – The benefits of deep belly breathing are legendary. Practice it correctly and you can tone your abdominal muscles. The bonus? It stabilizes the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and lowers stress levels.
- Sit down cross-legged on the floor or lie on your back on a mat.
- Inhale deeply, till you can feel the fullness in your belly and chest.
- Then exhale gradually, tightening your abdominal wall.
- Do 10 reps, 3 times a day.
To splint or not to splint? Using a special diastasis recti splint to bind the belly, especially while exercising, is an integral part of some exercise systems. While there is little evidence to show that a splint can strengthen the core or close the gap, it can support your lower back and hold you in, making the pooch less obvious. If you choose to wear a splint, a physiotherapist can show you how to splint and help you find the best fit.
Strengthening and restoring the core after pregnancy is a holistic process that goes beyond healing the separation of muscles. Correct posture, getting enough rest, not engaging in heavy-duty work can all help. Once you have found the moves that work for your diastasis recti, make them a part of your daily routine and you will find several gaps closing on their own!