Anel and I have received countless requests for a post on Diastasis Recti… It might not be the sexiest topic in the world, but it’s an important one for new mothers and we’re the right people to ask. I had it so I can speak to it personally, and Anel deals with it in his clients on a daily basis.
He has worked with dozens of moms who have experienced it in varying levels of severity and I felt really lucky to have him by my side helping me out throughout the process too.
What is diastasis recti?
It’s a pre-pregnancy condition that occurs in between one-and-two-thirds of mothers where the left and right abdomen muscles separate from each other. The abdominal muscle starts from your ribcage and goes all the way down to your pubic bone, and it’s there to help keep you upright and hold your belly in. During pregnancy, these muscles stretch a lot which can create this gap. It’s actually incredible that the female body can do this, but it can also cause problems for some women postpartum.
In most cases, it’s not painful, but it can be in others. Whether or not you feel physical pain from diastasis recti, it can cause a lot of imbalances because the core supports so much of your body. Other muscles will have to work harder to help which will cause tightness and eventually a lot of pain and long-term issues.
How do you know if you have it?
In more extreme cases, you may see a bulge in your belly. In my case, I could see it when I lay on my back and lifted my head up. I had the equivalent of 3 fingers of space between the muscles. It wasn’t painful but my abs were very week. Luckily, I live with a personal trainer who works with many pregnant and postpartum women so he helped me fix it easily and quickly.
There isn’t a lot you can do while pregnant to avoid diastasis recti besides avoiding heavy lifting and over-stretching.
Ab exercises like crunches and planks aren’t recommended but you can strengthen your muscles with gentle movements like bird/dog. Bird/dog is when you rest on your hands and knees and slowly arch your back and then cave your back in fluid motions. I did this every day while pregnant and my DR was a lot less intense than other people I knew. It also just felt great on my very sore lower back!
You can also do the breathing technique below while pregnant, but avoid the other exercises on this list until after you give birth.
What to do?
The good news is that focusing on the abdomen postpartum can be helpful in recovering from diastasis recti. On average it takes about 6 months to a year to recover for most women. If you are still suffering from it a year after giving birth, there is a surgery that can help to repair it, but Anel tries to avoid that with his clients at all costs because the recovery process from the surgery can be pretty rough.
4 exercises to help heal Diastasis Recti
After you get cleared from your OBGYN, usually 6-8 weeks postpartum, your work should begin with the exercises below that may seem to be doing nothing while you’re doing them but are extremely important in the long run. Remember, you know your limit. If something doesn’t feel right or is tight or painful, stop immediately and reassess.
After having a baby, your ribs are stretched out and you have to retrain your diaphragm as your breath is connected to your core. This exercise does just that. Sit or lie down and inhale through your nose into your lower back and sides of your core and exhale through your mouth with a long “HAAAAA” bringing your focus to your abdomen. Repeat this for a full minute and increase by 15-30 seconds every week.
TA Activation (Transverse Abdominus)
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. With the lower back in a neutral position, pull your abs in and make your back flat with the floor. In the photo above, you can see the neutral back on the left and the flat back on the right.
Repeat this movement for a full minute. If you start feeling pain in your lower back or something hurts, stop immediately.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and hip-distance apart. Pull your abs in and make sure you are not overarching your back. Push through your heels and lift your hips up, engaging your glutes. Lower yourself down slowly. Repeat for one minute.
Start with the same positioning at the glute bridge. This time, lift your feet off the floor at a 90-degree angle (picture on the left) slowly lower one of your legs until your heel touches the ground. Switch legs and repeat for one minute. If that is too hard, start with 15 seconds and build up to a minute by adding 15 more seconds each day.
Questions? Comments? Let us know! Anel can answer any questions about the workout and I can answer any about my personal experience with DR. Do us a solid and share this post with any new moms you know.
Photos by Julia Dags.