Updated: Mar 13, 2020
Read this BEFORE going for the crunches and planks!
Did you know that 2/3 of pregnant women develop a separation of the right and left abdominal walls known as diastasis recti? And that is a low estimate because many women don’t even know they have it. In this photo above, it’s me on the left 2 days before baby #2 was born, and on the right is 5 months postpartum. Diastasis recti is down to 3.5 finger widths🙃 Baby girl is healthy, happy and thriving 🙏🏼🥰 thank God! What we don’t talk about much is the aftermath of giving birth & the countless “conditions” women experience- like Diastasis Recti.
It’s essentially a gap in your abdomen 😳usually measured in finger widths. It can feel like you‘re disconnected and sore, along with reduced functionality of your core. The reality is that your organs are left a bit vulnerable too without the full protection from the abdominal wall and your newly super-stretched fascia (connective tissue). With my first baby, I started at 3.5 finger widths after giving birth and got down to less than 1. After baby 2, (weighing 8 lbs 9 oz), I measured at 5 finger widths.. yeah. 🤦🏼♀️ I knew it would be harder this time, especially this being my second, and a fully-cooked (big) baby born at 40 wks, 1 day. Plus, I’ve got a small frame and I move around A LOT. Why does that matter? Because if you have a weakened (stretched out) abdominal wall, you have less support in your core to stabilize the rest of your body during ANY movement whatsoever, including picking up baby, never mind targeted abdominal work. That is one of the major reasons why we should exercise with caution during pregnancy as well as postpartum.
I now know that the single WORST thing you could do is to start doing crunches and planks or other strenuous abdominal work postpartum. Even after you are “cleared” by your doctor, as I was.. both pregnancies (sigh). Even popping out of bed to get your crying baby is a no no. I was that girl after my first baby was born (more sighs).
I finally sought the help of an amazing pelvic floor physical therapist, which not only healed me but changed everything and inspired me to delve into the postpartum world a bit deeper. During my most recent pregnancy, I added a pre and postnatal fitness certification to my other fitness and nutrition credentials. I was also able to successfully get my diastasis down 2 finger widths (update: I’m now down to 3 😉) in just 3 wks.
So, what should you do?
First, demand you be checked for diastasis recti at your 6 week checkup. If you’re past that, you’ll need to assess your body to see what degree of separation you have. I strongly recommend seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist like I did, but you can also do this at home (although probably not as accurately).
Assessment: Start by lying down on your back with feet flat on the floor, knees bent at 90 degrees. With your head down and back flat, take a deep breath in (inflate your abdomen with air), and then as you exhale and deflate the belly, press the fingertips of one hand down, horizontally across your belly button as you gently just lift your head. You are not doing a crunch, just a simple lift of the head. what you’re feeling for are your left and right abdominal walls and measuring the space between them with your finger tips. Continue measuring along your midline by repeating this sequence. You may have to do it several times before getting an accurate measurement, and you might also find that it’s wider at some points and narrower at others. Do not be alarmed if you feel an abyss of “nothingness.” It’s ok, and it can be fixed, with time, patience and the proper micro movements. First, let’s establish how you’re going to move to prevent further injury and protect your delicate midsection.
Getting out of bed: roll onto your side and use your arms to get yourself up to a sitting position. Never “pop” out of bed, or simply sit up straight because that will send you backwards and possibly make you worse (what happened to me my first postpartum period). Handling Baby: this is a tough one because as moms we tend to just do, without thinking, because baby is crying or fussy or wet, etc... I’m going to ask you to make a conscious effort to think before you move. Use your legs and arms fully before putting unnecessary strain on your abdominals but also engage them thoroughly and carefully. Before picking up baby, get into a wide stance with your feet and pull your abdominals in like a zipper starting from the very bottom of your pelvic floor, all the way up to your navel. You may not even feel like you’re doing much, but if you put the intention, the “tension” will follow. Any physical Activity, including exercise: you need to proceed with the same caution here. NO crunches, planks, push ups, burpees, twists or exercise that puts unnecessary pressure and strain on your abdominal wall. Heavy lifting is also out. This will create a buldge and a greater gap. I know you’re itching to get into your skinny jeans, but if you have any degree of diastasis recti, or other pelvic floor issues, you’ll need to fix that first before doing any targeted abdominal work. Even if you happen to have a zero separation, the abdominal wall has still been compromised during pregnancy and childbirth, so it‘s crucial that special care be taken during this time of recovery. Every postpartum woman and story is different. Regardless of pelvic floor status, everyone should start exercising slowly and follow a program created by someone with postnatal experience and certification. I learned that the hard way 4 years ago, and ended up making my gap wider through the misguidance of a barre instructor with no postnatal fitness certification.
What You CAN you DO? The Core Breath. This exercise can and should be done daily to create tension in all major areas of the abdomen, which will bring the abdominal walls closer. It will strengthen your entire core and help to bring it back to a more normal status. This is the only exercise I have done for the core thus far, taking me from 5 finger widths to 3.5 finger widths of diastasis recti. Stay with me on this journey and let’s heal together!
How to Do It: Similar to the assessment, you’re going to lay flat on your back with feet on the floor, knees bent at 90 degrees. Inflate your entire core with air like a balloon as you breathe in, envisioning your whole torso puffing up. Do not tighten the chest or suck your gut in. It’s the opposite of that. As you exhale gradually, pull in your core muscles from the bottom of your pelvic floor all the way to the top of your ribcage. Think of a girdle pulling everything in as the air gets pushed out. Hold this for 5-10 counts. Release and repeat. I recommend doing 3 sets of 10 reps. Increase as you get stronger. Continue measuring your progress daily, and be sure to consult with a pelvic floor specialist. *Video coming soon!
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This advice is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor is it intended to replace an official doctor’s prescription, advice and evaluation. Use at your own discretion.