Firstly, what the heck is Diastasis Recti (DR)? Sadly I had no idea until after my first pregnancy, which is why I am writing this post. The sum total of my knowledge of caring for my body while I worked out pregnant was (1) don’t do ab work on your back and (2) my midwife’s requirement that I don’t lift anything over 25lbs. Which I ignored.
Before we go on, disclaimer: I’m not an expert, I’m just a girl who’s had two large babies and who has a giant gap in her abs at least partially from ignorance. I don’t want any other mother to be ignorant, and no one really talks about this, so, I’m just gonna talk! Do your own research too, see the pages I’ve linked to, and talk to your doctor/midwife.
But back up… abs.
They’re all nicely happily in their places until a baby starts growing behind them. They get pushed out and out and out and they have to make room for that growing babe. Everyone’s abs move apart and stretch to accommodate that, and then for most people they bounce back into place afterwards. There might be extra baby weight, but deep down inside your abdomen, your abs are hopefully together. Sadly mine are not. And it’s the same for a good number of women after pregnancy. A small gap is normal, but a gap 2.7cm or more (or mine where I can fit 4 fingers between my abs) is not. The splitting of abs can cause many things and it’s important to take time to heal it, among other things it’s what gives a ‘pooch’ even when the baby weight is gone. You can do THIS test
at home to see if you have a DR split.
Currently for me, I can fit 4 fingers side by side between my abs at my tummy button, about 3 lower down, and at the top position they are as they should be. 4 fingers is a big gap, and I had the same after both pregnancies so I knew I needed to pay attention to healing it.
Here is what I do:
1. I wear a belly band from the start.
This was recommended buy a physio given I had such a wide gap. I packed my Belly Bandit
it in my hospital bag and had it on me within hours of giving birth. It’s not in itself going to knit your abs back together I don’t think, but it does give me core strength when I feel like a jellyfish, and helps me correct my posture and use my abs correctly – it’s one of my post partum MUST haves!
2. Choose Safe Workouts
Once you’re cleared by your doctor around 6 weeks pp only do SAFE workouts! There are a lot of exercises that can put pressure on your abs making the gap worse, so it’s important not to do those (e.g. planks). You can find lists online or talk to a professional who specialists in post partum fitness or diastastis recovery. My strength training and some of my cardio workouts are all by Good For The Swole
specializes in post partum fitness and so all her workouts are DR safe. When I was cleared to workout again my first stop was Kayla Itsines
, but I found I was having to modify too many exercises and I wanted something that was fully safe.
Becky posts tons of workouts on her feed and also has a monthly subscription
which I bought that gives me 5 workouts per week – they usually take 30-40 minutes to do and I can do them from home. I just bought some weights
and an exercise ball
. But whatever you find, choose something that’s SAFE for DR. The other thing I do is running on the trails, if you watch instastories you see me story from there probably 2-3 times a week for a 45 minutes run!
3. Do exercises designed to heal the gap
There’s a difference between workouts that are safe and don’t hurt it, and things designed for rehab and pulling your abs back together. I do 2 different 30 minute you tube videos, THIS
one and THIS
one. I only did the first one after Clayton and I successfully healed my DR gap. This time I needed a change so I’m shaking it up with the other one too. They both show ways to stretch your hip flexor muscles which is a really key stretch for me in not positioning my body to sit with a ‘pooch’ posture from tight muscles. Even though I don’t spend much time sitting, my hip flexors get really really tight which doesn’t hep DR so I have a foam roller
and I make sure to stretch those muscles out well at least every night before I sleep.
I try to treat the rehab workouts more like actual rehab and not like my actual workouts. I make time to fit them in even when I don’t feel like it, or even when I’ve done another workout – I don’t let cardio, legs, arms take the place of healing my body. I’m trying to be religious about it so I heal!
4. Start Strong
This won’t apply to everyone, but if you can, go into pregnancy with knowledge and with strong deep abs. Then work them out correctly during pregnancy. Having strong abs before definitely helps you to bound back afterwards. that was one thing I did both times, and even though I had a big split both times, I know it helped that I’d worked out my abs pre pregnancy.
5. Change How You Move
After writing that heading I leaned down to grab my water. Usually I’d do that without thinking but in trying to heal my abs, I pause before most movements, make sure I’m engaging my core correctly and then do the movement. It sounds crazy but it becomes seance nature. When I’m getting out of bed, or picking something off the floor, or picking up one of my babes, I’m making sure I’m not ‘crunching’ my abs but rilling onto my side to stand up, and keeping my body aligned and my abs engaged correctly in all other movements. It does actually make a massive difference!
Lastly, breathing. In both those YouTube videos you’ll see them demonstrate ‘belly breaths’. These are just deep breathing where you correctly engage your core. I make sure I practice these whenever I can, if I’m sitting watching a movie, or driving, or walking round the shops I take a moment to zone into my breathing (while multitasking 2 kids – it IS possible!) and just make sure I’m holding my abs correctly!
I’ve never seen anyone else say this but it’s just a tiny practical (honest!) mum thing for me. It’s impossible for me to use my abs right when I really need to pee. With two little people, and feeds, and life sometimes I hold it rather than going right away when I need to. I notice that instantly I can’t use my abs right, I’m not engaging the right muscles and I’m not helping my DR gap. So, I’m trying to make a point of going when I need to! Just in case that helps anyone, there you go!