Everyone has what’s known as “abdominal separation” whether you’ve had a baby or not. The long flat muscles that form the left and right side of the abs simply separate further during pregnancy to accommodate an expanding uterus. When this gap doesn’t close after giving birth, however, does this mean your abdominal muscles have separated too far, resulting in diastasis recti?
The answer is probably yes if you have a bulge or a gap the width of two fingers down the center of your belly—but before you rush to self-diagnose or hit the gym hard, Claire Mockridge has some insight to offer. “Rehabilitating diastasis recti takes a bit more than exercise,” says the ante and postnatal fitness and Pilates expert. “I’ve designed a seven-step program that isn’t all about closing the gap, but making sure your core is functioning properly.”
The first step is to check your breathing. “It’s important to make sure you’re getting oxygen into your system without making things worse.” Many moms fill only their chest with air, which delivers insufficient oxygen to the system, whereas too much deep belly breathing could exacerbate diastasis recti.
“There are three cavities in the body, the thoracic around the ribcage, the abdominal, and the pelvic. If too much pressure builds up around the abdomen through too much belly breathing, it can increase separation. The best way to disperse this pressure is by making sure you’re breathing into the ribs too.”
Realign Your Body
Next Claire likes to realign the biomechanics of the body. “This is about your posture and the way you move. I’ll look at where your head is in relation to your shoulders, and then your shoulders to your hips. The position of your ribcage and pelvis can also indicate how you hold your weight when you’re standing.” Changing your posture can change your core. “The way the skeleton operates will change muscle function.”
Engage Your Core
There’s no getting away from the core exercises, but you do need to know the difference between engaging your ab muscles and pushing them out, says Claire. “When you get up out of bed, your belly may dome with the effort. Pushing the abs out can negatively impact the pelvic wall and increase pressure in the abdominal cavity. It’s better to engage your core muscles by drawing them in towards your spine.”
Specifically, open your shoulders, says Claire. “Many moms have very tight chest muscles from bending over to pick up their baby, or rounding over while feeding them. This leads to a hunched posture, which changes the way you use all your muscles.” A great way to open the shoulders is by simply lying flat and opening your arms out to the side.
“I encourage clients to be aware of how they move throughout the day and to notice what bad habits trigger their condition. This isn’t about avoiding movement but changing it. For example, if you dome your belly when you get out of bed, try rolling onto your side and pushing yourself up with your hands instead.”
“No practitioner can heal the condition in one hour of training a week. This is a long-term program that varies in length from woman to woman. I’ve had some success in closing the gap in as little as a couple of months—but this isn’t my sole focus. I want to get the core functioning properly, which is possible even if you still have a gap.”
A fibrous tissue ordinarily connects the left and right sides of the abdomen, but this takes time to regenerate after pregnancy. “It needs fast track nutrition that boosts collagen production and helps to lay down new cells. I would recommend bone broth or if you’re vegetarian try mixing up all your protein sources—make sure you’re not eating the same foods every week.”
Change Your Focus
“So many women come to me fixated on the gap in their abdomen, but if you can do planks and sit-ups with the right form then your core is functioning perfectly. That said, there’s so much scaremongering that some women give themselves diastasis recti in their head, which means they’ve likely gone down a Google rabbit hole and avoided exercise for six months after giving birth.”
“This false self-diagnosis convinces them that they can’t do all the things they used to do, but this is due to a non-functioning core—and if the core isn’t firing up to support the back you won’t be able to do certain activities. Seek a diagnosis from a postnatal specialist after giving birth and remember that everyone has a gap in their abdomen.” Worry about how it works, not how it looks.