Pregnancy comes with many changes, challenges and complications. In the postpartum, we’re usually so focused on caring for the baby that mom often gets overlooked, except, it seems, when it comes to weight and physical appearance. When mom loses weight quickly there are often comments and compliments, but what about the mom that keeps the baby belly? What about diastasis recti?
What is Diastasis Recti (DR)
Diastasis recti, is basically, a separation of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy and can cause these muscles to stick out in the postpartum. I’m not a physical therapist, but I am a mom who was diagnosed with DR and worked with a therapist to treat it. Here is what I learned.
I was referred to a pelvic floor physical therapist following delivery of my first baby. (As a side note, pelvic floor PT should be a part of routine postpartum care, it is so helpful and important. Learn more about why here.) My therapist did a basic assessment and also diagnosed me with diastasis recti. She described it as “two finger width.” She explained that DR is very common and very treatable, but it is technically not “curable.” DR commonly occurs in pregnancy, but is typically not noticed until the postpartum. It is often seen as a ‘pooch’ or bulge near the belly button and can sometimes be associated with weakness in the abdomen, all of which is common in the postpartum period.
According to the information provided by my PT you can be at risk for developing DR if you’re over 35, have a pregnancy with multiples (twins/triplets/etc), have a big baby, or being petite to name a few reasons. Only a medical professional can diagnose DR, but there are some simple, at home, ways you can try to evaluate your abdomen and then discuss with your healthcare provider.
How to treat DR
Typical abdominal exercises like crunches, sit ups and planks are actually not recommended for those with DR. Doing those types of exercises can actually exacerbate the issue and put more pressure on your abdominal muscles. Instead, you want to work to retrain your muscles and that work needs to be slow and steady.
Here are a few exercises that my physical therapist recommended to begin to treat the DR. (As with any exercise routine, it is always best to work with your healthcare provider and a trained therapist before starting exercises to address/target specific issues.)
Tummy Tuck – the basis for all of the other exercises. Lie on the floor with your knees bent, almost like you’re going to do a crunch or sit up. Then take a deep breath and as you exhale pull your abdominal muscles in toward your back and hold. I know it seems like you’re not doing much but this is an important base for all of your other exercises. You’re trying to retrain your abdominal muscles. You can practice holding this contraction while you do other things like nursing, driving or really any activity.
Pelvic Tilt – start with the tummy tuck (noted above) and then flatten your back to the floor, hold for five seconds and release. Repeat.
Heel Slides – in the same tummy tuck/pelvic tilt position slide your heel out and back in without lifting your foot from the floor. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Arm Lifts – start in the pelvic tilt position raise your arm up perpendicular to your body. Then alternate lowering each arm toward the floor.
Start with 5-7 repetitions of each exercise/arm/leg and work your way up to 15 reps. Once you can comfortably do 15 reps more complex exercises can be attempted. Again this work is slow and steady.
There are several DR workout routines on Pinterest or Instagram, but working with a professional to learn the proper way to complete the exercise is always a recommended and great first step.