Diastasis is the term for the separation of parts of your body that are normally not separated.
One of the most common types of diastasis in the human body is diastasis recti, which is the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles—the muscles that make up your abs.
Your rectus abdominal muscles, which hold in your internal organs, run along your abdomen from your sternum to your pubic bone in two parallel bands. These muscle bands are connected by a bit of connective tissue in the middle called the linea alba.
Diastasis recti can happen to anyone, including men, babies, and children. However, most cases occur in women due to pregnancy.
As your uterus grows during pregnancy, organs in your body move to make room for it. As your uterus expands outward, it adds pressure to the abdominal wall and stretches your abdominal muscles. If these muscles stretch enough to the point that they separate more than 2.5 centimeters along the linea alba, this is called diastasis recti.
With that many risk factors, it’s easy to see why 30 to 60% of pregnant women and postpartum women
experience this abdominal separation.
The symptoms of this condition can vary from woman to woman, so it’s important to understand what to look for if you’re pregnant or if you have recently given birth.
The most obvious symptom is a postpartum pooch around your ab muscles. However, that doesn’t always mean you have diastasis recti. It could indicate a weak transverse abdominis or weak core.
You might also think you have diastasis if your belly has a “bread loaf” or ridge or it cones as you roll to sit up.
You can do a self-check exercise at home after you’ve given birth to determine if you have diastasis recti.
It’s possible to improve diastasis recti by repairing and strengthening your core muscles through a variety of abdominal exercises.
In your exercise, it’s important to avoid increasing pressure on your ab muscles. Avoid the following motions:
Some cases are severe enough that they require abdominoplasty (tummy tuck); however, in most cases, you can do specific exercises designed to help heal your muscle separation.
Note: Check with your doctor and physical therapy specialist before beginning any exercise program.
Want to learn more about fixing diastasis recti? View more exercises for Diastasis Recti here.
Then, check out the following exercises and learn about the Moms Into Fitness Diastasis Recti program!
As we mentioned, traditional core moves like sit-ups and crunches won’t work. Instead, you need to strengthen the abdominal muscles with some ab-safe exercises. These include:
We spend 12 hours a day upright, this is key time to keep your abdominal wall from being overstretched. With your feet parallel, stack your hip bone over your ankle bones. Stack your rib cage over your pelvis, careful not to flare the ribs. Breathe normally.
Do Kegel exercises throughout the day. Clench the muscles in your pelvic floor that you use to stop the flow of urine. Hold these muscles for 10 seconds then release. Do these 10 to 20 times throughout the day.
Transverse abdominis breathing helps you take complete advantage of your lungs’ capacity. Lie on your back on a flat surface with your knees bent and fingertips placed inside your hip bones. Breathe in slowly through your nose, up into the diaphragm without flaring the rib cage/arching your back. As you exhale through the mouth with a “shhhh” sound, tighten your stomach muscles. You will feel this tightening with your fingertips.
It’s important to incorporate safe strength training into your exercise routine. The Moms Into Fitness workouts have all been modified to be safe for those with diastasis recti. Our Prenatal and Postnatal Start Pack and our Ab Rehab guide include flexibility, cardio, and strength training.
Running puts additional pressure on your pelvic floor, which can exacerbate diastasis recti, incontinence, and pain, but there are ways to run safely. Wait six to eight weeks to begin running and take it slowly, spending two to three weeks on one distance at a time.
Diastasis recti is a core muscle issue, but it can affect the rest of your body. We have several arm exercises that will help you avoid added pressure on your abdominal muscles. For example, hold a dumbbell in both hands with your arms by your side and with your feet shoulder width apart. Then, bend your knees and push back like you’re going to sit in a chair; as you lower your body, raise your arms upward in a V position while keeping them straight. Then lower your arms and stand up straight again. Repeat these 15 times.
Squatting while doing a transverse abdominis breath is a good leg exercise. Begin by holding a towel or resistance loop in your hands with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees, lean forward, and squat while keeping a flat back; as you squat, raise your arms and pull on the towel. This squat, in addition to our other leg exercises, is just part of our full three-phase diastasis recti workout program for strong legs.
While this condition is common, that doesn’t mean it is inevitable. Doing the following during pregnancy can reduce your risk of developing diastasis recti.
Avoid heavy lifting.
While you want to engage your core throughout pregnancy with exercises approved by your doctor, excessively heavy lifting can lead to abdominal pressure and separation. If you have older children who want to be carried or your job requires heavy lifting, squat and engage your leg muscles. Wearing a maternity support belt can also take pressure off your abdomen.
Don’t focus too much on your abs and avoid crunches.
Again, it’s important to engage your core but focusing too much on your abs can have the unintended effect of separating your abdominal muscles. Typically we recommend staying away from doing planks with Diastasis Recti but each case varies. Instead, talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or personal trainer about pregnancy-safe, full-body workouts.
When you want to get up out of bed, try to avoid sitting straight up, which puts pressure on your abdominal muscles. Instead, roll over onto your side and use your arms to push yourself up.