Diastasis Recti: Is Abdominal Separation Stopping You From Achieving a Flat Belly?

Are you having trouble getting a flat belly post baby? Does your stomach seem to ‘bulge’? If so then you may have diastasis recti, also known as abdominal separation. Diastasis recti occurs when the two walls of your abdominal muscles spread apart during pregnancy as your belly grows and the muscles become separated from the body’s mid-line. About 30% of all pregnant women experience abdominal separation.

Most women will experience widening to some degree – usually a one to two finger width gap which is considered normal. For some women the gap will close on its own, but many women will need to perform exercises to help to close the gap. If you have experienced abdominal separation in a previous pregnancy, it increases your chances of this happening again in future pregnancies. Women who are expecting multiple babies, petite women and women who have poor abdominal strength are also more at risk. Alternatively, some women (like myself) just get it because that is the way their bodies respond to pregnancy.

When/if you are pregnant you may notice when you ‘crunch’ or get up from a lying position that your belly protrudes out forming a ‘hill’ shape in the centre of your belly – this can signal diastasis recti.

How to test for diastasis recti
Lay down on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent.
Place one hand behind your head, and with the other hand place your fingertips in the middle of your abdomen and press gently.
Lift your head up off the floor in a ‘crunch’ motion.
You will feel your abdominal muscles on either side of your fingers.
A 1-2 finger gap is considered normal. If you can fit 3 or more fingers in the middle, then you have diastasis recti.
Test for separation above your belly button, at your belly button and below your belly button.

Exercises for diastasis recti
Pelvic Hold
I found this exercise really beneficial starting the day after i had my son. I would perform this exercise every time i had a shower.

Breathe in
As you exhale, slowly contract your abdominals, drawing your belly button to your spine.
Hold it for 10 seconds (you can continue to breathe through this).
Relax for 10 seconds

Repeat up to 10 times up to 3 times a day. Every time you do this, try to increase the amount of time you hold the contraction for. So if you hold for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds.

Towel Exercise
This is a great exercise and is probably the best exercise to help close your abdominal muscles.

Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Place a towel or sheet underneath your back and wrap it around your belly
Hold the ends of the towel. Breathe in.
Breathe out and lift your head up off the ground. Gently pull the ends of the towel so it is squeezing your abdominal muscles together. Hold.
Release the towel and relax back to the starting position.

Perform 10 repetitions up to 3 times a day.

Exercises to avoid
If you have diastasis recti it is important that you avoid any abdominal exercises like the crunches, planks, oblique twists or anything that puts strain on the abdominal muscles. Avoid sitting up from a lying position. Always roll to your side and push up from there. Whenever bending or twisting, remember to brace your abdominal muscles.

After one week, re-check your separation. It is best that you try and perform these exercises as soon as you can after having a baby. The separation may close after a week, or it may take up to 6 weeks to notice a difference. Once your separation has heeled, you can resume normal abdominal exercises.

Additional Information
After I had my son I used a belly and hip band. I found these to also be helpful in closing the separation and helping to flatten my belly. Some popular choices are the belly bandit and shink x hips (If I lived in America, I would have used the Hip Slimmer – but it was too expensive to post to Australia). I used an Australian version of the belly bandit and ordered the shrink x hips from America and found both of these to be great!

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