July is International Diastasis Recti awareness month! Did you know that 60% of women have a diastasis recti at 6 weeks postpartum?
If you’re wondering what you can do for diastasis recti, gentle exercise is a great place to start. And this is true whether you’re recently postpartum or it’s been years since you gave birth. In this article, I will review what it is and some exercises (for different levels of recovery) that can help improve a diastasis recti.
What is Diastasis Recti (DR)?
Diastasis Recti is a separation or thinning of the linea alba. The linea alba is the thin connective tissue that connects the rectus abdominis muscles (your “six pack” abs) in the middle. It is very common for some separation to occur during pregnancy.
Separation of the abs is a concern because of what it can cause. For example, DR correlates to low back pain, urine leakage, constipation, hernias and more. Additionally, it can lead to that pesky mommy “belly pooch” that just won’t seem to go away.
How to Check for Diastasis Recti
Diastasis recti (DR) is defined as a 2 finger width separation or gap between the rectus abdominis muscle.
When assessing your DR, you will want to check for width AND depth. Diastasis recti can occur above the belly button, at the belly button and below the belly button.
You can assess this on your own by laying on your back, slightly lifting your head off the ground while palpating the midline of your abdominals. Here is a detailed video demonstrating and explaining how to check for a diastasis recti. However, it’s best to talk to a professional for a proper assessment and guidance. For more information about checking for a diastasis recti, see my full guide to diastasis recti here.
When you check for depth, you want to feel if the separation is soft and squishy or more firm like a trampoline. If it’s soft, this means your deep core muscles are not firing correctly. If it’s more firm like a trampoline, that is great- this is the ultimate goal!
If you have a soft and squishy feeling at the separation, know this will take longer to heal. This is partly because the focus is to improve your deep inner core strength (no, this does not mean crunches or planks).
Postpartum Core Exercises for Diastasis Recti
I want to review 6 exercises that you can follow to help with recovering from DR. They progress from easiest to hardest. You will find there is a lot of overlap between exercises for the core, pelvic floor, and general health- since they are all intricately connected! Where you will start depends on a lot of factors, such as your current fitness level and how recently you had a baby. Most importantly- listen to your body.
Exercises to help improve diastasis recti and core strength. Click on the link to watch a short demonstration with instructions.
** Disclaimer: always get approval from your physician before beginning an exercise program postpartum.
2 beginner exercises:
Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Inhale, then as you exhale think about contracting your deep abdominals as if you are zipping up a zipper from your pubic bone to your ribcage.
Lie on your back with legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring your right knee up so your knee and hip are bent at 90 degrees. With your right hand, place a ball or pillow between your hand and knee. Inhale, then as you exhale push your right hand into the ball while engaging and contracting your deep core muscles.
2 intermediate exercises:
Lie on one side with your bottom knee bent and bottom elbow in line with your shoulder. Inhale, then as you exhale, slowly lift your hips and pelvis off the mat and hold for 2-3 seconds, then slowly lower and return to the mat.
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a ball or pillow between your knees. Inhale, then as you exhale, squeeze the ball while lifting your buttocks off the floor. Hold for 2-3 seconds and then slowly return to the floor.
2 more advanced exercises:
Lie on your back with hands and knees in tabletop position (arms straight and knees and hip are bent at 90 degrees). Inhale, then as your exhale you will slowly lower and extend your right arm and left leg (opposite arm/leg) toward the floor. Make sure to keep your back flat against the floor and do not push your abdominals out toward the ceiling. Make sure to keep your core engaged during this exercise.
Come down to the mat on your hands and knees. Hands should be in line/underneath the shoulder and your knees on the mat in line with your hips. Inhale, then as you exhale engage your core from the bottom up and slowly raise your knees an inch or two above the mat. Hold for 3-5 seconds, then inhale while returning to the starting position.
If you would like even more exercises that are safe postpartum and will help you return to exercise, make sure to grab this FREE resource- 6 exercises that every mom should do postpartum- even if you hate exercising
Diastasis Recti is Treatable
If you have diastasis recti, don’t feel discouraged!
Firstly, know that depending on the severity, diastasis recti is treatable- especially with the guidance of a physical therapist that specializes in women’s health. However, to get there you must be patient and persistent to get the results you want. Additionally, do not let your diastasis define you! Your body is amazing- it brought another life into this world after all.
The best thing to do is to simply focus on a consistent exercise program. When you keep up with the right exercises, and perform them safely, you reach your goals in time.