I’ve addressed this a little before, but I’ve gotten a few questions lately on this topic, and while I am NOT the expert, I’m wiling to share what I do know, and have researched more of. I don’t know that there is a solid answer, as many “experts” have differing opinions.
As for me, my abs separated after my first pregnancy, and even worse, after my 2nd. Mason stuck STRAIGHT out, and although I started out fit and had a solid, strong core, I still ended up with a mom pooch and separated abs. Not fair! Here’s some common knowledge… (various sources)
First off, diastasis recti is a condition where the two right and left sides of the rectus abdominis (your “six-pack” muscle) spreads apart at the body’s mid-line (the linea alba). Separation occurs in response to your uterus pushing against the abdominal wall and pregnancy hormones which soften connective tissue. (It’s so crazy how “things” get shifted around so much in your belly while pregnant!) Separation can occur at any time in the last half of pregnancy but is most problematic after pregnancy when the abdominal wall is weak, when there is no longer a baby inside to aid support.
A few things to avoid:
Don’t strain. It can make matters worse. Constipation and lifting heavy things, including your kids, strain that connective tissue. Standing up and sitting down also count as heavy lifting in this case, because you’re lifting your body weight.
You push down when giving birth, but if done wrong, this action puts big pressure on the weak belly tissue.
Be careful with exercise. Some routine fitness moves, including crunches, sit-ups, pushups, press-ups, and front planks, make abdominal separation worse. So can swimming, some yoga poses (like downward dog), and doing anything on your hands and knees.
Poor posture can also contribute- whether pregnant or not.
Also, avoid: (according to some people)
Any exercise that will cause your abdominal wall to bulge out upon exertion.
Exercises that require lying backward over a large exercise ball.
Abdominal exercises that flex the upper spine off the floor or against the force of gravity such as: as crunches, oblique curls, “bicycles,” roll ups/roll downs, etc. Basically all of these….
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?!
Well, here’s one perspective:
There’s a lady named Julie Tupler who is an RN, a childbirth educator, and personal trainer. While I am not the biggest fan of Dr. Oz, apparently he featured her, and her method of “fixing” post-pregnancy abs.
She offers an 18-week program that closes the abdominal separation, without surgery. One aspect is wearing a girdle-type splint, which I wish I had done after pregnancies. (She sells one on her site for $50). My diastasis recti was extreme, and the connective tissue tore, so that organs pop out! Sick huh… thats what hernias are. Besides being kinda ugly, nothing really bothers me, and plastic surgeons have told me I need it surgically repaired AFTER I’m done having kids. This Tupler lady says surgery should not be necessary, and it’s never too late to get your abs back together… kind of interesting.
Now, I’ve never done this Tupler program, and so far, don’t know anyone who has, so I’m not trying to promote something like this. Maybe it works, maybe it’s quackery. You have to research for yourself and decide.
Another important point is that we must strengthen from the inside out. The key to “FLAT” abs, is to strengthen that inner most & deepest abdominal muscle, the Transverse abdominis, (TVA). When you only train the obliques and rectus abdominis, they can overpower the weaker TVA causing your belly to bulge.
One of the simplest ways of doing this is practicing proper core position. I tell ALL my clients this (regardless of diastase recti): pull your button in towards your spine. Don’t suck in, don’t take a huge breath, just pull it in and hold it. You should feel this position in any exercise you do, whether it’s planks, abdominal exercises, or any other muscle group.
A physical therapist might be a good solution if you are really self-conscious or know you have a huge abdominal gap. Diastasis recti is very common, and a little separation won’t harm you, but extreme cases actually can.
Bottom line from my perspective:
I don’t see a clear-cut solution that is guaranteed to work for everyone, BUT…
- I did not wear any type of girdle/corset/ab strenghtening belt, after either of my pregnancies. And I kind of wish I had, while things were “soft.” I’d recommend doing so.
- Having a strong core before, during, and after pregnancy helps. Strengthening those innermost transverse abs will help bring your waist in.
If you haven’t already, read my post here on competing with a post-pregnancy mom-bod 😉