As a new mom, you’ve likely spent countless hours doing crunches and planks, yet your postpartum pooch stubbornly remains. No matter how many sit-ups you do, that belly bulge and jelly-like looseness refuses to budge.
The frustrating truth is that even the most intense ab routines won’t flatten your tummy if you’re dealing with diastasis recti, also known as abdominal separation. This surprisingly common condition affects up to 60% of women during or after pregnancy, yet few realize they have it.
Keep reading to discover what diastasis recti is, how to check if you have it, the dangers of exercising with it, and most importantly, how to safely heal it so you can finally achieve the strong, flat abs and tight waistline you desire.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti occurs when the left and right sides of your six-pack ab muscle (rectus abdominis) separate along the linea alba, leaving a gap. This connective tissue and tendon structure runs vertically down the middle of your torso, dividing your right and left abdominal muscles.
During pregnancy, hormones like relaxin and progesterone soften tissues and ligaments throughout your body, allowing organs, joints and muscles to expand as your baby grows. This includes the linea alba in your abdominal wall, which is often impacted by hernia or diastasis recti.
As your uterus enlarges, it strains and stretches this tissue, causing it to weaken and thin out. For around 60% of pregnant women, that separation along the linea alba grows wider than normal due to weight gain during pregnancy, resulting in diastasis recti.
After childbirth, this gap often remains instead of closing back up. That’s why so many new moms struggle to regain firm abs postpartum no matter how much core exercise they do—their abs are literally dealing with ab separation down the middle!
Signs and Symptoms of Diastasis Recti
Many new mothers have no clue they have diastasis recti abdominis after pregnancy. Often diastasis recti causes no noticeable symptoms like pain.
You may simply be dealing with a poochy belly that fails to tone up and goes soft or bulges out when carrying items, sitting up from lying down or during certain movements.
But just because diastasis recti isn’t always uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not problematic. Leaving it unaddressed can result in poor posture, low back and pelvic pain, core weakness, pelvic organ prolapse later in life and increased strain that makes shedding growing baby weight more difficult.
Luckily there’s an easy way to check for diastasis recti yourself at home, takes only a minute:
- Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on floor
- Place your fingers horizontally along the midline of your abs, about 2 inches above belly button
- Slowly lift your head/shoulders off the ground as if doing a crunch
- Feel along the midline with your fingers. If you feel a bulge or notice a gap wider than 2 fingers between your abs a few weeks postpartum, you likely have diastasis recti. Using an ultrasound can help confirm your self-diagnosis.
Compare this belly bulge to how it looks and feels when you’re lying normally with abs relaxed. Even a minor separation warrants evaluation and guidance from a postpartum specialist.
Dangers of Typical Ab Exercises with Diastasis Recti
Once you’ve confirmed an abdominal separation exists, it’s vital to avoid crunches, planks, Pilates moves like the hundred, and other exercises that overly shorten, flex and squeeze the abs together forcefully.
These traditional core moves train your abs to contract by pulling together strongly along the midline – exactly where you have connective tissue damage!
So rather than zipping closed, your separated abs instead bulge forward when activated during these exercises, causing unnecessary strain and intra-abdominal pressure.
Over time, all that pressure required for forward flexion moves can worsen the diastasis recti gap. Studies confirm it also leads to further impairment of the linea alba, plus possible rectus abdominis muscle strains, pelvic dysfunction and severe lower back pain.
Clearly continuing typical abdominal exercises routines like crunches will only jeopardize your recovery when dealing with a diastasis. Prioritizing safe healing of the separation is crucial before strengthening the abs conventionally.
Treatment Options for Abdominal Separation
The good news is diastasis recti can fully heal when correctly addressed, even years postpartum. The most effective approach involves personalized rehab therapy from a specialist trained in closing postpartum abdominal separation.
Ideal diastasis recti programs focus on:
- Relieving tension and pressure in the abdomen
- Calming inflammation and relieving swelling are essential steps in rectus abdominis diastasis recovery.
- Gentle joint/tissue mobilization therapy techniques to relieve adhesions
- Neuromuscular reeducation to restore proper core muscle activation
- Strategic fascial stretching and self-myofascial release
- Structural balancing through breathwork and micro-movements
- Slow eccentric strengthening of the transverse abdominis
This comprehensive approach addresses the entire abdominal wall environment – not just the separated abs themselves. Specialists certified in visceral manipulation and fascial stretch therapy evaluate restrictive interfaces between muscle compartments and internal organs.
Where direct techniques are applied to relieve adhered layers of abdominal fascia and gently coax bulging organs back into proper alignment. This relieves pressure on the core and pelvic floor while targeted exercises stimulate self-healing for women with diastasis recti.
For example, one of the most important muscle groups specialists focus on engaging and strengthening during diastasis rehab is your transverse abdominis. This innermost layer of core musculature functions like a natural girdle, cinching your waist inward.
Strategically toning this deepest layer of abdominals provides stability, aids in rectus abdominis diastasis rehabilitation, closes the separated gap naturally by bringing midline tissues back together, and creates that svelte, pulled-in waistline.
Combining hands-on therapy to relieve restrictions and optimal core/pelvic floor conditioning allows gradual remodeling of the linea alba. When caught within few months postpartum, diastasis recti can fully mend itself through this rehabilitative approach.
Preventing Diastasis Recti During Pregnancy
All pregnant women should receive pelvic health education to minimize risk for diastasis recti later.
While some separation along the midline is normal during pregnancy, there are things you can do to help prevent the ab separation from widening too far:
- Maintain good posture and move daily to keep abdominals and pelvic floor activated properly
- Avoid exercises, positions or activities that overstretch rectus abdominis such as twisting yoga poses, single-leg balances that cause torso to collapse to one side due to a weak core unable to support you, etc. Modify activity as needed.
- Learn how to engage transverse abdominis correctly before and throughout pregnancy during activity to provide stability and take pressure off the linea alba
- Stay hydrated and eat a nutrient-dense diet to nourish connective tissues and help them remain resilient
During the postpartum period after giving birth, allowing your body adequate rest before resuming intense exercise gives connective tissues time to regenerate some tone and elasticity. Easing back into gentle core conditioning focused on alignment and control prevents overstressing the healing abdomen.
How to Embed Diastasis Recti Exercises into Daily Life
Rehabilitating diastasis recti requires consistency and patience as it can take months for complete closure. But the good news is many safe core conditioning techniques for women with diastasis recti easily embed into normal daily transitions.
For example, postpartum women can act against diastasis recti while brushing their teeth simply hold one hand on your lower abdomen while gently drawing your naval down toward your spine. Feel that deep contraction come from within – that’s your transverse abdominis awakening!
When picking up items off the floor, always hinge forward from your hips first while pulling naval in, then bend knees to squat down without rounding your lower back. The same applies when getting in and out of bed. These little form tweaks over time ingrain optimal movement habits that protect the healing abdomen.
While these techniques seem simple, when combined with manual therapy from a specialist plus following a home exercise program regularly, you give your postpartum body the care it needs to fully regain strength in months instead of years.
The Bottom Line on Healing Diastasis Recti
If you’re struggling with a poochy post-baby belly that won’t flatten or worsens when you crunch, you likely have diastasis recti preventing you from achieving strong, tight abs. But don’t lose hope! With the right guidance, this incredibly common yet rarely discussed condition can heal fully.
Work with a Pelvic floor physical therapist to create a personalized treatment plan including gentle core exercises that target the linea alba. Using this rehabilitative approach, you can close the separation, rebuild strength of the deep abdominal wall, erase back pain, and finally get your pre-baby waistline back!