If you’ve had a baby you’ve probably heard of abdominal separation- also known as diastasis recti or “mummy’s tummy”.
It’s caused by the separation of the outermost abdominal muscles during pregnancy. As your uterus expands the layers of your abdominals muscles and the connective tissue to which they attach stretch to make room for your growing baby. Within 6 weeks after birth, your uterus contracts back to its original size but the surrounding abdominal muscles are still stretched and loose.
If you answer “YES” to any of these, you may have abdominal separation:
- Lower back pain during or after your pregnancy
- Pelvic instability
- Poor posture
- Your ‘innie’ belly button became an ‘outie’
- You have a visibly distended ridge running down the midline of your stomach when you sit up in bed, do a sit- up or when you do a back- bend
- A ’mummy tummy’ that no amount of diet or exercise will shift
How do I check if I have abdominal separation?
A diastasis is measured in fingers because that’s the easiest way for you to tell exactly how far your muscles have separated. The more fingers you can fit, the worse it is.
Here’s how to check yourself:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, and feet flat on the floor.
- Support your head with 1 hand and put your fingertips of your other hand at your navel (with your knuckles parallel to your knees).
- With your abdominal muscles relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your belly button.
- Peel your head, neck and shoulders off the floor into a “sit- up,” moving your rib cage towards your pelvis (don’t just lift your head).
- As your muscles tense, notice how many fingers fit between the rectus abdominis (on the left and right sides).
- If you have a diastasis you will be able to feel the rectus abdominis tightening up on either side of your fingers.
- Repeat 3 inches above and below your belly button. If you’re separation is more than 2 fingers wide, you may have abdominal separation.
- Now check the connective tissue (where the gap is). Turn your fingers the other direction so all 4 fingers are between the gap. With your tummy soft, press towards your spine. The deeper your fingers go, the weaker the connective tissue.
What if I have abdominal separation?
Separated muscles are weak muscles so they can’t support your back and organs. For a strong core, you need to lessen this gap. Strengthening these muscles means better sex, less or no urine leakage when laughing, sneezing or coughing and prevention of a prolapse.
These may make your abdominal separation worse:
- Fitness Exercises like sit-ups/ crunches and obliques sit- ups/crunches and push-ups, impact exercises and resistance training which causes intra-abdominal “force” on the connective tissue.
- Pilates Exercises like plank, chest lift, criss- cross, seated roll up or any exercises which involve upper body flexion or double leg extension.
- Upper Extremity Weight Bearing exercises such as full Plank and Push- Ups on the toes as the connective tissue is weakened by the gravitational force of the organs upon it.
- Yoga poses that include extension of the thoracic and lumbar spine: Upward facing dog, wheel, bow and camel to name a few.
- Rocking up to sitting from a lying position or sitting straight up in bed.
- Wearing a front loading baby carrier.
What can I do to fix it?
Before you return to the gym or running, start with Postnatal or Mama and Baby Pilates which is tailored to women with abdominal exercises. It’ll help strengthen your transverse abdominals (the deepest layer of your abdominals) rather than the superficial ones (your six pack) and give you a flatter stomach.
How long will it take to get better?
It all depends on how often you do your transverse abdominis (deep core) exercises and if you do any exercises/ activities that can make it worse.
What else can I do?
Go and see a Women’s Health Physio and get it checked. They’ll advise you what exercises to avoid or modify.
Tell me in the COMMENTS below.….did you check if you have abdominal separation? And did you find these instructions helpful?