Alright, you’ve had a baby and have discovered that your abs have separated. Yep, I know this feeling and didn’t learn anything about diastasis recti until the day before my second pregnancy, 3.5 years after my first.
I like many new moms, wanted to drop the baby weight ASAP!! Only I wasn’t losing it fast enough. You see, my expectation was that because I was fit before and during my pregnancy, I would leave the hospital looking the way I did before pregnancy--nope!!!
So, when I got the clearance to go ahead and start exercising again, I went back to my fitness routine (lifting heavy). My belly wasn’t going anywhere and I was getting frustrated. I also didn’t know that breastfeeding, not getting a solid sleep, and my hormones would play apart in the dreaded belly fat which is NORMAL.
When I wasn’t losing my belly, I resorted to some pretty desperate measures-crunches, planks, russian twists, fitness classes that prescribed all of these and more. My back hurt and hips hurt but I thought that it would resolve itself--even though I knew that crunches are no good for no one!!
Now I know better. I’ve taken multiple courses and spend hours researching core and pelvic health, working with some of the leading experts in the field. I’ve also become a Certified Bellies Inc Trainer and I educate women about their core and pelvic health, showing them how to avoid making the same mistakes that I did early on. In fact, I spoke with expecting parent last night--best time to learn about the goods is before and during pregnancy! It’s easier to prepare and prevent than treat when something does happen.
Now, on to working your core during and after pregnancy. Like I mentioned earlier, many fitness programs including some that are marketed to postpartum moms may be less than ideal if you have ab separation. I have a mom that I’m working with now, who participated in a mom and baby fitness program and was evaluated by the instructor who told her that she didn’t have any separation and that she was good to go. But something was still not feeling right. After weeks of running, jumping, planking, crunching--she noticed domeing just above her belly button. She being a nurse and who had seen a pelvic floor physio knew how to do an assessment and engage her pelvic floor and core muscles using diagrammatic breathing, decided to assess herself to be sure, found a 6 finger separation and was able to stick those fingers right into her belly.
When I assessed her, I could tell just looking at her belly. When we did the manual assessment, I found that she wasn’t able to create tension in her Linea Alba which is the connective tissue running down the center of her core (sternum to pubis symphysis). A year postpartum with her first child, always very active and took her health to heart and we had to start with getting her core, pelvic floor, and posture back into alignment as well as back to optimal function.
We worked together for a few weeks with corrective exercises that included full body movements, breathing which she was also working on with her pelvic floor physio and we started seeing progress. Her back and hip pain were starting to ease and she was able to give her young child a bath with minimal discomfort, her posture was improving, and most importantly her core and pelvic floor we functioning much better. We added in abdominal taping into her program design and within 3 weeks, her gap had completely closed except for a little bit just below her belly button.(less than a finger separation)
There are varying degrees in diastasis and it’s important to know what they are and what to look for. Not all separations are equally and here's what you need to know.
You need to get professionally assessed. Yes, there are many ways to get assessed and you can even find instructions online to do so (I’ve even included instructions in the post). BUT if you don’t do it properly, you may not be accurate. You can see a pelvic floor physio who can assess you from the inside/out and I have a comprehensive assessment that is inline with what a pelvic floor physio would do. The only difference is that I don’t assess internally and I don’t treat internally. Even if you had an assessment with me, I would still send you to a PF to be looked at and we would work together and take a holistic approach to your treatment and training plan.
Avoid planks, crunching, twisting, running, jumping, and all other jarring movements especially early postpartum (up to the first year). If you’ve been working with a trainer that specializes in postnatal fitness and they know that your core is fully functional and it’s a goal of yours, then they may have you slowly build up to a full on plank.
It’s not the separation that's a concern so don’t get hung up on the number. The number is just a small piece of the puzzle. If your connective tissue that runs down the midline of your body is weak and squishy, that needs to be addressed but if that can be engaged and is strong, then the number of your separation may not matter. I have worked with clients that have had a 5 finger separation and their connective tissue (linea alba) is strong, then I have worked with women with a 1 finger separation and their connective tissue is weak to the point where I can feel organs pulsing.
You don’t have to quit your favourite activities forever. If you enjoy Crossfit, marathon running or flipping tires, then you can absolutely go back to it, but retrain your core and pelvic floor first. Learn how to connect with your core and breathe. A fully functional core and pelvic floor will not only make your stronger from the inside, but it will give you complete confidence and reduce your chances of incontinence (unwanted leaking) and pelvic organ prolapse (your pelvic organs coming out of your vagina). The goal is not to tell you that you can’t do something that you love, but to keep your body safe.
Research shows that 50% of women who have diastasis recti also have a pelvic floor dysfunction. Preventing and treating it is much easier than trying to fix something when it happens.
If you have a pooch that won’t go away, if you notice that you’re leaking a little when you laugh or sneeze, sex isn’t as satisfying as it once was, if you feel like your lower back/hip are screaming at you, that’s a good indication that your core isn’t functioning optimally. Just know that there is help and you don’t have to live that way.
I myself have a diastasis and my core is fully functional so don’t let having a an ab separation scare you. You can treat it, sometimes the gap will close completely and sometimes it may not but taking the steps to get professionally assessed can and learning how to train your core and pelvic floor make all the difference in the world. But you have to know how to treat it properly! Not all separations are the same!
Terrell Baldock, Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Birth & Postpartum Educator, and an Expert in Women's Wellness is on a mission to empower moms of all ages & stages to take control of thier health. She wants to put an end to the confusion around exercise during pregnancy and helps new moms recover during the earliest stages of postpartum which allows new moms to transition to thier new role with ease.
If you would like to delve a little deeper and get expert advice about fitness during your pregnancy, you are welcome to a Free 30-Minute Fitness Strategy Session. To book yours, email or click here
Can you tell the difference between these tummies?