Less is More: Part 2

You’ve spent 9 months growing a tiny human and you are wondering how this HUGE belly is ever going to return to that pre-baby stomach you worked so hard to maintain through diet and exercise.   You can’t wait to start doing crunches after giving birth to get that flat tummy back before summer starts!  Well, hear is a piece of advice ladies...check yourself before you wreck yourself!  

Yes, I know it’s a cheesy verse from an Ice Cube 90’s song but it is totally relevant.  After delivering my daughter, Penelope, in April of 2014 I realized about 6-7 weeks postpartum that I most likely had a minor case of diastasis recti.  What is diastasis recti? Diastasis recti is a fairly common condition of pregnancy and postpartum in which the right and left halves of rectus abdominis muscle spread apart at the body's mid line fascia.  This can happen for various reasons.  Though my core was strong prior to and during pregnancy, I have a petite build which puts me at a higher risk to develop diastasis recti.  A mid line of more than 2 to 2.5 finger-widths, or 2 centimeters, is considered problematic. My separation was just about 2 fingers, maybe a little less.  Diastasis recti can occur anytime in the last half of pregnancy but is most commonly seen after pregnancy when the abdominal wall is lax and the thinner mid line tissue no longer provides adequate support for the torso and internal organs.  It tends to be more visible when doing core work in flexion.  The first time I tried to do an abdominal exercise in flexion I noticed my stomach protruding down the center.  This is a red flag that your rectus still has a separation.

As a pilates instructor I am trained to recognize this condition.  Unfortunately, most OBs do not check for diastasis recti at your postpartum check-up unless you ask them to therefore most cases go undiagnosed.  When I tried to do basic stabilizing exercises postpartum (at about 6-7 weeks after my OB gave the OK to resume regular activity) I knew something was off.  Obviously my stomach was nowhere near ready to handle even moderate abdominal work yet but I could tell that the stability throughout my entire core and pelvis was weak.  I had a friend and colleague confirm my diagnosis.  So now what?  Unfortunately, flurries of misconception swirl around diastasis recti and abdominal exercise during and after pregnancy in general. If you were to research the condition you would find a broad range of contradictory opinions and advice about how to recondition your abdominal wall and how to restore the midline after childbirth. For example a common piece of advice is to do a lot of "crunches" which can actually worsen the abdominal separation.

So what’s the best way to recondition your abdominal wall?  My advice is less is more!  Instead of killing yourself with tons of ab exercises, keep it simple.  Avoid flexion and focus on exercises that force you to use your transverse abdominis muscle.  Your TA is the key to closing the gap!  Consulting a physical therapist or fitness professional can be helpful.  As a pilates instructor it was certainly a challenge having to back off of my usual abdominal work.  Fortunately pilates is a great method of rehabilitation so I was still able to use the same principles with slight modifications to challenge my TA safely and effectively.  By 14 weeks postpartum my separation decreased to 1 finger width. Woohoo!  I continue to keep it simple with my abdominal work to ensure that my transverse stays strong.  If I feel I can’t perform an exercise properly then I make a modification.  At the end of the day it just matters that my core is being challenged and not whether I can hold a 2 minute plank!

If you think you may have diastasis recti consult your doctor or a fitness professional.  Always inform your instructor if you have diastasis recti so they can make proper modifications.  It’s never too late to rebuild the strength in your transverse and get rid of the dreaded “mummy tummy!” Even if you have a strong core before pregnancy you still may end up with this condition so be proactive and check for it before you start any core strengthening postpartum.  If you learn the proper rehabilitative exercises you WILL get that pre-baby belly back!  

Danielle Miller
Pilates Director & Personal Trainer
Fitness Unlimited


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