One of my favourite type of clients to work with at Four Sides London is the post natal client. Helping women recover their core and pelvic floor strength following delivery improves their overall function and confidence as well as empowers women by giving them better knowledge of their bodies. Many of our post natal clients are referred for treatment of their diastasis recti or “tummy separation” and one of the most common questions I get is why did no one warn me about this during pregnancy?
What is Diastasis Recti?
In our abdominals we have 4 layers of muscle starting with the deepest transverse abdominis, followed by the internal obliques and external obliques and finishing with the most superficial muscle the rectus abdominis or our “6 pack abs.” Diastasis Recti is a separation or widening of the gap between the two sections of the rectus abdominis from the midline and studies have shown ranges of 60 to 100% of women demonstrate some level of abdominal separation by the end of their 3rd trimester. Post natal studies show that up to 40% of women still have a wider than normal separation at 6 months after delivery.
Why does it matter if my abs separate?
You may ask if this is so common why is it such a big issue? A separation of the abdominal muscles beyond normal will limit your ability to transfer load across your pelvis. A failure to transfer load effectively can put you at risk for low back pain, pelvic pain, hip pain, urinary incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction and these problems may even arise several years following delivery. From an aesthetic standpoint, a diastasis recti can also lead to a lower belly that sticks out or protrudes forward even after you have returned to your prenatal body weight.
How can I prevent my abs from separating?
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent your abs from separating at all, avoiding excessive abdominal pressure or abdominal work you can’t control will limit excess strain across the tissues that hold the abs together. If you ever see your abdominals dome, cone or pop into a triangular shape during an exercise or movement, this is a sign that the movement is too much for your abdominals to control. We advise avoiding sit ups, curl ups and crunches after entering your 2nd trimester and being mindful of how your abs are contracting when lifting your kids or getting in and out of bed.
Does this mean I can’t do any core strengthening?
While you want to avoid overworking the rectus abdominis during pregnancy this doesn’t mean you should give up on core strengthening all together. During pregnancy we want to focus on strengthening the deeper core muscles of the transverse abdominis and the pelvic floor which help to support your back and pelvis as your body changes throughout pregnancy. My favourite antenatal core strengthening exercise is the “baby hug.” On your hands and knees contract your lower abdominals by drawing your belly button towards your spine or think of lifting the baby up into your body without rounding your back. Hold for 10 seconds and then slowly release and try to repeat 10 to 20 times. You should feel muscle work across the lower abdomen and this exercise is safe to do throughout your pregnancy.
At Four Sides London we offer antenatal mat and reformer classes that focus on strengthening the core and pelvis is a safe way throughout your pregnancy or feel free to book a 1:1 session and we can create an individualized program to keep you strong and safe during this exciting time of life! If you have already had your baby and are concerned your have an ab separation, we offer a post natal MOT where we can assess your abs and help create a plan to meet your goals.