Following pregnancy, it's normal to want to begin an exercise routine to try to "get your body back." Many women jump into it, doing what they have always understood as the go-to core exercises: crunches and sit-ups. Big mistake. Your body needs time to shift things back together, and sometimes it doesn't quite get back to that pre-pregnancy state. The abdominal wall is a flexible space that stretches and often disconnects right down the middle to accommodate your growing baby. That connective tissue in between the "six-pack" muscles will slowly stick together again. Sometimes, it doesn't.
Diastasis recti is a diagnosis of separation of the abdomnius rectus, the muscles that run from your ribs to your hips. You'll feel the separation from the outside, sometimes visually noticing it as a ditch running straight above the belly button and below. There might be cases where the separation only affects the upper or lower abs instead of the entire abdominal wall. Go ahead and run a quick test at home now to see if you should call your doctor for the next step.
Below are a few exercises you can expect to perform when needing to heal your diastasis. Skinny Mom recommends going to see your doctor or a physical therapist to begin a regimen with a medical professional rather than trying to self-diagnosis and self-treat. Wait until your separation has completely healed before you begin doing any crunches or sit-ups.
The most important thing to remember during these exercises is to incorporate appropriate breathing. Do not hold your breath as you move. Any pain you feel should not be ignored.
1. Heel Slides: Since your entire body is connected – the core muscles to the legs – use your lower body to train your abs. Lying on your back with your lower back pressed into the mat, begin with one leg bent and the other extended. Gently and slowly slide the heel of your extended leg toward your butt. Feel the lower abs pulling in it and controlling it as you slide it out again. Repeat five times on each side, increasing as you get stronger.
Tip: When you go to get up, roll over to your side first, then push yourself up with your hands.
2. Kneeling Sit to Rise: As part of your core muscle group, the glutes and hip flexors can help strengthen the tiny stabilizing muscles. This move is very straightforward. Begin kneeling, use a rolled up mat or pillows to comfort your knees, and make sure your knees are about 6 inches apart. Squeezing your glutes together, rise up to a vertical kneeling position. You want your thighs to be straight up and down, your hips pushed forward, chest lifted and abs engaged – not your lower back. Go through this slowly, exhaling as you push up and inhaling on the way down. See more on it here.
3. Seated Leg Lifts: As you become stronger, you can try this one. Sit on the edge of a chair so your thighs are parallel to the floor and you have a nice 90-degree bend in the knees. If you sit on a chair that's too low or too high, you compromise the results of the exercise. Your back must be completely flat and vertical, shoulders dropped from your ears. Pick one leg and lift it up a few inches. If you feel muscular pain or discomfort right in the crease of your hip, limit your range of motion. Exhale on the lift and inhale to lower. Stay on the same leg for a few reps, then switch. Take it slow. See more on the exercise here.
4. Deep Core Squeezes: Real Mom Model Amanda Strong is obviously pregnant here (just giving the baby a little hug!), but this is something you can do after pregnancy, too. Try it first by lying down on your side or back, whatever is comfortable. Then tense of the abdominal wall, pulling the belly button into the spine, exhaling as you squeeze. Gently release the isometric hold, relax the tummy muscles and try again. You won't really see anything, but you'll feel like. Kind of like a kegel! Check it out here.
5. Seated Cat to Cow: As much as you want to strengthen the muscles, it's important to stretch them as well. You're retraining soft tissue. This exercise is easier on the core when you're sitting because you're not using it to hold up your suspended bodyweight. Keep your shoulders rolled back and down as you push the chest forward, drawing the shoulder blades together. Whenever you're ready, round the entire back, pulling the naval into the spine. Exhale and wring out the rest of your breath as you hold this position. Learn more about it here.
6. Bird Dog: Down the road during your recovery, you'll probably be asked to work on your stabilization and balance with this classic yoga move. The idea is to extend the opposite arm and leg to a height equal with your back. You'll use the core to hold everything in place, requiring both sides of the transverse or "six-pack" abs to work together. This means you'll need strong connective tissue with very little distance in between the abs. Be sure not to arch the lower back. Move slowly and be gentle with yourself. You might not be able to reach the height you want right away. Get more details on the exercise here.