Get your abs back after pregnancy

Do you still look pregnant months after having your baby, even though you are back down to your pre-pregnancy size? Are you doing a million crunches but nothing is working?

You might have a condition called diastasis recti, which is a separation of the right and left outermost ab muscles. This happens when the connective tissue that connects these muscles stretches during pregnancy.

While it sounds scary, it’s important to note that it is common for women to experience this condition during pregnancy. In some, it will heal on its own a few months postpartum, but for others the condition will stay indefinitely.

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Do you have it?

Some common symptoms of diastasis recti include lower back pain, a ridge or fin that pops out on the midline of your belly during certain movements, a bulging belly or pooch, abdominal protrusion of internal organs, or a general feeling of weakness in the abdomen.

You can also do a self-check to see if you have it:

  1. Lay on your back and bend your knees.
  2. Slightly lift your head off the ground to contract your ab muscles. Don’t lift your head too high.
  3. Use your fingers to feel down the centre of your abdomen. If you feel a gap between your ab muscles, use your fingers to measure the distance between the muscles. A gap of 2 fingers or less is considered normal. More than 2 fingers could signify diastasis recti and you should consult your doctor.

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What about surgery?

This is the million-dollar question that I get asked often on my social media platforms. After working with thousands of women to help them heal their diastasis recti, I have found that most times you can heal it naturally.

However, a small percentage of women need surgery to correct their separation. At the end of the day, you won’t know unless you try.

The fact is that most women want to avoid invasive surgery after giving birth so they desperately search for a natural solution to heal their bodies.

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The natural approach

That is my story. After having 4 babies in 5 years, I developed a 3-4 finger ab separation. My diastasis recti made me look pregnant for months after having my baby, despite reaching my pre-pregnancy weight.

I wanted to improve my core but I did not want to get a tummy tuck if at all possible. So I threw myself into researching and studying ways to heal my body naturally. I spent two years studying under physical therapists who specialise in women’s health and healed my ab separation along the way.

The biggest lesson I learned on my journey was that healing diastasis recti requires a whole-body approach and that if you aren’t using the right techniques or exercises, you won’t get the results you want.

It’s important to take a critical look at your posture, body mechanics, and breathing techniques. Just doing ab exercises alone will not heal your ab separation. Consider this process as a rehabilitation period to restore proper function to your body after pregnancy weakened it.

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Treating diastasis recti in 3 steps

Here are 3 of my top tips that you can start working on right away:

Step 1: Core breathing technique (diaphragmatic breathing)

Core breathing will help you heal your core by isolating and engaging your traverse abdominis, which will strengthen the muscle over time. Mastering this technique will take some practice, though.

Here’s how to do it:

Inhale to fill your lungs with air. Your ribs will expand to the sides and back as the diaphragm moves down to accommodate the expanding lungs. Your belly will also expand out as your pelvic floor relaxes and drops down.

During the exhale, your pelvic floor muscles contract up and in while your ab muscles contract upwards and inwards to push the air out of your lungs while the diaphragm moves up. Your ab muscle will engage or contract on the exhale.

Spend some time practising this technique so that you can use it during the prescribed exercises.

Step 2: Strengthen your innermost core muscle or transverse abdominis (TA) through corrective exercises

The transverse abdominis muscle acts as our natural corset, which can narrow the waist and flatten the belly. A strong TA is also very important in the process of healing diastasis recti.

Use these exercises to target your TA muscles:

Heel slides

  1. Lay on your back. Bend both knees and bring your legs to a 90-degree angle over your hips, lifting your feet off the floor.
  2. Keep your back flat on the floor and your core engaged. Utilise the core breathing technique to properly engage your core. Do not allow your belly to bulge out during this exercise. That would indicate that you are not using your ab muscles correctly.
  3. Drop one heel towards the floor and slowly slide the heel out until the leg is flat. Then slide the heel back towards the body and repeat 10 times on each side. Repeat 3 times on each leg. The key is to keep your core engaged during this movement. Do not hold your breath and go slowly. These may seem simple but are highly effective when done properly.

Toe taps

  1. Lay on your back. Bend both knees to a 90-degree angle. Lift your feet off the floor.
  2. Using the core breathing technique, engage your core during this movement but don’t hold your breath.
  3. Keep your back flat on the floor. Do not let your back arch during this movement.
  4. Drop one toe and tap it on the ground, keeping your core engaged and belly flat. Repeat 10 times on each leg. Do 3 sets on each leg. Go slow and controlled.

Step 3: Correct your posture

Our daily posture plays a huge role in the strength of our core and is a key factor in healing diastasis recti. When our body and muscles are not in proper alignment, we do not activate our transverse abdominis and it will get weaker.

Poor posture can also lead to increased intra-abdominal pressure, which will continue to stretch and weaken the connective tissue that connects the ab muscles down the centre of the body.

What proper posture looks like: Ear-shoulder-hip-heel alignment

If you were to draw an imaginary line from your ear to your shoulder to your hip to your heel when standing they should all be in a straight line. Avoid rib thrusting, or popping your ribs forward, which can hinder the healing of your separation.

If you are ready to dive into healing your abs as quickly and efficiently as possible, seek out the care of a women’s health physical therapist or personal trainer who specialises in postpartum rehabilitation and has specific knowledge and experience in helping women heal their diastasis recti.

Please be patient with yourself along the way. This process can take time and dedication but it is worth it. It took me a full year to heal my ab separation.

Healing your diastasis recti isn’t just about looking better. It is about rehabilitating your body so that it functions better for the rest of your life.

By Dr Kelly Lamoreaux

About the author

Dr. Kelly Lamoreaux has been featured on The Doctors Show, Fox and CBS. She is a celebrity cosmetic dentist, CEO of Abs After Babies, Sports nutritionist, Personal trainer, Diastasis Recti Expert, and mom of 4. She has helped thousands of women heal their bodies after having babies. Find her on instagram @iamdoctorkelly or on her website www.absafterbabies.com. You can also email her with questions at absafterbabies@yahoo.com

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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