Do you find yourself asking the question: “I am no longer pregnant, but why the tummy bulge?”
It’s embarrassing and we all want full bragging-rights when graduating from elastic, waistband pants. As it turns out, may be a physiologic basis for this belly “bulge” called diastasis recti. Healing a diastasis recti has nothing to do with crunches.
In fact, crunches -or any exercise including forward flexion of the spine while lying down- can make your abdominal muscles MORE saggy.
What is diastasis rectus abdominus? The rectus abdominus muscle is two “bands” of muscles fibers. Both halves of the rectus abdominus insert into the ribcage and stretch vertically down to the pubic and hip bones. In between these halves is connective tissue, referred to as the linea alba. Before a diastasis recti (on the left), after a diastasis recti (on the right)
During pregnancy the growing uterus and shift in hormones softens and stretches the rectus abdominus. This causes the rectus abdominus to “unzip” or pull apart. This separation allows your growing uterus to move forward. A slight separation of 1-2 centimeters is normal. However a separation greater than 3 centimeters (depending on the individuals frame) may contribute to the postpartum belly bulge.
How do I heal a diastasis? A healthy lifestyle is key. Meaning a balanced diet, cardiovascular activity, resistance training and PROPER core strengthening exercises. Eat a healthy, balanced diet, free of sugary, unhealthy foods. Excess food is stored all over the body, especially the abdomen region. This excess fat/weight puts forward pressure on your stretched and weakened abdominal muscles, stretching them even further apart.
Cardiovascular activity and resistance training. Resistance training. The stronger your muscles are the more calories you burn in a given day. Sometimes up to an additional 300 calories a day. Energy required for cardiovascular activity (or any activity) is stored as fats, glycogen and protein. Hence the common statement, “cardiovascular activity burns” “Burning” fat reduces your overall circumference measurements, including the abdomen region. The burning of excess fat will help reduce pressure against the stretched rectus abdominus.
Proper core strengthening exercises. If you have a diastasis recti, the abdominal muscles (particularly the rectus abdominus) must heal. Exercises (such as a crunch) involving forward flexion of the spine in a supine (lying down) position, and jack knifing of the legs will aggravate the weakened abdomen muscular region. It is imperative to avoid these types of exercise until your diastasis recti heals. To heal a diastasis practice isometric abdominal exercises such as plank over an exercise ball, pelvic tilt and bridge from pilates/yoga. Once you have your health care providers approval to exercise check out this video, highlighting postpartum exercise routines that will strengthen your core.
These exercises are safe to practice with or without a diastasis recti. A video of favorite Bella Bellies exercises for postpartum exercises is availalbe HERE! Check out BellaBellies blog for a post on how to check for diastasis rectus.
Fitness expert Anne Martens is the creator of Bella Bellies. Martens took her experience as a trainer and mother of two to develop unique exercises for mothers-to-be, such as Stroller Moves®, Momilates® and Bella Bellies® Prenatal Pilates & Stretch™. They are now offered worldwide by trained Certified Bella Bellies® Instructors. Martens completed her B.F.A. in Dance at the Boston Conservatory, where she graduated cum laude.