By: Kelly McBride, Founder of Belly Pilates Maternal Wellness Studio Master Instructor of Pre/Postnatal Pilates, Postpartum/Birth Doula & Childbirth Educator
You may have a fairly common condition called Diastisis recti, or separations of the recti muscles, The abdominal muscles that normally run parallel lengthwise must expand and stretch away from your midline to allow more space for your growing baby. This is not necessarily due to weak stomach muscles. Many factors can be in play. If you have a separation of the abdominal muscles (diastisis recti) of more than three fingers width, or if you had a C-section, wait at least six weeks before beginning flexion exercises (upper ab curls, sit-up…). Even so, no matter how long it takes wait until the gap has closed before doing flexion exercises. Give your body time to heal.
The action of flexing the trunk using the recti muscles can open the split further – like a zipper! After pregnancy, the external abs (otherwise known as the six pack) can easily overpower the deeper Transverse abdominal (TA) muscle (your bodyʼs internal “girdle”). When you contract and compress the TA, it will help flatten your belly. If you do a flexion exercise (like a crunch or situps) without enough transverse ab strength though contraction, then your belly will balloon outward, which is exactly what you donʼt want to happen. This bulging of the abdominal wall can make problems like abdominal separation and low back pain worse, and prevents flattening of the abdomen. The secret to flattening the abs after pregnancy is to recondition from the inside out—by building strength and control in your transverse first. There are so many terrific postnatal transverse exercises that are safe to do right after either a vaginal delivery or a C-section, and for those with abdominal separation.
Whether you had a vaginal or C-section delivery, to ensure that you heal properly, you need to strengthen and shorten the abdominal muscles that have been stretched. It is important to remember that while you do any exercises or activities, you should always pull in or think ZIP UP!. If you feel pain or feel that your diastisis recti is actually splitting more, you should stop ab strengthening exercises or movements. Seek out the help of a PT or Pilates instructor who is TRAINED in Postpartum specific exercises. They can help you repair your abdominal wall and get you back on the road to recovery.