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Diastasis Recti - what it is and what to do about it.

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Mums - we are obsessed with out tummies. Before pregnancy, my tummy was kind of just there - I didn't pay that much attention to it. Sure I went through sporadic moments of trying to 'tone up' with an abs class, or some morning sit ups for a week or two. And yes I noticed a bit of bloating after a large student curry or pound-a-pint night (remember those?!) but then along came pregnancy and the tum could no longer be ignored, it was OUT THERE (See pic, Ok so the horizontal stripes don't help!). But guess what, I LOVED my big belly!!!

However, like it or not, pregnancy leaves a permanent 'mark' on the body, especially the tummy. Stretch marks, excess skin an extra layer of fat or, diastasis recti. Diastasis recti - for those not yet in the know is the fancy term for the separation of the tummy muscles that many of us (me included) experience in pregnancy and beyond. It's just one of the very clever, if slightly annoying things that our body does to make room for the growing baby (like expanding your rib cage to make more space for the babe even though it makes less space for the lungs!). I've no idea why some of us get it and some don't but I'm sure genetics plays a part (thanks parents!). Many of us are even born with a diastasis which may or may not close as we get older, and even men get it (HA!). But anyway, the point is - if the gap remains too wide, too deep or too loose (by that I mean if the 'tissue' that connects the two sides of the tummy muscles together is a bit too lax), then we can run into problems including ongoing back pain, pelvic floor issues and a poochy tum (hoorah for High Rise 90's jeans!)

So, when is the gap 'too big'? Well unfortunately that totally depends on the individual and it's actually more about how well the midline connective tissue that joins the tummy muscles together (shown above as the verticle white area) can withstand pressure, rather than how wide the gap is. So I could show you how to measure your diastasis, but I won't because in this case, size doesn't really matter. Plus you'll get all obsessed with measuring your diastasis every day (like I did for a while) and might actually make it worse by doing so.

So when can I do sit ups again? Surprisingly, I get this question a lot. Why the obsession with sit ups? I bet you never wanted to do them before you got pregnant, why now? Don't worry I get it. You had your baby ages ago but still look 4 months pregnant so sit ups have to be the answer right? Well again this totally depends on the individual and assessment by a Women's Health Physio or a Personal Trainer with advanced pre/postnatal training (like moi!) would help you understand your capabilities more. But as a general rule I never advise a new mum or a mum with any kind of 'core issues' to do sit ups, crunches, planks or similar.

Instead we work on engaging your deep transverse abdominus (TVA) muscles when doing big movements throughout your normal day, such as carrying a toddler, lifting heavy shopping, pushing a buggy up hill etc. You can do this by imagining you're trying to draw your hip bones closer together slightly, a bit like when you're bracing yourself for a punch in the stomach (hopefully that doesn't happen too often), only don't suck your belly right in, that'll likely make things worse. You should feel a slight tensing of the muscles deep in the lower tummy.

So, I recommend you start out with some simple floor exercises like these ones …

And again engage your TVA when doing other exercises like squats and rows. If you're a runner, watch out - that heavy pounding could also be making things worse so if you really want to heal your diastasis, begin with some resistance work and keep your runs short if need be. If you notice any doming of the tummy (you'll know it if you see it!), or if any symptoms worsen like back pain or leaky pelvic floor, stop whatever you've been doing and bring it back a notch. Whether you still have a diastasis gap or not, when you build enough strength in your abdominal wall, yes you can - if you really want, do sit ups again but there are soooo many more fun ways to regain your core strength and flatten the tum; like this ...

Or this....

Just kidding...

Kind of.

Anyway, personally 2 years after my third child and guess what? I still have a 'gap'. It may never go but I don't suffer back pain and I don't pee when I laugh, though I do still get bloated after a curry. Just in case, I still avoid sit ups, I still 'engage my core' when I'm doing any lifting, pushing or pulling, I still need to work on keeping hydrated, getting more protein and eating a rainbow to help my body fully heal but all in all, my body can do what it needs to do and I'm not so obsessed with my tummy any more!

Want to know more about what exercise is right for you and what a healing diet looks like? Email your queries to me at and be sure to sign up to the e-newsletter here to receive your free 5 day healthy Mum meal plan. And remember to join me in Facebook Group.

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