Anna Catherine Rutledge, our fitness expert and grand puba of Brooklyn Fit4Mom, lots of things that we pretend we understand, but actually don’t. At all.
So you had a baby. And during your six-week check up your care giver checked you out and told you that you have diastasis recti, abdominal separation of a certain width and you nodded gravely and agreed to do the exercises she gave you and then went about taking care of your baby with a million other thoughts in your head and, except for a few random crunches, the last thing you’ve been thinking of is abdominal exercises. Until the baby weight disappears and your body still looks a bazillion times different. Most obviously there is, right around your middle, your baby pooch. Or technically, your diastasis of the rectus abdominis muscles. This is somewhat of a given, since you did just recently pushed a baby out of your womb.
Diastasis Rectis is what happens when you’re pregnant and your abdominal cavity gets bigger and the muscles protecting it get long and stretched out. Not every woman suffers with this, everyone carries their baby differently and some women have muscles that bounce back and maybe yours didn’t. Some mothers don’t look like they just birthed a baby two years after the fact. Some of us are not so lucky…our bodies changed differently.
It took me a long time to realize that my three finger ab separation was not going to go away if I continued to ignore it. And the only way to help mend it was to start working it. One of the reasons I was able to ignore it was that I didn’t realize what the long lasting effects were. I knew it was bad to have, but I didn’t know why. I thought okay, I had a baby now I have a mom belly, who cares. But after some careful google research I learned that it’s more than that.
You want your abs to be drawn tight together to create a strong core to help carry your body around. Do you feel weak in the middle because there’s less muscle in the middle there to hold in your organs? Or do you still pee your pants after a coughing fit three years after giving birth? That’s probably not going to get a whole lot better the longer you don’t do something to help reverse the effects.
The good news is that it is reversible. Okay, not reversible but fixable. I am NOT a scientist, but I do know what moms are capable of and that with a fair amount of dedication (imagine the level of trying to get your kid into city funded OT) and the right exercises you can help your body to repair your diastasis recti and become a healthier and stronger mom. A mom who shows the signs of her motherhood in her children, not in her belly.
Here are loads of great programs out there to help you. Tupler is very popular and has a book; I recently learned about Mutu Systems – a British woman who seems to know what she’s talking about; I joined a MELT workshop to help find some recovery for myself.
One important thing is that despite what you hear, for most women it’s not about doing crunches or not doing crunches, crunches are great for strengthening your rectus abdominus, the same muscles that are causing the DR. But if you have DR, crunches aren’t going to make it go away. For those of us with a wider than two finger separation what’s more important than crunches or plank is incorporating exercises that will help build your transverse abdominus, the deep ab muscles, also called the inner girdle.
Here are a couple of good exercises you can do to help bring together you abdominal separation by working the tranverse abdominal muscle. The trick (and it’s not a trick but it does take work) is to learn how to draw those horizontal abs, the ones you don’t see, together.
Leg passes – Lie on your back with your head and shoulders down. If you have lower back pain you can put your hands under your butt. Bring your knees up to a ninety degree position. One at a time slowly lower one foot at a time, think of reaching out with your foot pointed without straightening your leg. Allow your legs to pass each other as one comes up, the other one goes down. Do this 15 times on each leg at least once a day.
Hip raise – Laying on your back, knees bent and feet on the floor and hands by your side, pressing into the floor. Raise your pelvis up off the floor and hold for 3-4 seconds then slowly lower it back to the ground.
Supermom (aka Superman) – Laying on your stomach, arms extended overhead and legs straight down, both legs and arms should be shoulder width apart. Raise left leg and right arm 6 – 12 inches off the ground (based on your level of comfort) and then slowly lower and raise the right leg and left arm. Alternate for 15 reps, rest and repeat two more times.
Anna Catherine Rutledge is a certified pre and post natal fitness instructor and personal trainer. She runs Brooklyn Fit4Mom offering Stroller Strides and Body Back and Run Club. She randomly blogs at How To Build a Better Mother and is always looking to interview moms who do cool stuff.