Sharing stories and experiences about life postpartum
If you’ve carried a full-term baby in your belly, chances are you’ve experienced some degree of abdominal separation. It is very common as the baby is growing and hormonal changes affect the connective tissue, allowing it to relax. Your core changes dramatically in pregnancy and healing the postpartum core must be done with a gradual, methodical, and safe approach.
Remember that time you nearly congratulated someone on their pregnancy only to realise they has already had the baby? Diastasis Recti is often the culprit for a ´"Mommy Tummy" - the appearance of your abdominal organs, pushing and dropping forward where the abs are not joined.
Here’s what to know about abdominal separation and what can be done to heal your core.
What is abdominal separation?
If you never knew this was a thing that might happen on your pregnancy and post-partum journey, you’re not alone. We’re here to help you understand and heal if this happens to you.
So, here’s a bit about how abdominal separation can occur. Your abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis or your “six-pack”) are two vertical bands that run all the way from your breast bone down to your pubic bone. They are attached to thin muscle tissue that runs right down your midline called linea alba. The linea alba holds all of your ab muscles in place.
When you’re pregnant, hormones soften your ligaments, muscles and joints to make room for your baby and prepare for labour. That includes your linea alba. Typically, your ab muscles will lengthen vertically first, but when they reach their max the linea alba stretches to give baby more room as she grows. During pregnancy, this doesn’t cause pain and you won’t even be aware that it’s happening. Your ab muscles are already in two parts, but if needed the space between the muscles increases to create a larger space. The separation will begin at your belly button and depending on how you carry the baby it will either extend up or down as necessary.
Statistically 98% of women have a diastasis – separated abdominal muscles – after delivery. Diastasis is more common the more pregnancies the woman has, if she is over 35 when pregnant, or if she has a heavy baby or twins, triplets or more.
Repairing Diastasis Recti after birth is key, as it not only helps with your “mummy tummy” but getting your core strength back is essential to prevent permanent damage to your lower back & spine.
What will you experience if you have abdominal separation?
It’s pretty safe to assume that every mum experiences some degree of abdominal separation during pregnancy. In some cases, it can be detected while you are still pregnant around the 25-week mark either on an ultrasound or during an exam but becomes more difficult to diagnose later in pregnancy. If the muscles stay separated after birth, they won’t be properly aligned to support your back and posture which could lead to back pain.
The separation (diastasis) is exactly what your body is supposed to do when it’s pregnant if it needs to. The issue is only when it doesn’t snap back together in your post-partum months.
You might feel a general weakness in your core or you might notice a protruding belly. You might even continue to look like you’re four months pregnant. Some women experience continued incontinence past 8 weeks post-partum. In other cases, back pain might be present. Many of these symptoms are common post-partum issues, so abdominal separation is often not diagnosed.
To check if you might have abdominal separation, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Place two fingers right above your belly button. Then, raise up like you’re doing a crunch. You should feel your abs hugging your fingers. If you can’t feel anything with two fingers, try it with more fingers until you feel your abs. Do the same test, but this time with your fingers right below your belly button. If the space is bigger than two fingers or you feel your muscles bulging, you might have abdominal separation.
Your healthcare practitioner or a fitness professional trained in post-partum exercise would also be able to confirm.
OK, now how do I heal my core?
First, if you do have abdominal separation, don’t panic. The body will start to repair some of the separation on its own.
But, strengthening your deep core (the transverse abdominis (TA)—your body’s natural corset) and pelvic floor with gentle exercises helps to properly realign the muscles. Here are five tips:
1. Practice deep belly breathing to activate the entire core musculature: Keep in mind the gentle abdominal exercises that are best to help your core heal after pregnancy aren’t intended to get your heart rate up.
2. Log rolling to get up: Don’t jackknife up out of bed or when you’re laying down. This just adds pressure to the tender muscles you’re trying to heal. Instead, continue log rolling like you did while pregnant.
3. Avoid crunches, sit-ups, abdominal twists and leg lifts: You might think more aggressive and traditional forms of abdominal exercises would get you results faster, but your priority needs to be strengthening your transverse abdominis first. If you attempt more traditional ab exercises and notice any “pooching” or “doming,” that’s a clear sign that your core hasn’t healed enough yet to do these types of exercises.
4. Brace for good alignment when in forward-leaning positions: Whether you are buckling baby into the car seat or bending from the hips to pick up a laundry basket, your abs can experience additional pressure when in forward-leaning positions so you must be intentional about using a breath to brace your core.
5. Core support bands: While your abs are healing, core support bands help stabilize your abs, support your back and improve your posture. You can wear core support bands up to approximately three months post-partum.
If you suspect you might have diastasis recti, don’t despair. At Lola&Lykke, we offer products to support new mums just like you including our Core Restore Support Band. We look forward to being there for you throughout your post-partum journey.