Diagnosing & Rehabing Diastasis Recti or “Mummy Tummy”

Post-Pregnancy Ab Rehab for Abdominal Separation

by Kate Jesuele, Unite Fitness

  • Are you having a hard time getting rid of your mummy tummy?
  • Has your pregnancy or birth created chronic lower back ache and pain?
  • Do you feel like you’re getting back to normal everywhere but your belly?

Well you can have your abs and your baby, too! If you’re like many new or expectant mamas, you may have experienced some of the symptoms above. That’s because of a common condition called Diastasis Recti. Never heard of it? Here’s what you need to know.

Diastasis Recti (DR) is diagnosed when there is vertical separation of the rectus abdominis (your precious six pack muscles) that doesn’t heal on its own after delivery. This condition can also happen with extreme weight gain, but it’s most commonly associated with pregnancy.

The expansion of the uterus — in combination with hormonal changes — stretches the connective tissue of the rectus abdominis. This essentially breaks your six pack into two three packs. When the connective tissue of these muscles is stretched too far from their normal position it tears and all the muscles weaken tremendously.

After that, weakened abdominal muscles can lead to lower back pain, constipation, incontinence and, in rare cases, hernias. It can also lead to an unnatural protrusion of your belly.

Even though DR sounds like a scary, painful and frustrating experience, it’s rarely even noticed or felt until well after delivery.

Not sure if you have DR? You can check in 30 seconds or less using this video diagnostic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnI8FT-hvuc

For those with a separation of more than two finger widths in the middle of your abs, the first thing to be aware of is how you move through your day. Normal fitness activities such as lifting anything heavier than your newborn may make your DR worse. This includes:

  • Sit-ups
  • Planks
  • Push-ups
  • Running
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Crawling on hands and knees

The most important thing with DR is to not make it worse.

The first thing you should do is schedule an assessment with a physical therapist or certified personal trainer who specializes in women’s health or prenatal/postpartum rehab. He or she can provide you with safe, yet effective, strength training that will get you back to your regular workouts, while preventing further separation.

If you’re diagnosed with DR, what can you do?

Below is a simple ab rehab series to treat DR. https://youtu.be/dP820iEC2oE

Complete 3-4 rounds of these five moves:

  1. Bodyweight “Goddess” Squats:
    Stand with your feet wider than your hips and turned out to 45 degrees. Squat down as low as you can go at a slow steady pace, keeping your abs drawn in. Repeat 15 to 20 reps.
  2. Wall Sit:
    Place a stability ball between your lower back and the wall sinking down until your legs are about 90 degrees. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
  3. Standing Leg Lifts (using a wall for support):
    Lift one leg straight up in three directions: forward, sideways, backward. Repeat 10 reps in each direction. For a bonus burn add a 10 second “pulse” on the last rep in each direction.
    Trainer tip: Go for a burn in the top of the leg when you lift forward, the outside of the hip when you lift sideways and in the booty when you lift backward.
  4. Back Burner:
    Leaning up against a wall for support, with feet about six inches away from the wall, lift arms out to a “T” position (shoulder height). On the inhale, lift arms straight up until biceps are right next to the ears. On the exhale, lower arms back to the starting “T” position. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
  5. Belly Breathing:
    Lying on your back (if you feel any low back pain, place a blanket or towel in that area for some support), inhale with ease and allow your belly and chest to rise slightly. Then exhale slowly but forcefully and squeeze your navel in toward your spine. This breathing exercise is, in fact, an ab exercise!
    Trainer tip: If you’re not sure if you’re properly bracing your abs, wrap your arms around your waist and pull your abs together as you exhale. Repeat for five to eight complete breaths.  

Note: The use of an “ab belt” — especially when you’re busy being an active new mama — will brace your abs so you don’t risk straining those compromised muscles. This rule applies even if your doctor gives you clearance for returning to the gym six to eight weeks after giving birth.

For more information on diastasis and rehabbing your abs check out this article.


If You Had A C-section:

Cesarean sections (C-sections) are increasingly common these days. Therefore, it’s easy to diminish the fact that they’re a major abdominal surgery. Some women can experience noticeable healing of the incision in as quickly as six to eight weeks, though most often it takes up to three months before a 100 percent recovery.

It’s essential to understand how to make the best of those few months before diving back into your “regular” (i.e. high intensity) workouts. Calling upon a physical therapist or certified personal trainer to safely and efficiently guide you to that point is your best move.

For more information on recovering from a C-section check out this article.