Prenatal Fitness, Diastasis Recti, & Body After Baby

Can I be honest for a moment? This post is for all you ladies who are thinking about becoming pregnant, are currently pregnant, just had a baby last week, have given birth to a child at any point in your life, or for personal trainers who work with any of the afore mentioned demographics.  I think one of the questions we, as women, all ask ourselves at some point is what is having a baby going to do to my body. This might sound very vain and superficial to some but I think it is an important topic to discuss.

I have seen so many women who have had babies, are working out, eating correctly, and to no fault of their own just can not seem to get rid of their baby belly. So what seems to be the problem? The problem is not from lack of motivation or willpower but from the anatomy of the body after baby.

Let me explain…

RELAXIN (THE HORMONE)

During pregnancy the body releases the hormone relaxin. This hormone peaks at 14 weeks during pregancy and at the time of labor. It allows the stretching of the muscles and ligaments to accommodate the growing baby and prepare the mama’s body for labor and delivery.

Ladies, lets just take a moment of silence and be thankful for how awesome our body’s have been made in order to accomplish such a feat.

(Crickets chirping)

Now that that is over…

Here are several things you may notice thanks to this hormone coursing throughout your body during pregnancy.

  • Increased range of motion. This can be a blessing or an annoyance.
  • Lack of stability and balance in pelvis. Your hips feel off or your back is tighter on one side due to shifting.
  • Ribs may easily shift out of place. The ribs are a joint. With the increased range of motion the joints are more susceptible to misalignments. This is quite painful and can cause a pinched feeling in your back or chest and can also hinder your ability to take deep breaths.

If you are an avid gym-goer or enjoy high and frequent levels of physical activity you may also notice that your tummy does not look quite right and appears to be bulging in plank or pushup position.

I want to focus on the bulging tummy. Or the cone shaped tummy. If you have seen this on yourself or a client you know exactly what I am talking about.

This would be the perfect time to talk anatomy. So let’s discuss.

ANATOMY OF THE ABS

If you have had a baby you might be one of the many women who have no idea that their abdominal muscles have separated and are still separated. Did you know that this could even happen? I had no idea until after I gave birth to Caden. As a personal trainer this was nothing I even learned about in my course work (I will discuss why this is important later).

Take a look at the Rectus Abdominis both before and during pregnancy…

Diastasis-Recti-V3-720x484

The Linea Alba, the connective tissue between the right and left half of the Rectus Abdominis, stretches to accommodate the growing baby. For some women the gap closes naturally on its own. For others the connective tissue has become overly stretched and aggravated that it does not heal properly which leaves the new mama with an unwanted belly bulge months and even years after her bundle of joy has arrived. And for a mama who has multiple pregnancies the gap can become noticeably wider each time.

This gap is known as Diastasis Recti. But before I talk about after the baby let me briefly discuss prenatal exercise and things to keep in mind once you become pregnant.

PRENATAL FITNESS: MODIFICATIONS TO PROTECT YOUR ABS

I am a huge proponent of exercising during pregnancy. If you have been cleared by your doctor to exercise and exercised prior to pregnancy this will be a very beneficial section for you to read. If you want more information on the types of physical activity that are beneficial during pregnancy you can read my post Pregnancy & Exercise.

Certain exercises can aggravate and cause the gap between your Rectus Abdominis to become more severe during pregnancy. I tend to shy away from tons of crunches and situps because they can put more strain on the abdominal wall. I recommend planks or some type of plank variation for all my clients when it comes to programming their workouts.

Planks and Pushups are super beneficial exercises to do, but need to be done mindfully. You can place your hands on a bench, table, stairs, or even against the wall to modify this exercise. When you look at your midsection while you are doing this you should see more of a gradually rounding. If you see a bulge in the middle elevate your hands further from the floor. There is no shame elevating your plank. Protect yourself.

DIASTASIS RECTI/ABDOMINAL SEPARATION AFTER BABY

Congratulations! You have had your baby. Here is a simple way to tell if your muscles are still separated (give yourself a few months to heal before you do this test) and movements to avoid if you find you have abdominal separation.

Diastasis Recti/Abdominal Separation Test
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, and the soles of your feet on the floor.
  2. Place one hand behind your head, and the other hand on your abdomen, with your fingertips across your midline-parallel with your waistline- at the level of your belly button.
  3. With your abdominal wall relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your abdomen.
  4. Roll your upper body off the floor into a “crunch,” making sure that your ribcage moves closer to your pelvis.
  5. Move your fingertips back and forth across your midline, feeling for the right and left sides of your rectus abdominis muscle. Test for separation at, above, and below your belly button.
Signs of Diastasis Recti/Abdominal Separation
  • A gap of more than 2 1/2 finger-widths when the rectus abdominis is fully contracted.
  • The gap does not shrink as you contract your abdominal wall.
  • You can see a small mound protruding along the length of you midline.
Some Types of Movement to Avoid
  • Movements where the upper body twists and the arm on that side extends away from the body, such as “triangle pose.”
  • Exercises that require lying backward over a large exercise ball.
  • Yoga postures that stretch the abs, such as “cow pose,” “up-dog,” all backbends, and “belly breathing.”
  • Abdominal exercises that flex the upper spine off the floor or against the force of gravity such as: as crunches, oblique curls, “bicycles,” roll ups/roll downs, etc.
  • Pilates mat and reformer exercises that utilize the “head float” position, upper body flexion, or double leg extension.
  • Any exercise that causes your abdominal wall to bulge out upon exertion.
  • Lifting and carrying very heavy objects.
  • Quadruped exercises without adequate abdominal support.
  • Intense coughing without abdominal support.

This is just a brief explanation on abdominal separation and I would be happy to go into more detail if you have further questions.

BODY AFTER BABY

I am here to show you that you can totally reclaim your body after baby. In fact you can be stronger! Here are a few pictures of me postpartum. I promise I will post pictures after this baby girl is born too.

Belly Before & After Delivery

2-8 Months Postpartum

If anything I hope this post has encouraged you and shed light on what is really going on with your body after being pregnant. It is not that you are not doing enough, it could be that you just didn’t know what was really happening with your body.

For this reason alone if you are working with a personal trainer please make sure they are educated on how a woman’s body works before, during, and after pregnancy. Their lack of education might be hindering your physical transformation. On this same note I want to caution you about Pinterest/YouTube/Facebook/Instagram workouts. While I am all for inspiring others to live healthier lives it is important to point out that those workouts might not be best for someone who has just had a baby or who has abdominal separation. This is why it is so important to have someone who can coach you on your goals who understands and has training in anatomy/physiology and how it relates to human movement. 

For those who have just had or are about to have a baby I highly recommend a Belly Bandit! These are amazing and will help close the abdominal gap after giving birth, allow you to wear your pre-preganacy clothes sooner, and offer you low back support. Seriously go buy one for after the baby is born! You won’t regret it. Just for reference I used a small the first week after I had Caden and sized down to the extra small until I was 6 weeks postpartum.

I also highly recommend the MuTu System for those wanting to heal their core and pelvic floor after giving birth.

You might also be interested in my Losing The Baby Weight Series! Topics include: Pregnancy & ExerciseWhat to Expect After DeliveryThe First Six WeeksNutrition, and Exercise.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this, I have been talking to my husband about the possibility of diasrasis recti for a while now, so frustrated that no amount of exercise helps me rid of that belly budge. I am not a big person, average weight for my height. I have had four girls in eight years time, after the first two my body sprung back and was even better, but now, nothing. I feel defeated and so out of shape, I don’t know what to do. Is surgery my only option? What is your opinion?

    • My personal opinion is that you can always improve where you are currently. I would never tell someone not to see a surgeon about it because you know your body best and you know what you have done to try and correct the issue on your own. Your connective tissue could still be overly damaged to the point that surgery would be the best way to bring the gap back together. That being said even with surgery if the underlying cause of the instability has not been addressed you may still have problems. I will be talking about that next week on the blog. Thanks for reading and for your question!

  2. Great post! I was actually wanting to ask if you had any experience “closing the gap”? I didn’t use a brace for that long; I should have bought a smaller one. But my gap is considerable and im kinda surprised it hasn’t closed some. I had it before baby #3 but naturally its worse. Evan is 10 months now. Any suggestions?

    • Thanks Chrissy! I am going to do a follow up post on this topic. The main way to close the gap is to concentrate on the deeper muscle groups. Specifically the Transverse Abdominals. Because the gap is just a symptom of the actual cause the entire core musculature has become unstable. I will make sure to address this question in my post next week. Can’t believe Evan is 10 months old!

  3. Liberty Karle says:

    What exercises would u recommend along with a plank? I’ve had my baby belly for 2 years now. It is back to being a lil flatter, but there is still a slight bulge. Especially when bending over or anything!

  4. I LOVE your progression of your tummy after baby. Very interesting since I’m just starting to think about kids and how that might affect my body.
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  5. Good post! Other than planking, any other workout suggestions? What about deadbugs, good or bad for getting rid of the baby belly? My 3rd baby is 3months now and I’m doing a fitness challenge of running, squats, glute bridge, handstand hold, deadbugs and side planks. I’m almost down to my pre-pregnancy weight but still not fitting into my jeans b/c of this baby belly. Would love to not have to buy a whole new wardrobe!
    Eunice

    • Hi Eunice, I am going to do a follow up post and focus more on mechanics of core engagement. When you are working out if you notice the bulge in the middle of your belly it would probably be a good idea to back off that exercise. I will explain more ASAP in another post.

  6. Thank you for posting this! I’m a personal trainer and I have an 11 month old right now. Getting your abs (and body) back in shape after having a baby is definitely a process.
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  7. This is awesome information! My doctor had talked a little bit about diastasis recti when I was pregnant with my daughter, but this detailed info is SO helpful. Can’t wait for your follow up post!!
    Amanda@ All Day Activewear recently posted…Uncommon Ways to Prevent the Common ColdMy Profile

  8. Sarah Emmert says:

    I will be waiting anxiously for your post on how to resolve diastasis recti!! I had twins 14 months ago and I wore the belly bandit for almost 5 months after pregnancy and I didn’t see much of a difference besides it would hurt after wearing it for a couple hours. I still have ab separation even after going to physical therapy for it. When I first went in the PT was shocked at how strong my abs were after years of exercise and especially after having twins. My PT gave me exercises for my Transverse Abs that also included blowing air out forcefully to further activate those muscles (which made me dizzy!). I felt the gap close some immediately after exercising, but then a few hours later it would always go back to its old spacing. I finally stopped going because the PT said she wasn’t sure what else to do and had no more exercises for me. Even now, some days I will wake up and they will be close and then some days they will be far apart. I haven’t seen any specific correlation with how far my abs are apart and what exercises I’ve done that day.

    I’m going crazy about what to do to resolve it. I’ve been very fit and extremely active my entire life and now the look of my stomach doesn’t match the rest of my body! Not to mention that my weight lifting isn’t as heavy as I would like because of a weaker core. Most recently, I have done CrossFit for two years (and throughout pregnancy) and am a runner. I’ve also maintained a practically perfect eating plan throughout and after pregnancy (I eat Paleo).

    I ask every other fit mom I know if they have ab separation and no one ever knows what I’m talking about. I need help!!! I really will be checking your blog every day in hopes to get some resolution to this huge issue that I deal with daily! Thanks!

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thank you so much for your comment! Congrats on your twins! That is perfect that you went to a PT about the ab separation and that she had you working on your Transverse Abdominis. I have not had any personal experience working with a PT for this condition but I am totally all for breathing exercises. I don’t like that it was so forceful that it made you dizzy, but breathing techniques can activate those deeper muscle groups. So I will try to answer some of your comments here to the best of my ability.

      First off it sounds like you have done amazing! My first thought after reading this was do you have any other discomfort or symptoms that you are dealing with that you notice or is it mainly the abdominal separation? If you think of the diastasis like an injury, like any other type of injury you have in your body, there is always the potential for that injury to never be 100% back to how it was before. But there is always room for improvement. When you said you wake up and somedays find the separation is gone that is totally normal too. When we sleep there is not as much pressure in the abdominal cavity. But once we wake up and start moving around and as the day goes on there might be separation that you will notice due the the pressure build up. I will talk more about this next week.

      I know it is so annoying when no one seems to understand what you are talking about. I am going to post more info on here soon that will hopefully be able to steer you and others in the right directions and be helpful to improve the abdominal separation you, myself, and so many others have dealt with.

      xoxo, Tamara

  9. I too am anxious to see your answer about how to resolve diastasis recti!!!!
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  10. Does the belly bandit still work 1 months after delievery?

    • Hi! I think that it can’t hurt, but I wouldn’t recommend wearing it long term. Since you are already 1 month pp you could wear it for a few weeks but after that I would recommend not wearing it anymore, because you want to allow your core muscles to start to activate again on their own. Congrats on your baby!

      • I understand the desire women have to get back.in shape but it is extremely important to first concentrate on the pelvic floor and strengthening both the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis before attempting to strengthen the RA which ultimately increases the pressure on the PF. Guarding against prolapse of pelvic organs is the first line of defense in the post partum woman.

        • Peg, I completely agree with you! Pelvic floor disorders are so common and often overlooked by first and second time moms for the reason as to why their body is not the feeling and looking the same as before baby. Transverse Abdominis training is so important too! Thanks for your great comment!

  11. Kristen says:

    Hey Tamara, I’m pregnant with first baby due in August! I’ve done really well with my weight gain so far and am trying to stay healthy and while I’m not obsessing over it, I definitely want to get back in shape once baby is born! Hopefully this is not too personal, but if you breastfed did you find that losing weight relatively quickly and excersizing fairly soon after giving birth lessened your milk supply? Out of all the friends I know who have had kids, honestly only one lost weight quickly and she told me that, so just wondering if that was your experience as well. Thanks!

    • Hi Kristen, Sorry it has taken me so long to respond. Congrats on your upcoming arrival. Not personal at all. I breastfed Caden and I am breastfeeding Maisie currently have not found it to reduce my supple at all by exercising. I will say I am not doing anything super intense right now. With Caden once I started running and swimming again I had to make sure to drink more water and stay hydrated. Plus eat more too. I didn’t lose a ton of weight right away either from breastfeeding. I think everyone is so different. Don’t be discouraged if that is not you either, it will come off eventually. Let me know if you have more questions.

  12. I had my two kids through CS and my belly is like am four to five months pregnant. Is there anything I can do to reduce it.

    • Check out MutuSystem. There is a link in my sidebar for an easy click. It is a great program for healing your body after baby. I am currently using it myself.

  13. Loved this post! I am currently pregnant with our fourth baby and have had a diastasis since our 2nd baby. They’ve all been super close together but I think this is going to be my last pregnancy so I will definitely be focusing on healing after this baby is born. Great info!
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  14. Love all your info! I have a quick question, what do you think of Les Mills classes pre pregnancy and during? I have been doing body pump since November and am trying for baby #2. One of the instructors told me over-heating my body is a concern. How do I know when and if I am over-heating? Thanks!

    • Hi Shelby, This is the one class type I have yet to take or try. From what I know it is lifting set to music at timed intervals? If that is not correct please let me know. I would think they should be fine, especially if you were doing them before your were pregnant. Of course talk with your OB and modify where and when you need. Overheating is when the body can’t cool itself down. So if you are working to the point that you are just dripping sweat and suddenly you would stop sweating or you would become lightheaded or dizzy you would want to stop. Also if after you finish your workout you notice it takes a long time to cool off you it would be a good idea to back off the intensity. Hope that helps. Thanks for reading!

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