Your post-pregnancy pooch is a symbol of love and strength ― after all, this is a visible sign that you “grew” an entire human being over nine months. But who can blame you if you wished it, well, wasn’t there?
Still, if you’re having a tough time trying to get rid of your baby belly, you may suffer from abdominal diastasis recti. This happens when the rectus abdominis muscle ― or what is commonly known as the six-pack muscle ― separates, explains physiotherapist Calvin Sim. These muscles play numerous roles such as helping to flex the spine, aid in lifting one’s leg while in a lying position, and supporting one’s posture.
During pregnancy, this key muscle helps prevent and manage lower-back pain. As your belly grows, it is stretched and possibly weakened, leading to the development of the post-baby pooch. A simple test can determine if you have diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti test
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Relax your head and shoulders.
- Position your fingers (with your palm facing you) just above your belly button.
- Lift your neck and head slightly off the floor. As you do that, press down with your fingertips. If you feel a gap, that’s the diastasis.
“Seventy per cent of new mums will have this symptom until about 8 weeks post-partum.”
It’s common and normal
Some degree of diastasis recti will occur in all pregnant women in their third trimester, Sim notes. “Seventy per cent of new mums will have this symptom until about eight weeks post-partum.”
Diastasis of about 2cm to 3cm is common but “if it persists beyond eight to 12 weeks, you may need treatment to manage the condition”, Sim adds.
You are more susceptible to having diastasis recti if you’re expecting twins or triplets, carrying a big baby, more than 35 years old, or if you had your kids in close succession.
A big no-no? Doing crunches or sit-ups during pregnancy or in the weeks after. “Crunches increase your intra-abdominal pressure and might push out the abdominal contents through the diastasis, slowing down the healing process,” Sim explains.
Check with your gynaecologist when you can safely return to exercising. If you had been working out regularly before and during pregnancy, and had a natural birth without any complications, you will probably be able to return to normal exercises in four to six months.
Click on to find out what you can do to close up the gap!
If you have diastasis recti…
- Avoid carrying heavy loads You’ll strain the connective tissue.
- Eat well Consuming sufficient fibre is essential in preventing constipation, which might put pressure on the weak belly tissue and slow the healing process.
- Avoid strenuous exercises Added stress on your rectus abdominals could cause further ab separation.
- Be careful with other exercises Depending on the severity of your condition, you may also need to avoid swimming and even doing yoga, as certain postures can cause excessive strain on the linea alba (this runs down the middle of your abdomen), which slows down recovery.
Added stress on your rectus abdominals could cause further ab separation.
Ways to improve the condition
With rest, this belly gap usually heals on its own in about eight to 12 weeks, Sim assures. If your condition isn’t too severe, putting on an abdominal binder might help.
To speed up the healing, do gentle core stabilisation exercises (see below), along with pelvic floor stabilisation exercises, he adds.
- Lie on your back with your feet on the ground. Lift your toes off the ground, leaving only your heel on the floor. Slide this foot out till the leg is straight and hold this position for 5 seconds. Slide the leg back in toward you. Repeat this five times, then switch to the other leg.
- While lying down, draw your abdominal muscles inward. Imagine there is a string attached to the inside of your belly button. Pull the string to draw your belly button in toward your spine. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. Make sure you are not holding your breath. Do two or three sets of this at a time.
Surgery may be required in instances when the gap doesn’t heal. Sim notes, “But this can now be done laparoscopically, which decreases the time required to heal, as well as scarring.”