Abdominal separation post pregnancy – what is it and what do we do about it?

By Mel Lewis

Most of us mums follow a very similar path after we’ve had our babies.  We birth our child/children, we sort of get our heads around the life changes and adjustments required to be a mum (but these are never ending, right!), and then we freak out that we don’t look how we used to/want to and panic that we need to get our pre pregnancy bodies back ASAP! 

Firstly I need to just say – don’t freak out about your body!  Please, please, if you are a mum in early post natal recovery (anything up to 12 weeks is still early!) remember to be kind to yourself!  Give yourself some time, time for your body (and mind) to recover and revel in your birth experience, and enjoy your baby before you beat yourself up if you’ve not thought about exercise! 

Post natal recovery journeys can be tough, both mentally and physically. They can take longer than you would like and everyone’s is different.  This is hard to swallow when you might see your favourite celeb, best friend or even next-door neighbour back in their old jeans, or strutting their lycra stuff at the gym after just a few weeks. 

But you also need to remember you don’t know everyone’s story, and you can’t guarantee that just because they seem to be ‘snapping back’ that they are doing so in a way that is safe and effective for their long-term health (and believe me this is really important!). 

The reality is that for most of us we need to assume a position of contented acceptance that yes, you know what our bodies will never be exactly the same again – you have birthed a human/humans.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t go back to being a similar size/shape/strength.  Same but different.  

One area you might hear a lot about is your tummy muscle gap – technically known as Diastasis Recti.  Here’s a brief overview of what this actually is and what it means:

1. When you have a baby your abdominal muscles, connecting tissue and fascia clearly need to stretch to accommodate the growing fetus.  The stretching of your midline tissues (called Diastasis/Distension) is totally normal during pregnancy and affects most women. 

2. In general, the two bellies of the Rectus Abdominis (Six-Pack muscles) regain their proximity and connective tissue regain tension.  But this can take time and its return to your pre-pregnancy position is unique to every woman.

3) This ‘gap’ between the two bellies of the rectus and the increased inter-recti distance is often what we are told to obsess about – but in fact it is not where our main focus should be.  Having a gap is not the kiss of death, you can live with a gap, many people do (and not just post natal women!). 

4) Diastasis is more about the function of the entire abdominal wall (all the layers of muscle, tendons and fascia) and not just the six pack muscles, because the reality is all areas are stretched during pregnancy and so all areas need to be restored.  

So when we consider regaining and rebuilding our ‘ab strength’ we need to think deeper than the muscles.  We need to assess the tensional integrity of the whole abdominal wall, and work on rebuilding the entire core from the surface muscles and all the way through.

Only then will we be giving our core the best chance to do its job of withstanding pressure and transferring load (which can be as simple as supporting you coughing or the movement of your limbs). 

This type of holistic recovery does require focused exercise rehabilitation.  If your abdominals are separated and your midline is weak (with the tissue feeling slack), you must take care to avoid as many situations as possible where extra pressure can be developed.

Pressure against these weakened tissues will have a detrimental effect on the healing and closure of this separation. This means traditional abdominal exercises (sit-ups) or any activity like high impact cardio or running that ‘pre loads’ your abs are not appropriate.

But if you do have a gap, and your midline isn’t quite as tight as it needs to be don’t dismay.  Have faith that you can be helped. A professional who specializes in developing restorative programs appropriate for the core with a Diastasis/Distension is your best bet.   

They will also be able to advise you on how else to support your recovery with appropriate nutrition, hydration, breathing strategies and hormone balancing. 

Be assured, whatever your state of recovery it can be improved and it is absolutely possible for you to regain a fully functional abdominal wall just as strong and looking as good as it was before – yay!

Fitmumas classes with Mel are on Wednesday mornings at the Suffolk Babies Centre. There is a 9:30am class and a 10:30am class, costing £37.50 for the 5 week term. Babies welcome!

New! Understanding Your Postnatal Body Workshops

With Mel Lewis

Have you recently had a baby and noticed things aren’t quite what they were? Are you suffering from particular issues you never had before, like not being able to connect with your tummy muscles, pelvic floor dysfunction or lower back pain?

Maybe you are a soon-to-be mum who is nervous about what her body will be like once you’ve had the baby?

Or an old time mum who has ‘lived with’ a number of aches and pains that just aren’t quite right since having your children?

Either way this workshop is for you – three hours dedicated to discussing some of the key changes your body will go through and how best to tackle them.

The course will cover:

• The changes to your body during and after pregnancy, and what to be mindful of in the first three months after birth
• Diastasis recti – the mummy tummy gap and the truth behind what you should and shouldn’t worry about
• The relationship between your core and pelvic floor, and why understanding your anatomical connections will enhance your post natal body’s strength in the long term
• Pelvic floor dysfunction – what is it, why do I have it and what can I do about it
• Prolapse – what could a post natal prolapse look like and how do I deal with it
• Post natal recovery and the impact of your hormones
• Nutrition to nurture your body and build strength

In addition all participants (where relevant and of course if you want to) will be individually checked for diastasis/pelvic floor dysfunction and given an insight into your current state of postnatal recovery.

The workshop will also include a 30-minute gentle exercise session aimed to support you in reconnecting with your abdominal wall, correcting ‘mummy posture’ and developing pelvic floor strength and stability.

The three hour workshop costs £35. Babies in arms are welcome, but please no mobile babies or older children.

To book your place:

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  1. […] in areas such as abdominal separation and pelvic floor stability (read our earlier article on this here). […]

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