One of the most common things I hear from new mothers is the frustration they have with getting back into their pre-pregnancy shape. There are times that the new mom can just focus on cleaning up her nutrition and starting an exercise program, but there also times that this isn’t enough.
Weight Gain vs Abdominal Separation
After giving birth to your precious bundle of joy, it’s not uncommon to struggle with getting rid of the mommy tummy. There should have been some weight gain during the pregnancy, and there is no reason to rush to losing any body fat that you gained initially during pregnancy. When a mom is breastfeeding, weight loss should not be as big of a priority as making sure the baby is getting the nutrients he/she needs. There is one condition that creates a lasting effect on your abdominal shape though, called Diastasis Recti, a fancy name for abdominal separation, and it is a bit more difficult to get rid of.
What is Diastasis Recti?
During pregnancy the rectus abdominus (muscles in the abdominals) can be stretched apart creating a gap between the muscles. It’s most likely to happen to women over 35, large (or multiple birth) babies, and/or multiple pregnancies. It’s the type of change that has a lasting impact on your body no matter how lean you get, but there are things you can do that make it better (or worse!).
Bad Exercises for Diastasis Recti
I know you want to hit the gym hard and start doing all of the crunches you see everyone else doing. It makes sense, right? Your abs don’t look right, so you need to work your abs harder to get the shape you want! It’s not going to work in this case. Doing crunches that push out your abdominal wall will only make the problem worse over time. Avoid all types of exercises that push your abdominals up and create pressure on the separated area.
Good Exercises for Diastasis Recti
Focus on exercises that pull the abdominals down towards your spine. This will all you to use your deeper core muscles to draw the abdominals in and reduce the space between the separation. The exercises I love for this include:
- Seated Contraction – Sitting upright in a chair, try to pull the abdominals towards your spine. Hold it for 2 seconds at a time, and then return to a middle position. Make sure you don’t push out your abs in between. Eventually work your time up to a 10 second hold. The more repetitions you do, the better. It’s an exercise you can do even while you watch television!
- Floor Contraction – This is easier than the first exercise, but it’s still an excellent exercise to work on. Do the same exercise as above while laying on your back on the floor. Try to hold the contraction for 20-30 seconds instead of 2-10 seconds. To make it easier you can bend your knees, and to make it more challenging, straighten your legs and let them rest on the floor.
- Wall Pushup – Hold yourself in a pushup position on the wall while drawing the abdominal exercise in, like you did in the beginner exercises. Now you are fighting gravity more than before and your abdominals will work much harder.
- Ball Bridge – Sit on a stability ball and roll forward until your head is resting comfortably on the ball. Your knees should be at 90 degrees and your torso will be flat, like a table. Now do the same hold/contraction that you did previously in the floor contraction exercise.
- Wall Squat – With your back against the wall, lower yourself until your legs are at a 90 degree angle. In this position, draw your abdominals in for 5 seconds and then slowly raise yourself back up. Start by doing this exercise 10 times, but work your way up to 20 repetitions.
With any medical condition, it’s always advisable to contact your physician first. These are very simple, progressive exercise that can be done for those with Diastasis Recti. The key is to build as much strength in the muscles that draw the abdominals in, as opposed to pushing the abs out. I hope it’s helpful, and would welcome any questions you have.