Mummy tummy. Mum tum. Pooch… whatever you call it, you’re likely to be familiar with the references to the way a woman’s stomach looks after she’s given birth. Nine months of pregnancy growing a beautiful baby or babies causes the stomach muscles to separate in about two thirds of pregnant women, and it can take some time and effort to restore their strength and bring them back together.
Medically called diastasis recti, the amount of muscle separation you may experience varies, and according to the NHS, it typically goes back to normal by the time your baby is eight weeks old – but this isn’t the case for everyone. So how can you tell if you have diastasis recti and what exercises can help bring your stomach muscles back together? Read on for all you need to know…
What is diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti is the separation of the two muscles that run down the centre of your stomach that occurs during pregnancy.
Why do I have diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti occurs because a growing uterus pushes the stomach muscles apart, making them longer and weaker.
How do I know if I have diastasis recti?
After you have had your baby, you can check the size of the separation with this simple technique shared by the NHS:
1. Lie on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor.
2. Raise your shoulders off the floor slightly and look down at your tummy.
3. Using the tips of your fingers, feel between the edges of the muscles, above and below your belly button. See how many fingers you can fit into the gap between your muscles.
Do this regularly to check that the gap is gradually getting smaller.
What should I do if my muscle separation isn’t improving?
If the gap in your stomach muscles is still obvious eight weeks after birth, contact your GP as you may be at risk of back problems. The GP can refer you to a physiotherapist, who will give you some specific exercises to do. You can also focus on doing regular pelvic floor and deep stomach muscle exercises at home, which can help to reduce the size of the separation.
Things to avoid when you have diastasis recti
It’s important to try not to put extra strain on weak, separated muscles, which means wherever possible you should avoid the following:
• Heavy lifting or bending
• Constipation and straining on the toilet
• Holding your baby on one hip
• Doing sit ups or crunches that can put excessive strain on the muscles
• Sitting directly up from a lying position