Fixing Separated Abdominal Muscles
Diastasis Recti - Separated Abdominal Muscles
As your belly grows and extends to accommodate your growing baby, your muscles get stretched to new heights - or widths in this case. There are two large sheets of muscle on your abdomen that cover your internal organs, known as the Recti muscles. They run from the rib cage, down to the pubic bone, covering the entire belly. They meet in the middle of the abdomen, right in line with the navel. In order to allow your belly to keep growing, these muscles separate, especially as you get toward the end of your pregnancy.
The separation is called diastasis recti and it is neither a tear nor a hernia. It is just a thinning and widening of the connective tissue between the two sheets of muscle. The separation isn't necessarily painful, which is why most women don't even know it has happened until after the baby is born. Some women do have a sensation of uncomfortable stretching of their abdomen at the end of their pregnancy, like a splitting feeling, which usually eases off within a few days.
If you give birth to your baby by cesarean section, the doctor will have to pull these muscles apart to get to the uterus in order to make the cut and get the baby out. This can exacerbate muscle separation in the abdomen. Of course, if the baby is premature and quite small, muscle separation may be something you only hear about and never experience.
How To Tell If Your Muscles Have Separated
One way to tell if you have muscle separation in the abdomen is to lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and lift your head, as if you are doing a little crunch. This movement tenses the abdominals and the soft, spongy space between them is emphasized. This space measures about one to five centimeters in width in a vertical line both above and below the navel. Your doctor will likely check the abdominal separation shortly after you give birth or at your six week checkup. You can check the separation yourself by lying flat on the floor with your knees bent, head on the floor as well (without a pillow) and tucking your chin into your chest, lift your head forward. While you are in this position, press your fingers into the area right around the belly button vertically. You are feeling for that gap we talked about, or for a soft bulge. If you can move your fingers side to side more than two fingers' width, you have diastasis recti.
The really good news is that you can help your muscles rejoin by doing specific exercises. However, before you begin any kind of exercise, be sure to check in with your physician to ensure you're okay to go.
How You Can Fix Them
Rather than doing traditional abdominal exercises like sit-ups that put too much stress on the belly right after having a baby, exercises that target the weakened area without stressing the back and abdomen are recommended. If you had a c-section, you can begin exercising after the stitches are dissolved and the incision has healed. If you delivered vaginally and had stitches, wait until the stitches are removed and you've healed.
Here are some easy exercises to help get your muscles knitted back together again:
1. Lie flat on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands, fingers pointing down toward the public bone, on your abdomen. As you press down and in with your fingers, exhale and slowly lift your head and if you can, your shoulders as well. This movement encourages the rectus back together.
2. Take a long towel and wrap it around your torso with the ends in front of you. Perform a crunch and as you do, pull the ends of the towel toward each other in front of your belly button. This also encourages the muscles back together.
3. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Exhaling, slowly straighten one leg against the floor, feeling the contraction of your abdomen below your navel. Inhale and return that leg to the starting position. Exhale and extend the second leg against the floor then inhale and return it to the starting position.
If, after about four weeks you still notice the separation, ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist who specializes in postpartum issues such as diastasis recti. The therapist will be able to work with you to get your muscles back into shape.