Do you still ‘look pregnant’ months after your delivery? You might have what is called Diastasis recti.
It is an extended flab (instead of abs) that is formed when there is extra space between your left and right belly muscles. Although this ‘pouch’ is usually harmless, it is fairly undesirable.
What can you read in this article?
- What is Diastasis recti?
- How do I know if I also have Diastasis recti?
- How do I know if I also have Diastasis recti?
- Can Diastasis recti lead to other health complications?
It’s most commonly seen in pregnant women and sometimes even newborns. But it usually goes away after a while in both cases. You may also notice it in women who give birth to more than one child or have twins or get pregnant post the age of 35.
What is Diastasis recti?
Each of us have rectus abdominis, which are long and flat muscles that run down vertically on either side of our abdomen. These are crucial because they provide core strength to our body and also hold in the internal organs.
Now when you are pregnant, the rectus abdominis muscles expand and separate vertically down the middle so as to make room for the baby. In addition, your pregnancy hormones enable the tissues to relax and expand.
Usually, rectus abdominis heal on their own four or six months postpartum. In other words, they come back into the same pre-pregnancy vertical position. However, in many cases there is a possibility that these muscles do not come back to their original position.
In such a scenario, you end up with a ‘pouch’ that looks like a pregnant belly. Sometimes, you may need surgical intervention.
Diastasis recti occur when the rectus abdominis muscles expand and separate vertically down the middle to make room for the baby during pregnancy
Sometimes, it may also look like an unsightly ridge protruding from your tummy and may look prominent when you cough. But not every type of belly fat is Diastasis recti.
How do I know if I also have Diastasis recti after pregnancy?: Symptoms of Diastasis recti
There is a simple home test that can check if the flab you have is actually Diastasis recti or just fat!
Simply lie on your back, keeping your knees bent and your feet firmly on the floor. Now bring your hand gently over the navel. Make sure that it is palm down and your fingers are pointing towards the toes.
Lift your head and bring it towards your chest, this causes the rectus abdominis to contract.
If you feel a gap of two or more fingers between the two sides of your abdomen, it means you have Diastasis recti after pregnancy. But worry not, it is not harmful in any way. However, you may need medical intervention to get rid of it.
Also, here are the symptoms of diastasis recti after pregnancy:
- Pain while having sex
- You may have a poor posture
- A hip or pelvic pain
- You may have a lower backache
- There might be a urine leaking whenever you cough or sneeze
- You might feel weak in your abdominals
- Having difficulty lifting objects or just simply walking
Can Diastasis recti lead to other health complications after pregnancy?
While a Diastasis recti mainly affects the abdomen and may be harmless in most cases, sometimes it can also have implications on the functioning of other organs and body parts.
- Chronic backache: Women with Diastasis recti after pregnancy may suffer from chronic back pain (because of excess flab in the front that refuses to go).
- Urinary incontinence: They may also have urinary incontinence, which occurs when loose muscles are unable to keep urine in control and prevent leaks.
- Postpartum constipation: In some cases, women may also suffer from postpartum constipation. It may take a few days for you to pass stool and you feel bloated most of the time.
- Pain during sex: Another problem that Diastasis recti after pregnancy causes is painful sex. You may have pelvic pain during sex and clubbed with urinary incontinence, intercourse can be difficult initially.
What can I do about my Diastasis recti after pregnancy?
The bad news is that once the connective tissues of the rectus abdominis muscles stretch out, it is difficult to put them back together. In fact, traditional crunches may also render useless because they may strengthen the stretched tissues in the same position. So the gap still remains.
The good news is that an abdominal rehabilitation can help you get rid of Diastasis recti after pregnancy.
In an abdominal rehab you essentially work with a physical therapist who suggests a specific type of exercises to strengthen as well as tone weak abdominal muscles.
Here are some postpartum belly exercises you can do to achieve a flat tummy:
Walking is one of the easiest methods to ease back into a fitness program after giving birth, even if it doesn’t sound like much of a workout.
Begin with a gentle stroll. You’ll eventually build up to a pumped-up power walk. However, a gentle walk, especially in the beginning, can do wonders for you and your body. Bringing the infant in a front pack will add weight, which will maximize the advantages.
Try walking backward or in a zigzag manner for a change of pace to keep your muscles guessing. This activity should not be done with infants unless you’ve mastered it and are confident in your balance.
2. Deep belly breathing with abdominal contraction
This practice is so simple that you can complete it within an hour after giving birth. It helps to relax muscles while also beginning the process of abdominal and belly toning and strengthening.
Sit up straight and inhale deeply, bringing air upward from the diaphragm. While breathing, contract and hold your abs firm, and relax while exhaling. Increase the amount of time you can contract and hold your abs by a little at a time.
The V-up is a full-body workout that strengthens your core, legs, back, and shoulders. V-ups are believed to be the most effective belly fat-burning exercise because they combine the benefits of two exercises: crunches and leg raise. This is going to be your go-to activity if you want to burn off some belly fat after your pregnancy.
Plank is the most effective workout for a flat stomach. It is one of the most effective calorie-burning exercises since it activates numerous muscles at once, enhancing your body’s core strength.
As a result, fat around your abdomen is burned. Certain plank modifications can be used to engage more and more muscle groups, resulting in a higher calorie burn. Here are three such variations:
- Regular plank
- Plank with straight arms
- Plank on the side
5. Bicycle crunches
Bicycle crunches help to build and tone the upper abdominal muscles, which is one of their most significant benefits. If done correctly, this can result in a flat stomach. It may appear like performing is difficult at times, but this is not the case.
6. Reverse crunch
Lie on your back, knees bent and thighs parallel to the ground. Bring your knees to your chest using your abs. Hold for two counts before repeating ten times.
7. Flutter kicks
Flutter kicks are a great way to get rid of that extra flab around your stomach. Yes, it is the ideal lower abdominal fat burner, but when it comes to flutter kicks, remember that speed and leg extension are crucial. So, when doing this exercise, keep both of these factors in mind.
8. Scissor kicks
Lie down on your back, legs straight. Lift both legs off the ground and scissor them by lowering and raising them alternately. Perform 15 to 20 reps.
9. Mountain climbers
If you think mountain climbers are simple to do, think again. This workout will tone your abs in a big way. This workout, in fact, is a fantastic combination of core and cardio exercises that target your abs, shoulders, arms, chest, and tummy. As a result, mountain climbers can assist you in losing all of that persistent post-pregnancy tummy fat.
If you’ve exhausted all other options for losing belly fat after pregnancy, it’s time to try burpees. This technique works every muscle in your body, and it’s not only a wonderful cardio workout for losing belly fat, but it also strengthens and tones your muscles. Simply said, it could transform your body into a fat-burning furnace!
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If you do squats on a regular basis, you can burn fat and develop muscle. Squats can aid in fat loss across the body, especially the belly and thighs.
12. Head Lifts, Shoulder Lifts, and Curl-Ups
These three exercises can help you develop your back muscles. They also burn calories while toning the stomach and abs.
Lie down on your back, arms by your sides. Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor, keeping your lower back flush to the floor. As you inhale, relax your belly. Slowly elevate your head and neck off the floor as you exhale. As you lower your head back down, take a deep breath.
Once you’ve mastered 10 head lifts, try this motion. Place yourself in the same position as you did with the head lifts. Inhale deeply and let your stomach relax.
Raise your head and shoulders off the floor as you exhale, stretching your arms and hands toward your knees. Fold both hands behind your head if this strains your neck, but don’t tug on it. Inhale as you return your head and shoulders to their original positions.
Move on to this when you can do 10 shoulder lifts. Begin on the floor in the same position. Raise your body till it’s about halfway between your knees and the back of your head. Hold for 2 to 5 seconds as you reach for your knees. Then gradually lower yourself.
13. Kneeling Pelvic Tilt
This exercise will help you tone your stomach. Back discomfort can be alleviated by strengthening your abs. Begin on all fours, toes on the floor behind you, arms straight down from shoulder line, palms on the floor.
Your back should be straight and relaxed, rather than bent or arched. Pull your buttocks forward with each inhale, tilting your pelvis and turning your pubic bone upward. Hold for three counts before releasing.
This classic workout will tone your bladder muscles and help you avoid incontinence after childbirth. The more kegels you do and hold for, the more control you’ll have over leaks produced by sneezing, laughing, or lifting up your infant.
Contract and retain the muscles that govern urine flow. Start by practicing the workout while you’re in the bathroom to figure out which muscles you have.
Manipulate your muscles while you’re urinating until the flow comes to a halt. Then let go, allowing the pee to flow freely. Remember how it feels to contract, hold, and release those muscles when you’re not urinating. Ten times per session, three times per day is a good goal.
Here’s what you can expect in an abdominal rehab:
- Strengthen rectus abdominis: You may have to perform mini crunches while wearing a belt or a sheet that is tightly wrapped around your waist. This will strengthen your abdominal connective tissues and prevent them from stretching further.
- Strengthen transverse abdominis: You may also be taught to work on strenghthening your transverse abdominis. This is a part of the abdomen that acts as a corset and protects and provide strength to the core. When you say ‘shhh’ out loud, you’ll be able to feel your transverse abdominis. You may also be recommended the Tupler Technique for this purpose.
- Daily activity exercises: Your therapist may show you how to use abdominal exercises and ways so that you can incorporate them in your daily activities such as getting up from the bed, sitting on a chair, picking up objects from the floor among others.
Based on your therapist’s guidance you may have to perform mini crunches to recover from a severe Diastasis recti
To start the abdominal rehab you’ll have to wait a minimum of six weeks in case of normal delivery and eight to weeks in case of a caesarean section.
The other thing to remember is that if your Diastasis recti is severe (if you can feel a gap of three or more fingers between your right and left abdomen), then surgery may be the next best option. This is especially true if you do not plan to get pregnant again.
What happens in a Diastasis recti surgery?
In a Diastasis recti surgery, your abdominal wall muscles are stitched back together down the middle of the abdomen. While this is a more common method, in certain cases a laparoscopical procedure can also be performed.
Here, a small camera is inserted in the abdomen through tiny incisions and the stitch is made.
In case of severe Diastasis recti, doctors may even perform an open abdominal surgery (abdominoplasty). This usually involves a larger incision in the belly. However, remember that the latter is a cosmetic surgery so you may have to discuss with your insurance provider if this can be covered in your plan.
But there is always a 50-50 percent chance for all this to actually work.
When is it too late to wear a postpartum belly wrap?
The best time to wear a postpartum belly wrap is between 2 and 6 weeks after giving birth. After childbirth, this is when the uterus contracts the most.
It is also common for new women to wear it for up to four months after giving birth. You’ll continue to reap the benefits of compression until you’re four months into your postpartum recovery.
Will I ever get my pre-pregnancy abs back?
Each body is different and its requirements and healing process, therefore, also differ. So while a few weeks in abdominal rehab may work for some women, others may need surgery to recover from a severe Diastasis recti.
In addition, you may also want to lose the pregnancy weight and so it may take time for your entire body to get back into its previous shape and size. The important thing is to take it slow, trust your body, and do not over-exert.
Take a look at this video to get a better understanding of postnatal abdominal exercise.
(All images courtesy: Shutterstock, Pixabay)
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