So you’ve had a baby and you’re ready to start getting those abs to snap back to their pre-baby glory? Awesome. But before you start banging out the crunches you need to first check for diastasis recti. Diastasis recti is the separation of your rectus abdominus (the muscles that you see when someone is rocking a six pack), which is as a result of all that belly stretching to accomodate your growing baby in utero.
In the awesome image above, A represents normal rectus abdominus while B represents diastasis recti. If you have diastasis recti you do not want to be doing any sort of crunch or sit up as this will exacerbate the issue and delay healing (and possibly cause a nasty hernia). I’ve spoken to countless new moms who had no idea about this and were doing crunches trying to get their abs back, when in reality they were just making things worse. :(
Here is how to tell:
Lie on your back with your knees up and lift your head so you are looking at your belly button.
Use your fingers to feel around right above your belly button. Feel your midline all the way up to your breastbone (I think it is easiest to feel any ab separation closer to your breastbone, since we all carry more fat around our belly button. If you are having a hard time start at the bottom of your rib cage to find the separation and work your way down towards your belly button with your fingers). If you have an abdominal separation it will feel like a valley that is more than two fingers wide. Even if it is one finger wide I’d error on the side of caution and skip any exercises that focus on crunching your abdomen. If you aren’t sure, call your OB/GYN and they can give you some specific advice regarding your personal birth history.
Oh shitake, I have it? What do I do?
Short answer? Plank. Long answer? Plank. Fret not, mamma; plank is a better core workout than sit ups anyways. Start by trying to hold plank for 10 seconds at a time, then push yourself to hold it longer. You can start in modified plank (on your elbows) and work up to full plank (on your hands- like a push up position). Listen to your body, plank should be hard but it shouldn’t hurt. Wait until you are cleared to exercise by your OB/GYN or Nurse Midwife before giving plank a try.
Try to do 10 seconds of plank at least 3 times a day. Then push it to 15 seconds, then 20, etc until you can hold plank for a full minute without resting. Check your abs every couple weeks until the separation has disappeared. In some people it never goes away (especially for mothers of multiples) and will require surgery to fix.
Keep calm, and PLANK on!