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Post-Baby Ab Rehab Workout

Almost every mom dreams about getting her abs back in shape after giving birth (unless you’re one of the lucky few who shrank back to your old self the minute you left the delivery room). The logical solution is to do tons of crunches, right? Actually, that’s one of the worst moves you can make, says Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise science at Auburn University, in Montgomery, Alabama. “Crunches only target one of several ab muscles — primarily the rectus abdominis — and that’s the one that’s most overstretched during pregnancy,” she explains. Not only will going crunch-crazy get you iffy results, you’ll put too much pressure on this now-delicate, overburdened muscle.

And even if your child is older and your abs have long since healed, all moms will get the best results possible by doing a mix of tummy-toning moves that target all your ab muscles. Her crunch-free Pilates plan does just that — and, as a bonus, it strengthens your pelvic-floor muscles, which also get weaker during pregnancy. Do this super-quick workout three times a week and you’ll see firmer abs in no time!

Single-Leg Circles

Lie faceup on the floor with your arms at your sides, palms down. Scoop your belly in (imagine you’re pulling your belly button toward your spine) and extend your right leg toward the ceiling, toes pointed and turned slightly outward. Inhale and imagine that you’re tracing a circle about the size of a dinner plate with your right leg, tightening your abs to keep hips still on the floor throughout the movement. Circle 10 times clockwise, then repeat in a counter-clockwise direction. Switch legs and repeat.

Ab Exercises That Are Safe and Beneficial During Pregnancy

Given all the stretching that your ab muscles go through during pregnancy to accommodate your growing baby, you wouldn’t be the first woman to wonder if there must be something you can do to keep them in shape and speed recovery after birth. And while pregnancy isn’t the time to strive for the chiseled core you’ve always dreamed of, you can certainly take a few safe steps, with the guidance of your practitioner, to maintain your fitness and keep your core strong during pregnancy. In fact, exercising your abs during pregnancy has lots of benefits, including reduced risk for back pain and potentially even a speedier labor.

Nonetheless, certain physical changes can make it more difficult to stick to the abs routine you practiced before you were pregnant. Here’s what you need to know about your abs during and after pregnancy, along with six exercises you can try (with the green light from your practitioner, of course) during pregnancy.

Are abdominal exercises safe during early pregnancy?

Unless your practitioner has restricted exercise during pregnancy, most abdominal exercises (with some modifications, as there are some exercises to avoid while you’re pregnant) are safe in early pregnancy. Research has found no link between moderate to even vigorous exercise and early pregnancy loss. What’s more, your baby bump — which can make some abdominal exercises more difficult if not impossible as you progress throughout pregnancy — will likely only make an appearance in the second trimester.

What happens to your abs during pregnancy?

Late in your first trimester of pregnancy, you may notice something different about your belly besides, of course, a baby bump: an accentuated ridge that runs from the bottom of the breast bone down the middle of the belly. Known as diastasis recti, this gap between the left and right sides of your abdominal muscle affects up to an estimated half of of new moms. It sometimes widens by a few centimeters as your baby grows and puts tension on the area. Women who are carrying multiples or have already been through several pregnancies are particularly prone to separation.

More About Exercising During and After Pregnancy

You & Your Health Toning Your Tummy: Four Ways to Tackle Belly Fat After Pregnancy Your Health The Best Exercises for Pregnant Women Your Health The Best Stretches to Do During Pregnancy You & Your Health Toning Your Tummy: Four Ways to Tackle Belly Fat After Pregnancy Your Health The Best Exercises for Pregnant Women Your Health The Best Stretches to Do During Pregnancy

By the 12-week mark, be sure to check for diastasis recti. Since the condition often doesn’t develop until later in pregnancy, continue to check periodically. If, at any point, you do notice a gap in your abdomen that’s wider than three finger-widths apart, you will need to modify your ab workouts during and after pregnancy. The good news is that diastasis recti is really no big deal and heals on its own (with a little help from you) after birth.

Is it safe to do ab workouts when pregnant?

With your practitioner’s okay, it’s safe to exercise your abs throughout your entire pregnancy with the proper modifications. In fact, strengthening your abs when you’re expecting supports your pelvic organs as your baby bump gets bigger. Strong abs can also alleviate pressure on your back and support proper posture to fend off the lower back pain that’s so common during pregnancy. And a strong core may help increase your sense of control during labor as well as help you recover more quickly after giving birth.

Are planks safe during pregnancy?

Yes, planks are safe for most women throughout pregnancy. Static, endurance-based exercises like the plank are actually ideal for expecting women because they strengthen both your abs and your back. They also put less pressure on the spine than dynamic exercises, like crunches. Again, listen to your body; if you feel too much strain, hold your plank for several shorter sets of 5 to 10 seconds. If it’s still too difficult, keep your knees bent slightly or rest them on the floor.

Ab exercises to avoid during pregnancy

Because full sit-ups and double leg lifts put more pressure and pull on the abdomen, they’re not a great idea at any time during pregnancy. Also avoid moves that involve contortions or bending over backward. Be sure to breathe steadily as you exercise as well to ensure you and your baby are getting a steady flow of oxygen.

After you’ve reached the end of your first trimester, you’ll want to avoid doing any exercises (like crunches) while lying face-up on your back. At this point, your enlarged uterus could potentially compress the vena cava, the vein that carries blood to your heart — which can be dangerous for you and your baby. To alleviate the pressure without skipping all ab exercises that typically involve lying on your back, prop yourself up so your heart is above your navel using your forearms (see below), a wedge, a couple of pillows or a Swiss ball. Or practice exercises performed in alternative positions, like lying on your side, standing upright, or on all fours.

If you discover you have diastasis recti with a gap of more than three fingers-width, avoid crunches, sit-ups and other exercises where your abs bulge, since they put extra strain on your abdominus rectus.

Most importantly, always listen to your body: If an exercise doesn’t feel right (and especially if it feels painful), stop right away. Check in with your practitioner and a personal trainer if you’re concerned, since there are many ab exercise alternatives that are perfectly safe for expecting women.

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Safe ab exercises during pregnancy

Trainer Katy Widrick (@kwidrick) suggests the following moves for pregnant women:

1. Standing Crunches

A video posted by Katy Widrick (@kwidrick) on Jul 9, 2015 at 8:06am PDT

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Draw your belly button towards your spine, tuck your pelvis slightly and bring your fingertips to your ears.
  3. Crunch forward and squeeze your abdominal muscles.
  4. Release with control to complete one rep.

2. Pelvic Tilts

A video posted by Katy Widrick (@kwidrick) on Jul 9, 2015 at 11:24am PDT

  1. Stand with your back against a wall and relax your spine.
  2. Inhale as you press the small of your back against the wall.
  3. Exhale and release to complete one repetition.

3. Prone Stretch and Tuck

A video posted by Katy Widrick (@kwidrick) on Jul 9, 2015 at 8:40am PDT

  1. Start on all fours.
  2. Extend your left arm straight out in front of you and your right leg behind you.
  3. Engage your abs as you draw the extended elbow and knee toward your core.
  4. Release to full extension and continue.
  5. Complete the same number of repetitions on the opposite side.

4. Heel Slides

A video posted by Katy Widrick (@kwidrick) on Jul 9, 2015 at 9:23am PDT

  1. Lie on your back with your upper back and head propped up above your heart. Place your palms on the ground for support.
  2. Bend both knees to bring your feet toward your butt.
  3. Extend one leg at a time, keeping your heel above but close to the ground and bringing it back in to starting position.
  4. Alternate sides.

5. Single Heel Drops

A video posted by Katy Widrick (@kwidrick) on Jul 9, 2015 at 10:48am PDT

  1. Lie on your back with your upper back and head propped up above your heart. Place your palms on the ground for support.
  2. Bend both knees at the hips to 90 degrees and lift both heels off the ground so that the feet are in line with the knees.
  3. With control, engage your abs to lower one heel.
  4. Touch the ground gently before you raise it back up to starting position.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side and continue to alternate legs.

6. Side-Lying Knee Lifts

A video posted by Katy Widrick (@kwidrick) on Jul 9, 2015 at 11:25am PDT

  1. Lie on your right side with your right arm extend overhead and your head resting on your arm.
  2. Place your left palm on the ground in front of your chest for support.
  3. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and stack them, then bring them slightly forward.
  4. Engage your core to lift one or both knees up off the ground.
  5. Release with control.
  6. Repeat on the opposite side.

How to Exercise Safely

What happens to your abs after pregnancy?

You can begin to exercise your abs as soon as 24 hours after vaginal delivery, assuming you had an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery, no gap and the go-ahead from your doctor (though it may be the last thing on your mind that soon after giving birth, so ask whenever you’re ready to start exercising again). If you’ve had a C-section, you’ll have to wait a few weeks and until your incision heals before your practitioner gives workouts the green light.

If you do have a separation in your ab muscles, it can take a month or two after delivery for this opening to close. You’ll have to mind the gap before you start those crunches or abs exercises again, lest you risk an injury. You’ll want to avoid knee-to-chest exercises, full sit-ups and double leg lifts during the first six weeks postpartum.

The good news: After giving birth, you can help mend the gap and recover your pre-baby belly with the simple exercise below. (There’s no use trying to mend it before you give birth.)

  • From the “basic position” described at the start of this article, cross your hands over your abdomen, and use your fingers to draw the sides of your abdominal muscles together as you exhale, bringing your belly button toward your spine, and slowly raise your head up a few inches.
  • Exhale as you lower your head slowly to complete one rep.
  • Repeat the movement three to four times twice a day to help correct the gap. Raise your head a little higher every day, gradually working up to lifting your shoulders slightly off the ground.

At first start doing this exercise into your bed, then move to a well-cushioned floor or exercise mat. You’ll know your gap has closed when you no longer feel that soft lump above your navel.

Among the many common (yet crazy) things that happen to your body when you have a baby is the fact that your uterus grows from the size of a pear to the size of a watermelon. As you might imagine, this creates some serious change in your midsection. Which is why strengthening your abdominal muscles while pregnant is so important—and the benefits don’t end at delivery.

“In many ways, core strength keeps you safe, centered, and also prepared for childbirth—and it’s the same area you want to keep strong after,” says Mahri Relin, founder of the exercise streaming platform Body Conceptions and a fitness trainer who specializes in pre- and postnatal workouts. As a new mom, she says, it can be harder to control your body because your center of gravity changes and certain ligaments are looser.

“Carrying and delivering a baby weakens your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor,” explains Jackie Stone, MD, an OB/GYN with online women’s health provider Maven Clinic. “This can cause problems with posture, strength, fecal and urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and also issues with sexual satisfaction for some women.”

“Core strength keeps you safe, centered, and prepared for childbirth—and it’s the same area you want to keep strong after.”

Another common side effect of the miracle of life is that pregnancy and delivery—both natural births and cesarean sections—can cause a separation of the rectus abdominis muscles (the outer muscles you see in a six pack) called diastasis recti. (Here’s how to perform a self-test to see if you have the condition, but consult your doc to confirm.)

One way to regain stability and heal pregnancy-related abdominal issues is through postnatal core workouts. But before getting back on the mat, “all women should check with their own health-care provider to make sure that they’re healthy enough to exercise without any limitations,” Dr. Stone advises. As a general rule, though, she recommends waiting about one to two weeks after a vaginal birth—”or until your body feels ready”—and about six weeks after a c-section before engaging in ab exercises.

Post-Pregnancy Core Strengthening Exercises with Emily Skye

After giving birth to her daughter Mia last year, Emily Skye let her followers in on her postpregnancy fitness transformation. She made it clear that she didn’t “bounce back” and admitted that she sometimes became frustrated with her slow progress. (Related: 4 Ways You Need to Change Your Workout When You Get Pregnant)

Although she felt discouraged at times, Emily Skye continued working out and focused on setting small, achievable goals. Now, she’s almost 19 months postpartum, and still feels the effects of pregnancy sometimes. “Ever since I was pregnant with Mia I’ve found it really hard to keep my tummy ‘in’ which, to be honest with you, is something I never imagined I’d be struggling with at almost 17 months postpartum,” she wrote in a recent Instagram post. As a result, she’s been focusing on core strengthening exercises and trying to remain kind to herself about the occasional bloat at the same time. (Related: How Soon Can You Start Exercising After Giving Birth?)

If you’re in a similar boat, you can steal the trainer’s favorite post-pregnancy core exercises from the workout below. Whether you’re just starting to ease back into working out or are several months postpartum like Emily Skye, these moves can help you improve your core strength and stabilization.

Core Stabilization

A. Lie faceup on floor, feet flat and knees bent, arms straight in front of chest. Actively tuck pelvis so that lower back is pressed firmly into the floor.

C. Bring hands to knees, then swoop arms out to sides and overhead, maintaining straight arms the entire time.

D. Bring arms in front of chest to return to start, then reverse the entire movement.

Repeat for 30 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds.

Pelvic Tilt Glute Bridge

A. Lie faceup on floor, feet flat and knees bent, arms resting at sides. Actively tuck pelvis so that lower back is pressed firmly on the floor.

B. Keeping pelvis tucked, drive through heels to lift hips off the floor.

C. Lower hips to the floor with control to return to start.

Repeat for 30 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds.

Alternating Superman

A. Lie facedown on the floor with arms and legs extended.

B. Keeping neck neutral and gaze down, lift right arm and left leg to hover off of the floor. Lower arm and leg down with control.

C. Repeat on opposite side, lifting then lowering left arm and right leg.

Continue alternating for 30 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds.

Supine Reverse March

A. Lie faceup with knees bent into tabletop position. Actively tuck pelvis so that lower back is pressed firmly on the floor.

B. Straighten right leg while lowering it to hover above the floor. Avoid dropping leg so low that lower back lifts off the floor.

C. Bend right knee to return leg to tabletop position. Repeat on opposite side, straightening then lowering left leg.

Continue alternating for 30 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds.

Modified Side Plank

A. Start in a right forearm plank with right shin resting on the floor, left leg extended, left arm reaching toward the ceiling.

B. Without lowering hips, scoop left arm in front of body and under torso.

Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides; Repeat.

Postnatal Ab Training: Fit Mommy Core Circuit

The most common question we get asked as postnatal trainers is: “How do I get my tummy back to normal after giving birth?” If you want your pre-baby body back or even better than it was, we can help.

During pregnancy, women become athletes, if they weren’t already. We have up to 50 percent more blood, which increases oxygen uptake so we can create another human being inside us! This alone is incredible. Combine that with what the female body goes through during labor, and we become full-blown superheroes. New moms are extraordinarily strong and well-positioned to regain their shape after giving birth.

After nine months of extreme change around the midsection, the most important thing you can do post-partum is to start strengthening the core muscles. The best way to do it is to use a corrective exercise program that enables the body to heal from the inside out, building stability, strength, and muscle endurance. The internal abdominals need time and care to return to their pre-pregnancy condition, so hitting 100 crunches a day in a bid for a flat tummy can potentially cause more damage.

Instead, start with the basics.

Tummy Check

Your first step should be to check for abdominal separation. Why? This could potentially stop you from healing properly and enabling your abdominals to regain their former strength and shape.

Some women have what they call the “pooch” under the belly button. In many cases, this is caused by the abdominal separation that wasn’t addressed before they began a postnatal exercise regime.

Here’s how to do it:

Rec Check

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor.
  2. Place one hand behind your head and the other hand on your abdomen, with your fingertips across your midline—parallel with your waistline—at the level of your belly button.
  3. With your abdominal wall relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your abdomen.
  4. Roll your upper body off the floor into a “crunch,” making sure that your ribcage moves closer to your pelvis.
  5. Move your fingertips back and forth across your midline, feeling for the right and left sides of your rectus abdominis muscle. Test for separation at, above, and below your belly button, measuring by fingers width.

If you have more than a three-finger separation between your abs, seek advice from your health care professional before beginning a program.

Post-Preggo Conditioning Circuit

Below is a six-exercise core conditioning circuit designed to help you heal from the inside out, reduce your separation, and achieve the ultimate flat tummy. In advance of starting the program, please receive consent from your health care professional to return to exercise.

To do this circuit, you’ll work for 40 seconds and rest for 20 for all six exercises. Complete the entire circuit two times through. Try to do it 3-4 times per week.

1. Mini Crunch

This is not a crunch. To do it properly, lie down on your back, then try to lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground. Keep your head tucked. Your hands should be sliding along the ground to your feet or behind your head. This is a very small movement; you should be aiming to produce a large contraction in your abdominals. Hold for 5-10 seconds before lowering back down in a controlled manner, then repeat.

2. Beginner Plank

Begin lying face down on the floor. Prop yourself up on your knees and elbows. Position your elbows so they’re directly underneath the shoulder and maintain a straight posture from the heel through to the shoulders. Hold for the duration of the interval and concentrate on engaging the transverse abdominus.

3. Heel Slides

There are three parts to this exercise. First, lie on your back with your knees bent. Slowly let your right knee move to the right, keeping your low back and pelvis level. Return to the center and repeat with the left.

Then, slide the right foot along the floor, straightening the knee. Slide the foot back toward the hip, and repeat with the left. Be sure that the floor supports the weight of the leg and that the foot does not lift off of the floor.

Finally, lift the right foot off the floor, keeping the knee bent. Don’t hold your breath and don’t bulge your lower abdomen. Return the foot to the floor and repeat with the left foot. Focus on your breathing: Inhale when you lift and exhale to rest or hold.

4. Seated Knee Abduction with Band

Sit on an exercise ball or a chair and bring your knees together. Tie a resistance band around your knees. Press the legs outward against the band as you perform the hold and activate the pelvic floor muscles. Set a comfortable rhythm for the duration of the interval.

5. Kneeling Scapula Retraction with Band

Get on your knees and hold the resistance band out in front of you. Put tension on the band by making sure your hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width. Slightly bend your elbows. Pinch your shoulder blades together until your forearms are perpendicular to your body. Release and then repeat. For this movement, make sure you activate your abdominals and your pelvic floor.

6. Squat

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back and down until they reach knee level. Keep your weight in your heels and your lower back flat. To return to the start, push through the heels and stand up. Exhale as you come back up. While doing this movement, keep your abs engaged.

For more information and free post-natal fitness gifts visit Fitmummymanual.com!

Your post-baby belly: why it’s changed and how to tone it

Why do I still look pregnant?

It takes time for your body, and especially your tummy, to fully recover from pregnancy. You’ve had your baby, but you may look as if you’re still six months pregnant, with a tummy that’s squishier and rounder than you expected.
Imagine your tummy as a balloon, slowly inflating as your baby grows. Giving birth doesn’t pop the balloon, it just starts a slow leak. The decrease in your tummy size may be slow, but it will be steady.
From the moment your baby is born, hormonal changes cause your tummy to decrease in size. However, it takes another six to eight weeks for your womb (uterus) to contract to its pre-pregnancy size (Berens 2019).
The extra fluid that built up in your body during pregnancy will gradually decrease, reducing swelling and bloating (Berens 2019). And any extra fat you put on to nourish your baby will start to burn off, especially if you’re breastfeeding and exercising (Berens 2019). But it takes at least a few weeks to see noticeable results.
After giving birth you may still have a dark line down your tummy called a linea nigra, as well as a web of stretch marks.
The linea nigra is caused by pigmentation in the skin where your tummy muscles have stretched and slightly separated, to accommodate your baby as she grew (APA nd). This line of pigmentation usually fades within a few months of giving birth (APA nd).
Stretch marks are caused by your skin stretching over your fast-growing body during pregnancy (NHS 2019c). You may have them on your tummy, thighs and breasts (NHS 2019c).
You can’t get rid of stretch marks completely, but they will fade over time. Eventually, the lines will look like fine streaks that are closer to your skin colour (NHS 2019c). Try to be patient. You may not like your stretch marks now, but they will look a lot better in six months’ time.

How long will it take for my belly to shrink back to normal?

We’ve all heard stories of new mums who regain their pre-pregnancy bodies within weeks of giving birth. Although this is possible, it doesn’t happen that way for most mums. Bear in mind that your body may change shape after pregnancy. You may find it difficult to return to your exact pre-pregnancy weight or shape.
Patience is the key. It took nine months for your tummy muscles to stretch to accommodate a full-term baby. So it makes sense that it can take weeks or months to tighten up again (Berens 2019).
The speed and degree of this tightening up depends on a few factors, including:

  • What shape and size you were before you conceived your baby.
  • How much weight you gained during pregnancy (NICE 2010).
  • How active you are (NICE 2010).
  • Something you can’t do anything about: your genes.

You may find it easier to shed the weight if:

  • You gained less weight than average during pregnancy.
  • You breastfeed.
  • This is your first baby.
    (Berens 2019)

Most women don’t get back to their pre-pregnancy weight until about six months after their baby’s birth (IQWiG2018, Adegboye et al 2013).

How can I safely lose weight to help my belly look better?

Breastfeeding may help, especially in the early months after giving birth. If you breastfeed, you’ll burn extra calories to make milk – about 300 calories a day (NHS nd), though the exact amount is different for everyone. You may lose your pregnancy weight more quickly than mums who formula-feed their babies but it’s not guaranteed (Jarlenski et al 2014).
Breastfeeding also triggers contractions that help to shrink your womb, which may help you to get in shape faster. However, if you eat more than you burn off, you will put on weight, even if you breastfeed (Adegboye et al 2013).
It’s fine to lose weight while you are breastfeeding. Your body is very efficient at making milk, and losing up to 1kg (about 2lb) a week shouldn’t affect the amount of milk you make (Adegboye et al 2013, NICE 2010).
However, if you have a newborn to look after, you’ll need plenty of energy. Trying to lose weight too soon after giving birth may delay your recovery and make you feel even more tired (IQWiG 2018). It’s especially important not to attempt a very low-calorie diet (NHS 2019a). So try to wait until you’ve had your postnatal check before trying to lose weight (NICE 2010).
Eating healthily, combined with gentle exercise, will help you to get in shape (Adegboye et al 2013). The following general guidelines will help you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight:

  • Make time for breakfast.
  • Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
  • Include plenty of fibre-rich foods, such as oats, beans, lentils, grains and seeds, in your diet.
  • Include a starchy food such as bread, rice, pasta (preferably wholegrain varieties for added fibre) or potatoes in each meal.
  • Go easy on high-fat and high-sugar foods, such as biscuits, cakes, fast food and takeaways.
  • Watch your portions at mealtimes and the number and type of snacks you eat between meals (NICE 2010).

There’s no right answer about how many calories a day you should have. The amount you need to eat depends on your weight and how active you are (Amorim Adegboye et al 2013). For more tips on healthy weight loss after birth, see our diet for a healthy breastfeeding mum and parents’ tips for managing your weight after having a baby.

What else can I do to help regain my pre-pregnancy belly?

Exercise can help to tone stomach muscles and burn calories (Evenson et al 2014, Amorim Adegboye et al 2013). You can do light exercise like walking and stretching even in the early weeks after having your baby (POGP 2017).
If you stopped exercising during your pregnancy or are a newcomer to fitness, start slowly and gradually build up your exercise levels (POGP 2015).
Fitness aside, all new mums can begin pelvic floor exercises and work on gently toning up lower tummy muscles as soon as they feel ready (Evenson et al 2014, POGP 2017). This may help you to get back to your pre-pregnancy shape and help to flatten your tummy (POGP 2017).
When you feel up to it, take your baby out for walks in his buggy (Evenson et al 2014). Getting out and about will help to lift your mood and exercise your body gently (Evenson et al 2014, NHS 2019b). You may find there are buggy workouts with other new mums in your local park.
Read about toning up after a caesarean.
Postnatal exercises: abdominals If your stomach muscles have separated, or you just want to tone your post-baby belly, try these easy exercises.More postnatal exercise videos

My tummy muscles feel slack. Is this normal?

If your tummy muscles feel very slack, it could be because pregnancy has over-stretched them (St George’s Healthcare 2018, Berens 2019). If this is the case, you may also notice a bulge developing on the front of your tummy, above and below your belly button (St George’s Healthcare 2018).
The medical term for this over-stretching is diastasis recti (DR) (St George’s Healthcare 2018). Diastasis simply means separation.
There are four layers of muscle across your tummy. The top layer is a pair of long, flat muscles that run vertically down each side of your abdomen (rectus abdominis), commonly known as the six-pack (Guy’s and St Thomas’ 2014). DR happens when the two halves pull away from each other, stretching and thinning the connective tissue between them (St George’s Healthcare 2018).
At least half of women experience DR after having a baby (St George’s Healthcare 2018). It’s more likely to happen if you:

  • have given birth more than once (Nahabedian and Brooks 2019)
  • had twins or more (Donnelly 2019, Nahabedian and Brooks 2019)
  • have had more than one caesarean birth (Nahabedian and Brooks 2019)
  • regularly strained your abdominal muscles during pregnancy through frequent heavy lifting (Sperstad et al 2016), straining on the toilet, or chronic coughing or vomiting (Donnelly 2019)

There’s not enough research to tell us whether being obese before pregnancy, or gaining a lot of weight during pregnancy, also makes DR more likely (Nahabedian and Brooks 2019).

It’s likely that DR may run in families (Donnelly 2019), so if your mother or sister has DR, you’re more likely to develop it too.
If you’re unsure whether you have DR, here’s how to check:

  • Lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor or bed.
  • Place your palm down on your tummy, just below or above your belly button.
  • Lift your shoulders off the floor slightly and look down at your stomach. With the tips of your fingers, feel between the edges of the muscles, both above and below your belly button.
  • See how many fingers you can fit into the gap between the muscles. The number of finger widths is the size of your diastasis. Do the test regularly – as your muscles get stronger, the gap should reduce.
    (NHS 2019d)

If the gap you feel is bigger than two finger-widths, you may have DR (Nahabedian and Brooks. 2019).
The separation gap often returns to normal within the first eight weeks after giving birth (NHS 2019d, St George’s Healthcare 2018). If the size of the gap hasn’t decreased, or you’re worried about it, see your GP or health visitor. She may be able to refer you to a women’s health physiotherapist who can give you specific exercises to help you (NHS 2019d). In some areas of the UK, you may be able to refer yourself directly for physio.
Leaving DR untreated isn’t harmful, but it may weaken your abdominal core. This can increase your chances of getting a bad back and will make exercise and other activities more difficult (Hills et al 2018, Nahabedian and Brooks 2019).
More information:

  • Find out more about diastasis recti.
  • Check out these real-life post-baby belly pics.
  • See Sarah Cawood’s brutally honest diastasis recti journey.
  • Learn more about exercising after having a baby.

Last reviewed: January 2020 Amorim Adegboye AR and Linne YM. 2013. Diet or exercise, or both, for weight reduction in women carrying excess weight after childbirth. Cochrane Database Of Systematic Reviews. www.cochrane.org
APA. nd. Pregnancy line – linea nigra. American Pregnancy Association. americanpregnancy.org
Berens P. 2019. Overview of the postpartum period: physiology, complications and maternal care. UpToDate www.uptodate.com
Donnelly G. 2019. Rectus diastasis awareness. ROAR #pelvicroar. www.pelvicroar.org
Evenson KR, Mottola MF, Owe KM et al. 2014. Summary of international guidelines for physical activity after pregnancy. Obstet Gynaecol Surv. Jul; 69 (7): 407-14
Guy’s and St Thomas’. 2014. Divarication of rectus abdominis muscles (DRAM) postpartum. Physiotherapy department patient information. Leaflet number: 3913/VER1. www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk
Hills NF, Graham RB, McLean L. 2018. Comparison of trunk muscle function between women with and without diastasis recti abdominis at 1 year postpartum. Phys Ther 98(10):891-901.
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There are a lot of surprising changes that happen to your body when you’re pregnant, like swollen gums, sharp pains in your vagina, and your feet growing. It’s perfectly normal to still look pregnant after giving birth, and every mother will lose the weight at different speeds. If months have passed and you’ve noticed that you still look pregnant after having your child, you more than likely have ab separation called diastasis recti.

Diastasis is the separation of your rectus abdominis (abdominal) muscle, with two out of three women experiencing it. Regardless of how fit you were prior to and during your pregnancy, you can still get diastasis due to relaxin (the hormone that prepares your body for birth by relaxing ligaments and the cervix) and the inevitable pressure of the growing baby on your abdominal wall.

Your doctor can check for ab separation at your six-week check-up or you can do a test yourself:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor (the same position you’re in for a glute bridge).
  • Place your three middle fingers on your linea alba (the line the splits your abs into the left and right sides) above your belly button.
  • Tuck your chin as you slowly lift your head off of the ground. Be sure not to do a crunch. Use your fingers to measure the space in between your abs.
  • Repeat the test, placing your fingers on your belly button and below your belly button.
  • A gap that is more than two and a half fingers wide when you lift your head is a sign you have diastasis.

It’s extremely common to experience ab separation weeks after giving birth, and this test should be used to track separation over time. If you have a round, hard, painful bulge that looks like a cone coming from your belly button area, consult your doctor immediately.

The following exercises are meant to help rebuild, reconnect, and strengthen your core postpartum and can be done daily. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that if you had a healthy pregnancy and a vaginal delivery, you can begin to exercise a few days after giving birth. Be sure to get cleared by your physician before partaking in a postpartum workout plan and, most importantly, listen to your body.

6 Exercises For Rebuilding Your Core After Pregnancy

You’re sitting at home, holding that adorable little bundle of joy, and so glad the hard part is over. Then you look down at that big squishy blob that used to be your stomach and wonder, “What in the hell am I going to do about that?!”

Let me tell you, this is where the hard work really begins, sister. Even if you lifted all throughout your pregnancy, those muscles that used to be your abs are shot. They have been stretched and abused beyond recognition.

The first sign of complete lack of core strength comes when your back starts to ache after holding your little eight pounds worth of baby for just a few minutes. Because your abdominal muscles are giving you no support, your back is working overtime trying to keep your torso upright. Not to mention, you’ve got that extra what-seems-like fifty pounds of milk-engorged boob pulling you forward.

How Pregnancy Affects the Core

When you think of the core, chances are you think of the abs. However, the core actually consists of all the muscles that encompass your midsection, including your back and hips. As you have probably already experienced, pregnancy wreaks havoc on these areas. Between the stretched and weakened abdominal muscles, the shortened and overworked back muscles, and the slightly unstable hips that seem to have gotten a bit wider, there’s a good chance you’ll find that your old ten-rep-max now feels like a personal record attempt.

“Now is the time to get back to basics and work on rebuilding your core before you get busy trying to hit those heavy lifts.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean your strength is gone, but rather that the all-important ability to create the intra-abdominal pressure necessary to stiffen and keep your torso erect is no longer possible. As a result, you’re folding over faster than a dollar bill in a stripper’s G-string. Now is the time to get back to basics and work on rebuilding your core before you get busy trying to hit those heavy lifts.

Diastasis Recti

First, you need to assess yourself for diastasis recti. This occurs when the connective tissue between your abdominal muscles thins, causing your muscles to separate. This is a common pregnancy condition, but some women may have a more severe case.

To check for diastasis recti, simply lie on your back, contract your abdominal muscles and press gently into your abdomen above and below your navel. If you can feel a soft spot or gap between the muscles, then you do have a separation. One to two finger-widths is normal and should close on its own. If your gap is wider than three finger-widths, it may not be a bad idea to contact a physical therapist to ensure proper closing of the gap.

Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD)

There is one other fun side effect of pregnancy that some women have the joy of experiencing called symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD). Yes, it is as painful as the name sounds. When you suffer from SPD, the ligaments that are supposed to keep your pelvis aligned become lax. This leads to instability in the pelvic joint, allowing it to move in ways it was never intended to move.

SPD is not only painful, but it also puts a damper on workouts during and after pregnancy. In my experience, any unilateral lower-body movement was off the table. Split squats, lunges, step ups, pistol squats, and lateral jumps would leave me wriggling on the floor in agony and, depending on the severity of pain, sometimes in a pool of urine. I’m just kidding on that one, but it did hurt like hell.

It Doesn’t Stop: Postpartum Pelvic Pain

Why am I telling you all this? After my second pregnancy, I was having a difficult time getting rid of the pelvic pain. Even running hurt. I visited my physical therapist (PT) for what I thought was a separate issue – I couldn’t keep water off my knees. It turned out my hips were all jacked up, which was causing mayhem throughout the rest of my lower body. My PT went straight for pelvic tilts, belly breathing, and abdominal bracing. The resultant stronger muscles picked up the slack of my shirking ligaments, ending my discomfort, improving the integrity of my pelvis, and laying a solid foundation for heavy lifts.

These following exercises target the transverse abdominals as well as the pelvic floor muscles, which are the keystone for a strong core. These exercises are low-key enough that you can begin doing them soon after delivery. If you had a c-section, you’ll want to give yourself more time to heal to prevent opening the incision or further damaging the tissues.

To get on the right track, include pelvic tilts, belly breathing, and abdominal bracing in your daily routine as soon after birth as you comfortably can. Add arm and leg movements to the bracing to prepare your abdomen for more intense movements.

The 6 Core Exercises New Moms Need

Okay, now onto the core of the matter, pun intended. Isometric abdominal exercises will be your bread and butter for the first couple of months after the little darling arrives. These exercises are the most effective way to target the bulk of the abdomen while improving strength throughout your entire midsection.

“You could rely solely on the lifts themselves to get you back into fighting shape, but I guarantee it will be a long haul and you’ll be lifting a lot lighter for a lot longer.”

The American College of Sports Medicine used electromyography (EMG) to determine which abdominal exercises most effectively activated the rectus abdominis and obliques. Researchers found the yoga boat, yoga dolphin plank on a ball, and the yoga side plank to be at the top of the list. Incorporate two to three sets of each of these exercises, holding each one for at least thirty seconds working your way up to one to two minutes, into your workout routine.

1. Belly Breathing

Belly breathing simply involves allowing your stomach to expand and contract as much as possible while you actively inhale and exhale as deeply as possible.

2. Abdominal Bracing

Begin by lying face-up on the floor. Brace your abdomen by contracting your entire abdomen as if you were preparing to get hit in the stomach. This is your starting position. From here, perform different movements such as raising one or both arms overhead or extending your legs while keeping your back flat against the floor.

3. Pelvic Tilt

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor or propped on a ball. Brace your abdomen and tilt your pelvis back by pressing your lower back into the floor. Hold this position for five seconds then repeat.

4. Yoga Boat

Sit on the floor with your knees bent. Brace your abdomen, slightly lean your torso back while lifting your feet off the floor. Lift until your shins are parallel with the floor, your back is straight and your hips are flexed to ninety degrees. Extend your arms forward to a comfortable position to help maintain your balance. Hold here for at least thirty seconds.

5. Dolphin Plank

Place your elbows on the top of a stability ball and extended your legs out behind. Brace your abdomen and hips, straighten your back and hold the position for at least thirty seconds. This exercise is basically just a standard plank but you’re adding in the instability of the ball.

6. Side Plank

Lie on your side with your elbow under your shoulder. Stack your hips and feet, stabilize your core, and lift your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line. Hold here for at least thirty seconds. Repeat on the other side. Add ten to twenty leg lifts (shown in the video below) to the side plank to further improve hip strength and stability.

Can’t I Just Do Deadlifts?

Is all of this really necessary? Well, technically, you could rely solely on the lifts themselves to get you back into fighting shape, but I guarantee it will be a long haul and you’ll be lifting a lot lighter for a lot longer.

Don’t get me wrong, lifts, especially front squats, are excellent for building core strength. However, when you’re forced to lift light due to the inability to stiffen up your torso and stay erect properly, you’re not going to get a lot accomplished. It’s still a good idea to start light and work your way up, but by adding in additional core work, you’ll start hitting your pregnancy and pre-pregnancy numbers a lot faster.

Note: Please let me clarify, this routine is not going to spot reduce that baby pudge. We all know spot reduction is a crock and the only way to get visible abs again is through diet, regular intense exercise, and time. The basis of this program is to help restore the core strength lost during pregnancy that you can start hitting those heavy lifts sooner after pregnancy and feel like a bad-ass momma again.

Ab exercises after pregnancy

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