By: Ani Weinstein
My belly didn’t bounce back the way I thought it would after giving birth. When I realized I had diastasis recti (when the rectus abdominis—the “six-pack” muscle in the front of your abdomen—separates at the midline), I began researching how to heal. My OBGYN told me to work my obliques. A yoga teacher told me to exhale and pull my navel to my spine. Googling produced conflicting and superficial information.
I was surprised by the lack of smart care and resources for new moms dealing with this common issue. Most women have diastasis recti (DR) to some extent during pregnancy. Sometimes the DR closes on its own after birth, but many women (around one third of moms after one birth, and two thirds after multiple births) continue to experience DR. As a dancer and yoga teacher, I’d studied movement for almost 20 years. If I couldn’t figure out what to do, how were other moms faring? I was determined to do some research and share my findings with others.
It turns out that there is an optimal way to strengthen your core after birth, by focusing on the pelvic floor, transverse abdominal muscle, postural alignment, and breathing—practices that are at the cutting-edge of core strengthening for everyone at all stages of life. New research shows that it may be less important to close DR than to strengthen the inner core and regain integrated core strength. Some of the most effective practices I’ve encountered, to promote inner core connection, were developed by Lara Kohn Thompson, and combine pelvic floor work with breathing techniques to reduce intra-abdominal pressure. None of these practices are complicated. Like parenthood, they invite new self-awareness and require patience.
I was disheartened by a recent story on NPR, which claimed that new moms can flatten their belly by doing one exercise, 10 minutes a day, using the Dia Method. The piece described a magic-bullet exercise that could actually be harmful to women’s pelvic health. I called Leah Keller, creator of the Dia Method, to see if she could address my concerns. Leah fully agreed that healing DR requires much more than one magic exercise, and must include pelvic floor work and postural alignment, among other things. Unfortunately, this more nuanced perspective never reached the NPR audience.
The good news is, it may well be possible to strengthen your core with just 10 minutes of targeted practice every day. The magic will not be in a single exercise, but in the way that your new awareness of your inner core will transform how you move and breathe, and how you are embodied in each moment of every day.
How to Check Yourself for DR:
- Lie flat on your back with your feet on the floor and knees bent toward the ceiling.
- Put your fingers right above your belly button and press down gently.
- Then inhale and lift up your head about an inch while keeping your shoulders on the ground.
- If you have DR, you will feel a gap between the muscles that is wider than an inch.
- Walk your fingers up and down your midline (Linea Alba) to check where the gap widens or narrows.
If you’re not sure of what you’re feeling, ask a medical professional or an experienced postnatal teacher to check you.
If You Have DR:
1. Avoid doing crunches, or other movements that compress your belly and make it pop forward, like jackknifing up out of bed. Roll to the side when getting up or lying down.
2. Find a knowledgeable physical therapist or fitness/yoga teacher you trust, who can support your internal and integrated, long-term healing.
Ani Weinstein assists Lara Kohn Thompson in the Postnatal Therapeutics class on Wednesdays at 2pm.