Diastasis Recti (DR) is the separation of the large abdominal muscles, due to pregnancy. To be honest, I think pretty much every woman who has given birth experiences some separation in the beginning. For some, those muscles move back together quicker than others.
When the doctor says to not do any serious exercise for 6 weeks after giving birth, they mean it. Even though that can be the hardest 6 weeks of waiting ever (at least it was for me!), your body will heal much quicker when you wait to do heavy exercise, especially involving core work. With that being said, during that six weeks, I remember going on lots of walks and doing light exercise when I felt my body was ready to handle it. Listen to your body! Everyone's healing process is going to be different. And listen to your doctor. They didn't go through 10+ years of school for nothin'! The stuff they tell you is research-based!
Do you have it? Here's a self-test you can try:
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on floor
2. Place fingertips with palm facing you on your belly button
3. Lift your head and neck just slightly off the floor while you gently press down with your fingers. If there is a gap (2.7 cm. or greater), that is the diastasis.
4. Perform the same test just above and just below the belly button since the gap can measure differently in these places.
WHAT DOES CONTRACTING THOSE MUSCLES FEELS LIKE:
In order to help with DR, you will need to focus on working the deeper abdominal core muscles, or the transverse abdominis and internal abdominal oblique muscles.
So how do you find them and what does it feel like to contract those muscles?
Lie on your side in sideline position with knees bent and one arm supporting head/neck with the front arm/hand placed in front of you. Let your stomach completely relax. You will use that front hand to feel below your navel and to the inner side of your pelvic bone. Now focus on drawing your stomach inward and hold. See if you can feel that gentle tension happening in the core. You should be able to feel those inner abdominal muscles. Feel what it's like to contract those muscles as you draw your stomach inward. Hold and breathe. Practice until you feel comfortable so you can use that technique on the exercises below.
Exercises to help:
Since you are trying to work your innermost abdominal muscles, these moves are going to be very Pilates-like and gentle on the muscles. Focus on feeling those innermost muscles contract with each movement.
Single leg lift:
Lie on your back with one leg straight and the other bent. Place your fingers on your lower abdomen. Contract the lower abs, and while exhaling, lift the straight leg up in the air and back down. Do 3 sets of 8-10 on each leg.
Lie on your back with both legs bent. Contract the lower abdominal muscles and as you exhale, slide on heel down the floor. Go as far as you can until you begin to feel your lower back lift off the floor. Pull the heel back in to starting position. Do 3 sets of 8-10 on each leg.
Lying on your back, you should feel a natural arch between the floor and your lower back. Pull this arch flat to the floor, and gently release. Focus on using those innermost muscles. Try 3 sets of 8-10. (It's kind of hard to tell from this picture, but I'm hoping the description will help!)
Bent Knee Fall Out:
Lie on your back with both knees bent. Contracting stomach, exhale and lower one knee slowly down toward the ground without letting your hips roll, and return leg back to the center. Try not to have any movement in the leg. Do 3 sets of 8-10 each leg.
Exercises to avoid:
Heavy lifting or movements involving twisting of the spine
**Any exercises causing strain on the midline or causing the belly to push outward
For another good video explaining some movements for DR, click here. She recommends to avoid planks, sit-ups, and movements putting too much stress on your abdominal muscles if you are less than 4 months postpartum or have greater than a 2 finger gap. She also gives great exercises for strengthening the pelvic floor, if you're interested.