Keeping fit during and after pregnancy is generally a good idea but, unfortunately, if you do the wrong exercises you could end up with a ‘mummy tummy’ – a pregnancy-style bulge even after you have delivered, that’s almost impossible to get rid of. In fact, the more toned your abs are before pregnancy, the more likely you are to get this. We spoke to Fiona Donald from Urban Energy to find out more.

What is diastastis recti?

Diastasis recti is the separation of the rectus abdominal muscles – your six-pack – into right and left halves. Separation occurs in response to your uterus pushing against the abdominal wall and softened connective tissue as a result of pregnancy hormones. It can occur at any time in the last half of pregnancy, but is most problematic after pregnancy when the abdominal wall is weak.

How can you tell if you have it?

There is a simple test you can do to see if you could have diastasis recti: Lie on your back with your knees bent, and the soles of your feet on the floor. Place one hand behind your head, and the other hand on your abdomen, with your fingertips resting on your midline slightly above your belly button. With your abdominal wall relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your abdomen and roll your upper body off the floor into a crunch position. 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. You may have diastasis recti if you have a gap of more than two finger-widths when the rectus abdominis is contracted. Also, if the gap does not shrink as you contract your abdomen, or you can see a small mound protruding along the length of your midline, you may be suffering from diastasis recti.

Can it be fixed?

In most cases it can be repaired, with a specific abdominal rehab programme.

How can you reduce the likelihood of getting diastasis recti?

It occurs in about 70 per cent of pregnancies. You’re more likely to get it if you’re over 35, having babies close together, carrying a heavy baby, or giving birth to multiples. Factors that can increase the likelihood of developing diastastis recti include poor posture and improper technique whilst exercising. If you are exercising, make sure you get advice from a qualified pre- and postnatal trainer. Also, if you are planning to have another baby, try to close any separation before you do.

Exercises to avoid:

  • Ones that stretch the abdominal wall, such as push-ups, and planks.
  • Movements where the upper body twists and the arm extends away.
  • Exercises that require lying backwards over a large exercise ball.
  • Abdominal exercises that flex the upper spine off the floor such as crunches.
  • Any exercise where your abdominal wall bulges out upon exertion.
  • Lifting and carrying very heavy objects.

Exercises to do:

  • If you have recently had a baby, you can do basic abdominal exercises to activate your transverse abdominal muscle. Lie on your back with your knees bent and one hand on your belly; breathe in deeply to feel your abdominal muscles contract and then breathe out slowly. From here you can progress to pelvic tilts and core stabilisation exercises. You can then move on to single leg marches and leg scoots.
  • As you get stronger, you can start including bridges, rehab crunches, and then, on all fours, opposite arm and leg extends.