After the Baby: Regaining Abdominal Strength

By Karen Woodman, Obstetrics PT

The abdominal muscles aid in breathing, coughing, sneezing and bowel movements. They provide stability to the trunk and stabilize the spine during lifting. They also help you maintain good posture, so there are lots of important reasons to strengthen your stomach muscles!
 
During pregnancy, the abdominals are stretched, weaken and often separate (known as diastasis recti). When the muscles remain separated, they can't work efficiently and can contribute to low back and pelvic pain, and a flabby appearance, and can have long-term implications to your health. So, it is important to check for, and heal, a diastasis recti.
 
To check yourself for a diastasis recti:
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your fingers in the center of your belly just above or below the belly button.
  • Slowly lift your head and shoulders off the mat while feeling for a separation of the muscles. Check how many fingers you can insert horizontally into the gap between the belly muscles.
  • If you have a separation of 2 fingers or more at your six-week checkup, ask your doctor about a referral to a qualified physical therapist. Do not start an exercise program doing sit-ups or crunches without consulting with a physical therapist first, as these exercises may actually worsen an existing diastasis recti!
 
Source: APTA Section on Women's Health. Postpartum Recovery. Revised by Karen Woodman 3/1/2011.