I didn’t have a great understanding about diastasis recti (abdominal muscle separation) until developing it during and after my second pregnancy. It’s very common in pregnant women, especially after multiple pregnancies. Our bodies were designed to carry babies therefore our abdominal muscles were designed to accommodate an expanding uterus. The muscles separate but are still joined by connective tissue. This is diastasis!
After a woman has a baby, her abdominal muscles will usually come back together naturally within a few weeks. And sometimes they need a little help, which is why women do rehabilitation exercises. Another scenario is that a woman may start doing exercises she thinks will improve the appearance of her tummy post-baby but these exercises are actually working against the body’s natural healing process. These exercises make an abdominal muscle separation much worse or can even create one.
That’s what happened to me! When I was pregnant I didn’t alter my training program one bit. After I had my son I thought the way to tighten my tummy would be to get back to the gym as soon as possible and right back into my regular fitness regime which included planks, push-ups, and burpees. Wrong! After a woman’s first trimester, in addition to crunches, prone position (downward-facing) exercises should be avoided. These include:
- Traditional Push-ups
After a few months of these exercises my abdominal muscle separation was worse than right after I had given birth. The most obvious sign I had diastasis recti was when I was lying down and contracting my abdominal muscles, my stomach would protrude. Another sign was that my belly button had become an “outtie” instead of the usual “innie.”
Alternatives to the Push-Up
Just because you stop doing traditional push-ups past 14 weeks of pregnancy, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your upper body strength. There are so many alternative exercises you can do that will not put excessive pressure on your abdominal wall. Here are a few push-up alternatives you can use while pregnant.
Second Trimester Diastasis Recti Safe Push-up
This is similar to a traditional push-up, only on an angle. Use a bench or box at the gym or a table or a countertop at home. Alternatively you could try the third or fourth step of a set of stairs. Find an angle you’re comfortable with and are able to go through the full range of motion of a push-up while keeping a neutral spine and pelvis. You don’t want to be leading these push-ups with your belly! If that’s happening move on to a wall push-up.
Third Trimester Diastasis Recti Safe Push-Up
In my third trimester I switched to wall push-ups. As my belly became larger and heavier it became more difficult to keep good form with incline push-ups. The heavier a woman’s belly becomes the more important it is to minimize that pressure on the abdominal wall. Each woman’s body and baby growth is different, so this change in position may come sooner for some than the third trimester, but for me it was about right.
The most important thing is to gauge the size and strain on the abdominal muscles and adjust that accordingly. I can’t stress this enough how important a neutral spine is!