How Can You Regain Muscle Tone In This Area?
After giving birth to my second child, I found out I had separated my abdominal muscles. I have been looking for the right exercises to correct this, but I haven't had much luck. Do you have any suggestions? - Sheila, Philadelphia
The expert answers
Here is how to check for diastasis recti (or separation of your main abdominal muscle). First, lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly raise your head and shoulders off the floor, tightening your abdominal muscles. Keeping the muscles tight, put your index and middle fingers on your belly just below your belly button and press in slightly. You should feel a soft gap between hard muscle on either side as you move your fingers side to side (if you still have some baby weight to lose, you may need to press in deeper with your fingers to get to the muscle). If you can move your fingers side to side more than two fingers' width, then you have a separation or diastasis recti.
To help the muscle come back together, try the following exercises:
1. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your abdomen with your fingertips pointing down toward your pubic bone. Exhale as you slowly lift your head (and shoulders, if you can) while pressing down and in with your fingers - that will urge the rectus back together.
2. Take a long towel and wrap it around your torso with the ends in front. As you perform a crunch, pull the ends of the towel towards each other in front of your belly button, which will also urge the muscle back together.
3. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. As you exhale, slowly extend one leg along the floor, feeling your abdomen contract below your belly button. Inhale as you return to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg.
Recheck the separation every week. If you don't notice any improvement after 4-6 weeks, consider speaking with your caregiver to get a referral to a physical therapist specializing in postpartum issues.