As owner and instructor of Wenatchee Family Fitness, I focus on pre and postnatal fitness. I come across the condition of diastasis recti from time to time, and am asked about it often. Worried moms and moms-to-be catch wind of these two scary words and they think they’re doomed to wear the physical effects of motherhood forever. In most cases this is a completely fixable condition with a little TLC.

Here’s the 411 on diastasis:

So what is diastasis recti? During pregnancy our abdominal muscles stretch and separate to make room for our growing uterus and babies. After birth these muscles generally repair and come back together, but when they don’t a gap between the main abdominal muscles appear resulting in diastasis recti. Your health care provider typically checks for signs of this during your post care checkup, but if you’d like to check yourself it’s easy. Lay on your back with your knees up and feet flat. Place two fingers above your belly button. If there a gap the width of 2-2 1/2 fingers between the muscles, you’ve likely discovered diastasis. A gap at this width or larger is considered problematic and can start to effect other parts of your body such as lower back pain.

What can we do about diastasis recti? Don’t worry Mama! There are exercises you can do to heal and bring the abdominals back together, stronger than ever. When I, your fitness instructor, chooses exercises for moms with this condition I concentrate on more oblique, back, and pelvic floor work. For example, hip lifts, side planks, marching toe taps, bird dog, and oblique crunches are all acceptable ab exercises.  Full-on ab exercises should be avoided and can actually worsen the issue. For example, crunches, sit ups, or twisting motions such as a russian twist and bicycle crunches . These engage the core in the wrong places and can prevent any healing or strengthening of the abs. Give yourself a little looksee, if you see any conning while your abs are engaged STOP. Your tissues aren’t strong enough, and you need to bring it down a notch. Ask your instructor or doctor for a different exercise to try. If you’re doing this at home I recommend focusing on your pelvic floor then your obliques.

There are some postnatal tummy wraps out on the market that I recommend you giving a try. These can help hold and support your muscles and tissue during these exercises. If you’re needing a quick fix at home, I’ve seen moms use a towel to wrap and hold for some support while engaged.

What’s the main takeaway on diastasis recti? If you’re concerned about diastasis recti it’s worth the mention to your doctor. Also work with your fitness instructor. If they’re aware of your concerns, they can create alternate exercises for you and help you keep an eye on your progress. If your condition does not improve always talk to a doctor and see what other options are out there for physical therapy.

Note: This article is not a replacement for a medical professional’s advice. Always consult your doctor before changing your exercise habits while pregnant and postnatal.

(Check out this post by our very own Sarah Shaffer about her experience with — and recovery from — diastasis recti.)