These 8 Diastasis Recti Exercises Will Help Reclaim Your Core Strength Postpartum

Giving birth is no cakewalk, and postpartum recovery can be tough. If you feel like your belly is still soft, sore, and bulging months after giving birth, you're not alone.

One of the most common challenges moms face after childbirth is diastasis recti, where the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscle (AKA the "six-pack" muscle) separate during pregnancy or childbirth, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

"Diastasis recti is characterized by a bulge or ridge in the abdomen, especially when sitting up or doing certain exercises," board-certified family medicine physician, Laura Purdy, MD, tells POPSUGAR. "Other hallmark symptoms include back pain and difficulty with core stability."

Diastasis recti can also result in abdominal pain, a weak pelvic floor, and poor posture, Cleveland Clinic reports. More severe issues like urinary incontinence (the loss of bladder control) and pelvic organ prolapse (when your bladder, uterus, or other organs fall into the vaginal canal) are also common with this condition.

The good news is that diastasis recti is treatable. Diastasis exercises and stretches can help strengthen your core and close the gap between your abdominal muscles. With time and patience, you can recover from diastasis recti and get back to feeling your best.

Diastasis Recti Exercises

Several exercises can help strengthen your core and improve diastasis recti. However, it's important to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program, especially if you've had a c-section.

When you're ready to get started, "the first step is to avoid activities or exercises that aggravate diastasis recti, such as crunches or sit-ups," Dr. Purdy advises. "Instead, focus on engaging the deep core muscles, such as the transverse abdominis and pelvic floor muscles, which help support organs and stabilize the spine."

Dr. Purdy recommends the following exercises for correcting diastasis recti, regardless of when it first developed.

  • Pelvic tilts: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tilt your pelvis upward, tucking your tailbone under and pressing your lower back into the floor. Hold this position for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat 10-15 times.
  • Heel slides: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly slide one heel away from you while keeping your back flat against the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Repeat 10-15 times on each side.
  • Belly breathing: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. As you inhale, allow your belly to expand and your chest to rise slightly. As you exhale, allow your belly to contract and your chest to fall slightly. Repeat 10-15 times.
  • Standing abdominal bracing: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on your abdomen with your fingertips touching your belly button. Take a deep breath in. On the exhale, gently draw your abdomen towards your spine, using your deep core muscles to create resistance. Hold this contraction for several seconds. Release and repeat 10-15 times.
  • Side-lying leg lifts: Lie on your side with your legs extended and stacked. Place both arms on the floor in front of you, either with your palms down or your elbows bent and your hands supporting your head. Slowly lift your top leg towards the ceiling, keeping your hips stacked and your core engaged. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower your leg back down. Repeat 10-15 times on each side.

Jessica Chellsen, PT, DPT, CSCS, a pelvic rehabilitation and certified strength and conditioning specialist, also recommends the following exercises for improving thoracic spine or pelvic floor mobility:

  • Open book: Lie on your side with your hips and knees bent. Stack your arms on top of each other, straight out in front of you. Rotate your top arm towards your backside, keeping your elbow straight as you follow that arm with your eyes and head. Gently attempt to bring that arm to the floor, hold momentarily, and return to the start position. Repeat 10-15 times on each side.
  • Cat/Cow: Begin on your hands and knees. Arch your low back and look up (cow) with a deep belly breath as you relax your pelvic floor. Tuck your tailbone under (cat), exhale, draw your belly button to your spine as you activate your core, and draw your pelvic floor up and in. Repeat 10-15 times. "Perform this movement slowly!" Dr. Chellsen advises. "It should feel good, don't force yourself too far into the movements if it's uncomfortable."
  • Yogi squat: Position yourself so your toes are facing out, and you sit your bottom down towards the ground. Place your elbows inside your knees and hands together. Take deep belly breaths, allowing your pelvic floor to descend as your belly fills with air, and allow your pelvic floor to lift as you exhale automatically. Repeat 10-15 times. "If this position is uncomfortable to hold above ground, you can add a pillow or yoga block under your bottom," adds Dr. Chellsen.

As Dr. Purdy mentioned, when it comes to diastasis recti exercises, at first it's best to avoid crunches, sit-ups, and planks until you've strengthened your core. These exercises can put pressure on the already weakened abdominal muscles and worsen diastasis recti.

In addition to these exercises, Dr. Purdy says you should also avoid:

  • heavy lifting
  • holding your baby on one hip
  • doing strenuous exercises where you're twisting or bending at the waist
  • coughing or sneezing without supporting your abdominal muscles

Every person's postpartum journey is unique, so listen to your body and take it slow. Remember, you're healing and rebuilding strength after an incredible feat: growing and birthing a human being!

When to Start Exercising

It's best to check in with doctor and get the the green light before starting a new exercise program after giving birth. Dr. Purdy also recommends working with a qualified fitness professional or physical therapist to create an individualized exercise plan based on your specific needs and the severity of your diastasis recti. "It's important to listen to what your body tells you; exercise that causes pain should be avoided altogether," Dr. Purdy says.

How to Fix Diastasis Recti Years Later

While it is possible to heal diastasis years later, per the Cleveland Clinic, what works will depend on your specific situation and where you're at in your postpartum journey.

No matter if someone is three months postpartum or years postpartum, "they should start with early exercises (e.g., belly breathing) and progress to more advanced exercises (e.g., yogi squat) once they've mastered the easier exercises," says Dr. Chellsen. If trying to heal diastasis recti years later, you may need to consult a specialist to better pinpoint where you currently stand, she explains.

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to recovery, so it will benefit you to work with a doctor or physical therapist to create a plan that's right for you and your current stage of life.