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Mending the Muscle Gap

Like most expecting mothers, you're probably spending a lot of time with your hands on your belly right now, either patting your unborn child or begging him to stop testing his soccer moves on your rib cage. In doing so, you may have noticed a gap along the middle of your abdomen where the skin bulges out in an odd way. If this gap is unusually large--say the width of two fingers--it's called diastasis recti, a condition that occurs in about a third of all pregnancies. There is no other noticeable symptom and there is no pain.

What it means is that those two long, parallel bands of muscle running between your rib cage and pubic bone have separated. This is caused by a combination of factors: pressure from your enlarged uterus, your own genetic predisposition, the hormonal softening of the fibrous connection between the muscles, and poor muscle tone. The only one of these factors that you can control is muscle tone. Although your muscles will probably move back together on their own a few months after you deliver your baby, it's important to keep them as strong as possible both now and after you give birth. Strong abdominal muscles mean fewer backaches during and after pregnancy and will help prevent diastasis recti in subsequent pregnancies.

There are many abdominal-strengthening exercises you can do after pregnancy. You may want to avoid ab busters like stomach crunches or leg lifts after the 1st trimester. Consider working the following ab tighteners into your late-pregnancy regimen:

  • Abdominal breathing. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, tighten your abdominal muscles.
  • Pelvic tilt. Stand with your back against a wall. Press the small of your back against this vertical support, inhale, and then tighten your abdominal muscles and buttocks as you breathe out. You can also do this exercise lying on your back or kneeling on all fours.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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