Pregnancy makes some pretty massive changes to your body—and we're not just talking about stretch marks and that pregnancy glow. Some women experience diastasis recti, which is when the right and left abdominal muscles separate, leaving a ridge that runs down the middle of the belly. It's more common in women who've had multiple pregnancies, as each pregnancy stretches their middle a little further. Diastasis recti may cause that dreaded post-pregnancy pooch, but it usually poses no major health issue for you.
In the past, doctors often recommended leaving it alone to heal (very slowly) on its own, as the muscles usually tighten a bit over the first few months postpartum. But a new Cornell study, due to be published by The American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, says that doing isometric abdominal exercises, along with cardio and strength training, could help you reduce your diastasis recti. And the good news, according to the study, is that there's no difference in benefit whether you start the exercises when you're still pregnant, or you wait until after baby's arrived to work out your abs. (Procrastinators, take note!) Either way, exercise can help you tighten your waistline and get your body back to pre-baby form.
Not sure if you have diastasis recti? Check out this video for a quick and easy way to monitor your abs.
But don't just start doing ab crunches! It's important to check in with your midwife or ob/gyn to make sure that you're ready to start a program. "If you're currently pregnant and enjoying an uncomplicated pregnancy, start the exercises as soon as you feel up to it—for many women, this is early in the second trimester," suggests trainer Leah Keller, creator of the Dia Method, a workout that's designed to help your abs reunite. "If you've already given birth, wait until your doctor or midwife clears you for exercise. In most cases, that's 4 to 6 weeks after a vaginal delivery; 6 to 8 weeks following a C-section." And to really target your workout, look for routines that are specifically geared for addressing diastasis recti. (There are several of them out there!) Check out these ab toning exercises from Keller:
Tell us: How hard was it for you to recover after you had your baby? Did you work out during your pregnancy, or did you put in more time after the baby was born?
Image: Pregnant woman exercising by Hannes Eichinger/Shutterstock.com