Seriously I wish I knew about this 4 pregnancies ago! 

I’m currently 10 months postpartum with my 5th baby and the other day I had to do a double take as a I walked past the mirror. My waistline is visible and to be quite honest It’s not down to hours of gym training or sit-ups. Of course, with the lifestyle I lead, I knew with consistency in my training and diet my mum tum would go down, but I didn’t expect it would be down this quickly. There is one thing I’ve done differently this time around that I feel is so effective: stomach vacuums. It’s the best exercise I’ve done so far for my diastasis recti and getting my stomach down after baby. 

Until now, training abs were my least favourite area to train.  The results to effort ratio just wasn’t making sense. I never could get the whole ‘engage your core’ online trainers cue before putting you through a neck aching ab workout. Some trainers will chime ‘draw your belly button to the back of your spine…really pull that belly button back’ that’s just confusing for a beginner. They often just assume you know what they mean or think you’ll pause the video to hop on Wiki How to look up ‘engaging core’ only to risk seeing a post for something you’ve been meaning to read on ‘how to organise your wardrobe’ which sends you into a rabbit hole on living a minimalist lifestyle, and then finally losing the will to complete the ab routine you had put off for 4 days! 

To give you a little background, I have had back-to-back pregnancies in the last 10 years- 5 babies (with an 11 pounder! being among them) all delivered by C-section and a personal history of an umbilical hernia. It was no surprise I’d develop diastasis recti (DR). I am right up there with the people most susceptible to DR (if you want me to talk about how I discovered I had DR and how you can prevent your abdomen from separating in a follow up post, let me know in the comments) 

So yes, I’m talking a 5-finger abdominal separation. A whole fist could fit. Thank goodness for the internet ’cause let me tell you, it may have taken years of thinking crunches were the answer to my mum tum- worse still the other symptoms of DR which include lower back pain and pelvic floor dysfunction (which can cause urine leakage) may have surfaced along the line without intervention. 

As I write this, I realise  my doctors could have picked up my DR during my 6-week postpartum check years back. At some point during the check, they’d usually poke and prod my stomach and I’d be lying there thinking ‘what is she looking for?’- and of course be happy when told everything was fine cos in my mind I’d be like ‘it better be, I’m exhausted and don’t want an oddly timed appointment across town!’. Luckily for me, my bulging stomach was the only noticeable DR symptom. 

Note that depending on which country you’re based, some doctors won’t routinely examine for DR while others do and can make a referral for physiotherapy sessions. In the UK, we are lucky in that, physiotherapy is free on the National Health Service (NHS).  

Fortunately, checking for DR is easy and you can do it yourself: 

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  2. Starting at your belly button, poke a few fingers straight down into your belly button
  3. Slowly lift your head off the floor as if you’re about to do a crunch – What you’re looking for is the edge of your abdominal muscles hugging or squeezing your fingers. If you don’t feel it with two or three fingers, add more fingers until you feel a hug. The total number of fingers gives you an idea of the separation distance

A one or two finger separation or three quarters of an inch is considered normal; any more would require physical therapy. Saying that, even if you have a one or two finger separation, core strengthening exercises should still form an integral part of your postpartum recovery as it help to prevent the gap from widening. 

If you’ve read this far and you reckon you might have DR, you can begin by avoiding any exercises that work your abdominal wall against gravity (visible coning, or doming of your ab muscles) and make the separation worse.  

Here are some examples: 

  • Full push-up 
  • Full planks 
  • Sit-ups  
  • Double leg raises 
  • Hanging leg raise 

How about our beloved squats I hear you ask… it is perfectly safe to squat *hooray* You squat when you sit, stand or use the toilet anyway-just don’t go adding heavy weights! 

Finally on to the bit you came here for: Stomach Vacuums 

Stomach vacuums is a very simple and effective ab exercise that strengthens the deepest of the abdominal muscles known as the transverse abdominis-it’s sort of like the body’s natural corset. It is known that a lot of women in the body building world swear by vacuums to get a smaller waist. When working to get your mum tum down, you really want to be aiming for exercises that target your transverse abdominis. Stomach vacuums are one of the most unknown yet if not the most powerful ab exercise you will ever do.  

How to stomach vacuum 

Stomach vacuums can be performed in almost any position including standing, lying down or bent over. I do them throughout the day, at the traffic light, kitchen, lying in bed or brushing my teeth. I’ve been consistent with them for a few months and like I said earlier, I’ve seen a major difference in my waistline since doing these and avoiding the more traditional ab exercises. I’m down to a 2.5 finger width separation, with  increased core stability and a better mind-muscle connection which is a huge plus for me.

The stomach vacuum exercise: 

  1. Lie down on your back, and place your arms parallel to the ground. 
  1. Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the ground 
  1. Inhale deeply through your nose so that your lungs are filled up 
  1. Exhale slowly, at the same time contract your abdominal wall and draw your belly button in as if to touch your spine (I also imagine pulling the corners of my lower pelvis to the middle)- Hold for 10 seconds (breath slow and little) 
  1. After 10 seconds slowly bring your stomach back to the starting position and repeat 

Try 3 sets of 10-20 second holds at first. Initially it will be tricky, but as it gets easier, you can increase the time of the holds to 30 seconds or more. Eventually you may be able to do multiple sets of minute-long holds, or even more.  

A lot of women experience diastasis recti; some to a greater degree than others. Healing diastasis recti will not only give you flatter abs, but it will strengthen your core muscles and a strong core supports your whole body in carrying out day to day activities. Regardless of how long you’ve had DR it is possible to heal your core and close the gap. After child birth, exercises like stomach vacuums which train your transverse abdominis will help strengthen your core, cinch your waistline, improve your posture and mind body connection all in one go.

 Drop a comment below if you plan to give it a try.