Step Back – Sit Up: The One Movement You’re Likely Doing That’s Making Abdominal Separation Worse

Were you aware that sit ups aren’t safe during the postnatal period?  If you’re doing sit ups in an effort to tone your abdominals as a new mom, please stop immediately-they aren’t suitable for postnatal women.

At Saturday’s ‘Wholebody – Bump Edition’ workshop several moms-to-be spoke to me about abdominal separation and their concerns about it for post-birth.  Fingers-crossed, I managed to reassure their concerns somewhat- but- I was genuinely sooo pleased that these fabulous women knew about abdominal separation as an expectant momma as, in all honesty, I would say that most of my clients have not heard about it.  I am on a small campaign to make moms-to-be or new moms aware of abdominal separation - as just knowing/or hearing about it once may just help to prevent it or, just perhaps, catch separation early enough postpartum to prevent it worsening.

 As discussed in my previous blog posts, abdominal separation is fairly common  ‘research suggests that at least 60 percent of women have DR six weeks after birth and 30 percent of women have it a year after birth*.

 I’m hoping to explain a little more how certain movements, and some habits of new (and exhausted) moms can cause abdominal separation to get worse.

It’s important to point out that the abdominals don’t separate in every pregnancy, and please also note that there are many causes of abdominal distension (in both genders).

I’m hoping that it’s useful for you to understand that there’s (perhaps) one movement you’re doing which can either:

a) cause abdominal separation, or

b) make abdominal separation worse if it’s already present.

Were you aware that sit ups aren’t safe during the postnatal period?  If you’re doing sit ups in an effort to tone your abdominals as a new mom, please stop immediately-they aren’t suitable for postnatal women.

As an aside, many sports/fitness professionals have been moving away from the traditional sit-up over the last 10 years or-so as a way to strengthen the core. If you think about the traditional sit-up movement – you can essentially just use inertia, bad technique and determination (!) pretty successfully to sit-up, and, that repetitive movement is also not so great for the lower back. I stopped any sit-ups within exercise routines (even when non-postnatal) several years back as I believe there are fundamentally better ab/core exercises which are more effective at training the core (including pelvic floor). Generally my favoured core exercises also train the correct use of breathing which, with my postnatal clients (especially those with abdominal separation or pelvic floor dysfunction) is monumentally important in good core (including the pelvic floor) integrity.

Now, back to the tired, busy new moms -  have a think about how you get out of bed….  It’s the middle of the night, little one cries, you jolt yourself awake, move out of bed as quickly as you can and rush (or if like me dribble and stumble!) to tend to your baby’s needs.

O.K - be super honest with me here.  How do you get yourself out of bed?  More than likely, you shift yourself up into a seated position via a sit up-type action.  Am I right?

If you do so, can I suggest you change this habit, because:

a) it’s not safe for your weakened post-birth abdominals, and

b) it’ll makes things worse if you have a diastasis of the abdominals already present.

How should you get out of bed correctly to avoid putting pressure on the abdominals?

 Try this procedure here.  Starting from lying on your back:

  • Bend your legs

  • Keep your knees together

  • Engage your core/pelvic floor muscles

  • Roll onto your side using your arms and core and keeping your knees narrow

  • Place your hands under your shoulders and walk yourself up via your side

  • Swing your legs over the side of your bed

  • Push up to a standing position

Practise this procedure whenever you get out of bed and when you get back into bed to go to sleep, following it in reverse i.e. don’t lie back from a seated position either, because it’s like doing a sit up in reverse, isn’t it? (In the spirit of April also being C-Section awareness month this is a useful movement to help c-section mommas when getting up and down from lying)

It’s hard to not just ‘survive’ those nights….

It’s hard to not just ‘survive’ those nights….

If your baby is not a good sleeper, think of how many times your baby wakes up in the night, and then cast your mind over the number of incidences where you sit up out of bed to go and tend to them?  If your little folk are anything like my two boys (hmmm…. I think I made it to 4 hours sleep a night at 11 months) you sink in to a tired- ‘mombie’-like survival mode and neglect yourself as you are just exhausted.

 But if you can, do try and remember this tip and really try to avoid those sit-up moves. It may just help heal your weakened abdominals, prevent separation worsening and it’s best avoided where possible.

If you are concerned about abdominal separation- please speak to your health provider or reach-out to a postnatal trained (and qualified to at least level 3) exercise professional. Several of us have additional training and qualifications in diastasis recti. I am a qualified ‘Diastasis Detective’ and I am trained in a whole body approach to healing it. All of my classes are designed to be safe from any movements that could potentially worsen abdominal separation. Of course, irrespective of classes, there are often postural and breathing habits at home that may need to be corrected to safeguard and help momma.

For a more detailed explanation of abdominal separation or how to test for it using the ‘Rec Check’ please see my previous blog posts on the subject. Or, come along to a StrollerFiit pregnancy or postnatal exercise specific class, workshop or book in for a Postnatal Core 1:1 Personal Training session.


*Yarrow, A. May 2018, ‘The post-pregnancy belly problem that nobody tells women about’ available at https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/12/22/16772580/diastasis-recti-pregnancy-mommy-pooch

Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash

(Thank you again to Claire Mockridge for the use of her course material)


This post is designed to be informative and is no way intended to replace the professional guidance of your OB, GYN or Midwife. If you have any concerns about your health seek medical advice soonest and it is imperative that you speak to your healthcare provider before returning to exercise.