Joanna Helcke Video


Zara Phillips and the “is-she-pregnant-or-is-it-a-mummy-tummy?” debate

Last week, photographs of Zara Phillips at Royal Ascot ended up hitting the media for all the wrong reasons: “was she or wasn’t she expecting?” was the question doing the rounds.

Her beautiful pale yellow outfit showed off a most definite baby bump.

Except it wasn’t.

It turns out that, like many other women who have had a baby, she has got what is referred to as diastasis recti, a postnatal separation of the abdominals which leaves you with a bulging tummy that, seemingly no matter what you do and how much weight you lose, refuses to budge.

Not surprisingly, as a postnatal fitness expert, I see a lot of this and it can be very distressing, annoyingly unsightly, sometimes painful and a definite contributor to lower back pain.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than being asked when you are due… when you aren’t even pregnant.

So perhaps you are wondering if you have diastasis recti?

Let’s find out…

Have I got diastasis recti?


  • I’d like you to cast your mind back to when you were pregnant – you remember those kid-free days when you actually had time to lounge around in the bath?
  • When it was time to get out of the bath you heaved yourself upwards and whoah!
  • WHAT IS THAT? Why is my tummy poking upwards in a really weird peaked, cone shape?
  • As a mummy you might well notice the same thing now when you are lying in bed, baby cries and you do a kind of sit-up movement to get yourself out of bed.
  • Yikes: as you do your sit-up movement, the tummy area domes upwards into a really strange shape.  

So does that ring any bells?

If it does, the likelihood is that it is diastasis recti – a separation of the abdominals – that you have.

How to check the extent of your diastasis recti


If you’ve got a mummy tummy plaguing you, it’s really worth checking your abdominals for a separation.

You can get hold of my step by step guide with instructions and photographs right HERE. You’ll find it in the top right hand corner – it says “Mummy Tummy” - where you can download it.

Give it a go and remember the following:

  • You’ll be measuring according to how many fingers fit into the gap: 1, 2, 3 or more
  • You need to also make a mental note of what it feels like inside the gap: does it feel really soft and squishy (as if you could lose your fingers in there) or does it feel reasonably taut and springy?
  • Soft and squishy means the deep layer of abdominals – the transversus – needs strengthening through the right sort of exercises.

Diastasis Recti. Am I split in half then?


I’ve often heard the term abdominal split used and a) it sounds terrifying and b) it is just plain wrong.

So bin it.

The tummy area is made up of four layers of abdominal muscle and when diastasis occurs, it is only the outer layer of abdominals which separates out (the so-called six pack) but all the remaining deeper layers stay intact.

They might well be weakened and stretched but they are not split.

So don’t stress (too much).

My friend’s just had a baby and her tummy is a washboard. Why have I got the mummy tummy?


It’s most unfair, I agree. It’s a bit like stretch marks. Why me?!

Ok, so here’s why the abdominals separate out in pregnancy:

  1. Your bump is growing. It has to go somewhere – outwards – and so the outer abdominals separate to allow room for growth.
  2. Not very tall? Well, as I said, the bump has go somewhere… so it goes outwards. By contrast, the taller you are, the more room for growth lengthways and so the less likely the abdominals are to separate.
  3. Got a great career and waited to have your first baby? As we get older we’re more susceptible to diastasis recti.
  4. Had 2 or more pregnancies in quick succession? The tummy’s had a tough time and is more likely to succumb to abdominal separation.
  5. Genetics play a part too: if you got stretch marks as a growing teenager, or if you are hypermobile, then you are more likely to end up with diastasis recti.

OK, so now I know I’ve got diastasis recti what should I do?


Let’s start with what you should NOT do:

  • You know all the abdominal exercises you normally do? Sit-ups, crunches, planks, side planks, medicine ball twists… AVOID. They’ll make things worse by literally drawing the abdominals apart
  • Any movement that makes the abdominals dome: AVOID

Now let’s look at what does need doing:

  • How’s your pelvic floor and are you doing your pelvic floor exercises? You weren’t expecting that question were you! Well, I am being serious, how IS your pelvic floor doing? It needs to be in tip top functioning order if you want to sort out the mummy tummy. If it isn’t then I’d like you to read up on the Pfilates method and then take action.  
  • Next question: what’s your posture like? Beautiful tall and elongated like a ballet dancer? Or perhaps a bit slouchy…? Posture is key. It is all linked: diastasis recti, pelvic floor function and posture. So think tall, stand tall, sit tall, walk tall. Have a read HERE to get yourself posture perfect.
  • Third nosey question: when you’re going about daily life do you think about your tummy or do you kind of let it all go? Try and think about the abdominals as if you were zipping yourself into a fairly fitted pair of jeans – not horrendously tight but nicely fitted. You need to gently draw the abdominals inwards and upwards as you go about life.
  • A bit stressed? Try and relax your shoulders away from your ears, calm your breathing and don’t breathe up into the shoulders as it won’t help with the mummy tummy.
  • Don’t ignore your core! Linking together all of the above is one crucial element: working your deep layer of abdominals through really targeted postnatal (yes, even if you were postnatal 10 years ago) core stability work. Now these exercises are super gentle, super slow and super controlled. You won’t break a sweat… but you know what? They are the very foundations of your fitness. Start doing them – a little every day – keep going and you will notice the difference. Do them for ever more or else you will regress. You need to maintain. HERE are five fantastic exercises for diastasis recti. Do them properly alongside all the other points above, and they will work.
  • Finally let’s focus on food: yes, how you eat is truly important. You need to eat to heal the abdominals. I’m talking “clean” eating: lots of lean protein (chicken, fish and seafood); masses of nutrient-rich vegetables; piles of dark leafy greens; replacing your traditional carbs (pasta, bread and potatoes) with more protein dense pseudo-grains such as quinoa and buckwheat; ditching sweet drinks and caffeinated drinks; keeping at arms’ length from processed “food”. Go natural.

Before I sign off…


Well that was a long blog. Guess you can tell that I’m just a touch passionate about this topic!

So if you think that you might have diastasis recti, then here’s what I’d like you to do:

  • Take your time to read and digest this – it’s a lot of info to absorb.
  • Check your abdominals using the guide I’ve sent you a link to.
  • Let me know what your abdominal gap is and what it feels like.
  • Start bringing into your life some of the changes I’ve suggested above

You know where to find me if you need me.

Jo x

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