Before we get into Diastasis Recti, we want to acknowledge something first: your body has done amazing things. From getting pregnant (which can be a mountain to climb) to carrying a baby for 40-ish weeks, then birthing that baby, and now raising your little one — physically, you’ve been through a lot. It’s important to be grateful for all the strength and nurturing it’s shown through this process.
That strength and nurturing, though, has a way of making itself known after the fact. In the postnatal phase, you may want to feel more control over your belly — the very place all this strength flourished.
And while every body is different, many women suffer from diastasis recti after pregnancy.
Beautiful mama, you are not alone. If you are wondering what is causing your belly to stay a little rounder than your pre-pregnancy normal, you have come to the right place.
Here, you will learn what diastasis recti is, how to find out if you have it, and treatment options. You will also learn how to prevent diastasis recti from coming back again.
Diastasis recti is when the muscles in your abdomen separate down the middle. This abdominal separation is what causes some women to feel less control in your midsection and an overall loosening. This is a very common condition that affects about 60% of postpartum women.
Some women are more at risk than others for diastasis recti. If you are over 35, have had multiple pregnancies, or are pregnant with multiples, you may be more at risk.
In pregnant women, diastasis recti is caused by the rapidly growing uterus pushing up against the stomach. The uterus causes the connective tissue in the linea alba—think of the vertical line in a six-pack—to stretch. This increases the space between the right and left sides of the abdominal walls.
As you probably remember, your baby—along with your uterus—rapidly grows in the second and third trimesters. This is when diastasis recti usually happen.
Besides having a new bulge in your belly post pregnancy, there are a few other symptoms that can signify diastasis recti.
The abdominal muscles are part of your core muscles, and this grouping of muscles is incredibly important. Your core helps to stabilize your spine.
With diastasis recti, your ab muscles are weakened and can cause poor posture. Poor posture can also make diastasis recti worse. It’s always good to be mindful of your posture, but especially if you are trying to repair your diastasis recti.
If you have diastasis recti, you may suffer from lower backaches. Your ab muscles work directly with the muscles in your back. When you strengthen your abdominals and stomach muscles, it may help alleviate lower back aches, but make sure to use types of exercises that heal diastasis recti.
Bloating and constipation can both be symptoms of diastasis recti. Your ab muscles hold certain organs in place, like your intestines. When your ab muscles are weakened due to diastasis recti, it doesn’t support your muscles as well. This can cause you to look and feel bloated.
Constipation can be a double whammy. On the one end, diastasis recti can cause constipation. On the other hand, constipation can make diastasis recti worse because of the excess strain and tension you put on your abs when pushing.
The best thing to do is strengthen your core with diastasis recti-approved workout techniques. Make sure you stay hydrated and increase your fiber to help from the inside out.
Another symptom of diastasis recti may be incontinence. What is incontinence, you ask? You know when you sneeze, jump, or laugh too hard, and a little pee comes out? That’s it.
Diastasis recti and incontinence often go hand in hand. Weakened ab muscles can affect the pelvis and pelvic floor muscles, where the bladder lives.
If you suspect you have diastasis recti, there is a simple self-test you can do. First, lay on your back. Bend your knees. Put your fingers on your belly button, pointing down.
Next, lift your head off the floor, leaving your shoulders flat on the floor. You should feel your abdominal muscles contract. If you can feel a finger gap between your muscles, and it is more than an inch wide—about two fingers—you may have diastasis recti.
The size of the finger separation indicates the degree of diastasis.
If you suspect you have diastasis recti, you can set up a consultation with your primary care doctor or OB-GYN. They can use a caliper—a tool used to measure dimension—or they may order an ultrasound to diagnose diastasis recti. Depending on the severity, they will recommend different treatment options.
If you suspect you have diastasis recti, don’t panic. It may have a big fancy name, but the truth is, it is pretty treatable. You may be able to treat it at home.
Your doctor may also send you to physical therapy to help strengthen your abs and reduce the width of your linea alba. If your degree of separation is especially severe, you may be a candidate for surgery.
One of the easiest ways to strengthen your ab muscles and start healing your diastasis recti is by diaphragmatic breathing. Yes, changing up the way you breathe may lead you to stronger abs.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or big belly breaths, are practiced by bringing your breath in your lungs and down to your abdomen. Breathe out normally. While you may not get a six-pack breathing this way, you will slowly add more strength to your core, breath by breath.
As we learned earlier, the ab muscle and the pelvic floor go hand in hand. By strengthening your pelvic floor, you may begin to heal diastasis recti. Pelvic floor contractions—Kegels—are simple, if you know how to do them.
First, tighten the muscles in your pelvic floor. This feels like trying to hold in urine or tightening the vagina. Hold that position for two to three seconds, and release.
Try to do this atleast ten to 15 times, three times a day. Add in pelvic floor contractions while driving the car, watching a show, or doing the dishes.
When doing core exercises to correct this issue, focus on specific exercises that pull the lower abdomen in, like pelvic tilt and different forms of leg lifts.
For these exercises, lay on your back with your knees bent. For the pelvic tilt, lift your bottom up, leaving your upper back and shoulders on the ground. Hold for a few seconds and lower down.
When doing leg lifts, your position will be the same—on your back, knees bent. Instead of doing a crunch—which should not be done with diastasis recti—leave all of the heavy lifting to your legs. Lift one at a time, lift them in a marching motion, or with your legs bent, slide one heel down until that leg is flat on the floor, bring it back, and switch legs.
Exercise that puts a lot of strain on your abs can actually worsen diastasis recti, while you are healing. Don’t worry, you will be back to your normal routine soon, but slow and steady is a better approach to heal diastasis recti.
Your doctor may recommend you go to physical therapy. A physical therapist can walk you through exercises that can help heal diastasis recti. Their supervision will give you more guidelines on what to do and what not to do for your specific case. If your diastasis recti is creating incontinence, you may also be sent to a physical therapist.
Often as a last resort, surgery may be recommended for diastasis recti. Surgery to heal this condition is similar to a tummy tuck. In fact, many women who choose to have surgery to correct diastasis recti opt for a tummy tuck.
In this surgery, the abdomen is pulled back together. This is an invasive surgery, so you should speak to your doctor about the potential risks that go along with it.
Diastasis recti happens during pregnancy. If you are planning to become pregnant, focus on strengthening your core now. During pregnancy, staying active, even taking daily walks may be helpful. If you have any questions about how much exercise you can do during your pregnancy, be sure to ask your doctor.
Once you have your baby and get the green light to start exercising again, slowly begin building back up your ab muscles. This will help prevent diastasis recti, or heal it quickly during the first few months postpartum.
Diastasis recti is a common condition many women get during and after pregnancy, indicated by lower back discomfort, constipation, or incontinence, along with a bulge in the belly. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may be like many women who need a little extra support to bring their abdomen muscles back to normal. Strengthening your core by diaphragmatic breathing, strengthening your pelvic floor, and adding exercise that heals diastasis are always ways to help heal this condition. If your diastasis recti is a little more severe, your doctor may recommend physical therapy or surgery.
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