When I had Dedrick I had never even heard of Diastasis Recti. In fact it was many years before I ever heard it uttered in my fitness-y neck of the woods. And it has been even more time since I feel like I’m really coming to understand what it is and it’s implications with my mama clients.
But it seems like lately DR has become an epidemic. The new scary way for your new mom bod to fail you! You only have to pull up a mommy Facebook forum to see the stir that DR has caused.
“My midwife suggested using some kind of belly support in case it’s diastasis recti to keep my muscles from separating farther, but baby tends to get a little kicky when I try to wear something around my middle. Has anyone else had this experience or have any ideas?”
“Has anyone had diastasis recti and gotten pregnant again? I’m 10 weeks and look 5 months!”
“So how do I know if I have diastasis recti, and if so, how do I not make it worse by working out???”
“I’m 32w second pregnancy and I just realised I have a good 4 finger diastasis recti which freaked me out! Anyone knows if that’s normal? Could it be just the fact that it is second pregnancy (1.5y apart) and everything is looser? Will this close by itself a little bit after birth or is it all to me and rehabilitation work?”
Diastasis Recti has become a household term for pregnant women, but many still don’t really understand it, most fear it, and very few know what to do about it.
Let’s go over some of these concerns now.
What is DR?
Diastasis Recti is a separation of the abdominal muscles. The core is the only part of our body in which the muscles don’t have a bone or joint to connect to in order to generate force. So, instead the muscles join in the middle of our abdomen to connective tissue called the linea alba. To read more in depth about this, check out Jill’s awesome blog here.
During pregnancy the linea alba stretches and thins in order to make room for the growing baby. This is a normal, natural part of pregnancy. However, once that baby is out many women still have a separation and thin linea alba that doesn’t allow them to generate a lot of pressure in the core. And, pressure in the core is super important.
Pelvic floor physical therapist badass Julie Wiebe describes DR like this: Pretend that your core is a straw. If you dip a straw in a glass of water, plug the top with your finger and lift the straw out of the water some of the water from the glass will be trapped in the straw. This is because you have generated a closed system of pressure. This is how your core should work. However, when you have DR it is like someone has poked a hole in the straw. When you lift the straw up out of the water there is a leak in the pressure and the water will start to spill out.
When does DR become a problem?
The truth is that most women will get DR when pregnant. And many women fear it like the plague. But DR does not need to be such a problem as long as we respect our bodies and their healing processes.
In our society women are expected to get their bodies back fast.
Many new moms have seen the mommy bootcamps. They only have to flip through a fashion magazine to see a feature on how Jennifer Lopez lost all her baby weight in 3 seconds after having twins. Maybe their best friend only had to breastfeed her baby to drop back down to her pre-baby weight. But not all women have that experience. In fact, most women hold onto weight while breastfeeding. You can read more about that here. New moms seem to not only have the challenge of new motherhood, which entails lack of sleep, cravings, postural challenges due to breastfeeding and holding baby, but now they must also push themselves to make it look like the pregnancy never happened!
Excuse me? No thank you!
So women often start pushing themselves to workout hard right out of the postpartum gate. Many go right back to the things that they did before baby (because that is what they are told at their 6 week check up) and end up making DR worse.
What can you do about it?
Much like stretch marks, there is little that you can do about whether or not you get DR. But there is a hellava lot that you can do to heal it!
The first thing is you can give “society” and other people’s expectations the middle finger.
Women in our society are often stripped of their power because they are encouraged by every magazine, billboard, TV show and nosy family member to obsess over the chase for unattainable beauty standards.
Naomi Wolf has said,
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
If there is a better reason to shrug off expectations of your postpartum body I haven’t found it yet. Your body just did an amazing thing and it’s going to show. By giving yourself the grace and time to heal properly you can really OWN your postpartum body.
The second thing that you can do is to work your core (and really your whole body) as a system. Remember that straw? It is important. Spend the time scaling back your exercises and incorporating the core into your workouts.
After my own pregnancies I was floored that long after I felt the desire to really get after it in the gym I was still doing a lot of corrective exercises. I’m not alone. Many of my clients feel the same. But the fact is that it often takes us much longer to heal than we expect. Pushing things in the gym when you are still healing from a pelvic floor dysfunction or diastasis recti can cause you to heal even more slowly or even make the problem worse.
The squat is the best way to start incorporating the core into your movements. Think about holding your posture in a way that closes the gap. So, you shouldn’t be arching your back, but your butt shouldn’t be tucked under either. It’s more of a “ready position” for your core. As you squat down inhale and relax your core completely. As you come up out of the squat exhale and tighten your core.
The third thing that you can do is to add some collagen into your diet. The way that I do this is by eating grassfed gelatin and bone broth. The linea alba is made out of collagen, so we can strengthen it by “feeding it.” For our favorite collagen recipe check out this blog.
The final thing that you can do to heal your DR is to lower your stress. When we are stressed it affects the way we breathe and our posture. You can learn more about this here. Stress tends to pull us into extension. This flares our ribs out and puts pressure on our DR making it harder to heal and close. This brings me back to my first point…stressing about our postpartum bodies isn’t going to help us heal so breathe deep and let it go.