What to do About Your Mom Pooch: Diastasis Recti
If you’re pregnant or recently postpartum, you’ve probably heard the buzzword “pelvic health” or know where to find your Kegel muscles. But many women aren’t as familiar with diastasis recti. A medical condition that affects more than half of all women in the first year after having baby, it seems like something we should be talking about, dontcha think? So what is diastasis recti, how do we know if we have it, and what should we be doing to improve our health?
Defining the Problem
What is diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti (or DRA – Diastasis Recti Abdominis) is a medical condition that can occur late in one’s pregnancy and can become more pronounced after birth, where the two large groups of muscles in the abdomen begin to separate. Those muscles are needed to support your back and vital organs, so having them in the best possible shape is crucial for overall health. More than half of all mothers will have diastasis recti but the problem most often resolves itself within the first few months postpartum. For some unlucky women, there are recognizable signs of DRA well after the 6-12 month postpartum mark.
So… what should we be looking for?
What causes diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti can occur in children, women and men. It is not an exclusive medical condition for pregnant women and mothers, although that is its most common population.
This condition occurs when there is excessive abdominal pressure – which often occurs at the end of the second trimester and throughout the third trimester. Poor posture, heavy lifting and some strenuous exercises can exacerbate the condition throughout pregnancy as baby’s weight is not necessarily adequately supported in certain positions.
During pregnancy, the uterus places pressure against the abdominal wall. This added pressure leads to a separation between the two parallel groups of abdominal muscles (the recti abdominis).
Signs of diastasis recti
- weakened abdominal muscles
- lower back pain
- postpartum baby bump (…and not the one you’re excited to display on your pregnancy announcement cards!)
- poor posture
- bladder issues
Am I at risk of developing this?
You might be at greater risk of developing diastasis recti if you:
- are pregnant over the age of 35
- have had multiple births
- have been pregnant with multiples at once
- already have weak abdominal muscle tone
- delivered a baby with a heavy birth weight
- have experienced unnecessary or excessive abdominal pressure
How can I check myself?
First, while lying flat on your back, bend your knees and place both feet flat on the floor.
Keep one hand either resting on your thigh or behind your head. Move the fingers of the opposite hand so they are parallel to your waistline, right above your belly button.
With your abdomen relaxed, gently press your fingers down. Slowly start to do a crunch, tensing your abdominal muscles while lifting your head slightly off the floor. You will feel your stomach muscles contract. Continue to press your fingers down. Feel around to touch both sides of your abdominal muscle groups.
If you can fit only one or two fingers between these abdominal muscle groups, you likely do not have diastasis recti. If you can fit any more than two fingers, you most probably have some degree of diastasis recti and need to consult your health practitioner.
How can I get help?
If you think you might have diastasis recti and you have tried a self-check at home, you can:
- contact your family physician
- seek out a physical therapist
- begin sessions with a pelvic floor physiotherapist
- speak to your personal trainer for workout recommendations and movements to avoid
What Can You Do About It?
What can I do to improve this condition?
There are tons of exercise options out there and it can all get a little overwhelming for the sleep-deprived mom to choose from! When in doubt, use this rule of thumb: always look for exercises that keep your belly sucked in, not pooched out. Directly after birth, give your body a break for 6 weeks and only tackle gentle pelvic floor exercises during this time, if any at all.
When you’re feeling up to it and get the royal okay from your health care provider, you might want to start with these:
- Bridge – Women’s Health describes how to properly practice bridge:
- “Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip-width apart, arms relaxed at your sides. Lift your glutes off the floor, pushing with your heels, so your body looks like a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Squeeze your glutes and abs, hold for two seconds, then take three seconds to slowly lower back to the floor to start.”
- Pelvic tilts – Mayo Clinic describes how to properly practice pelvic tilts:
- “Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Flatten your back against the floor by tightening your abdominal muscles and bending your pelvis up slightly. Hold for up to 10 seconds. Repeat.”
- Heel taps – Healthwise.org describes how to properly practice heel taps:
- “Lie down on the floor or the bed with your leg flat. Slowly begin to slide your heel toward your buttocks, keeping your heel on the floor or bed. Your knee will begin to bend. Continue to slide your heel and bend your knee until it becomes a little uncomfortable and you can feel a small amount of pressure inside your knee. Hold this position for about 6 seconds. Slide your heel back down until your leg is straight on the floor or bed.”
- Abdominal compressions – livestrong.com describes how to properly practice abdominal compressions:
- “Lie on your back with your arms stretched over your head and inhale. Exhale and compress or scoop your belly button down toward your spine as if to flatten your back on the floor. Coordinate an exhale of breath with the tummy scoop down. Inhale and relax. Exhale and compress.”
What to Avoid
What should I not be doing if I have diastasis recti?
When trying to repair diastasis recti, it is best to avoid any exercises that place unnecessary pressure on your abdomen. Anything that strains your middle can add to the damage. Movement that causes your belly to bulge out or sag will not have the desired reparatory effect. Medical experts suggest avoiding:
- heavy weight-lifting
What About You?
Hey mamabares! What has your experience been with diastasis recti? Did you already know about it?
If you have it, which symptoms were you showing that caused you concern in the first place? Did you fit most of the at-risk criteria?
I didn’t know anything about diastasis recti until my second child was well over a year old. I just thought the mummy tummy was part of growing older and being a mom. But the symptoms were there and I fit the at-risk criteria : I am over 35 years old, have had two pregnancies, gave birth to a heavy baby (9lbs3oz), and already had poor ab muscle tone. Being informed about diastasis recti is allowing me to move away from traditional crunches and ab work, like I had been doing, which only hinders my condition until it has healed. I am now focused on strengthening my core in a safe and manageable way.
Tell us about your experience! We’d love to hear from you!