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The Mom’s Guide to Diastasis Recti

Many moms experience postpartum body changes. One of these is an incredibly common condition called diastasis recti, which affects up to 45% of women six months postpartum.

Diastasis recti abdominis is the separation of your abdominal muscles; it commonly occurs during pregnancy to make room for your growing baby, but it can cause issues after birth as well.

What is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis is the term for the separation of parts of your body that are normally not separated.

One of the most common types of diastasis in the human body is diastasis recti, which is the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles—ab muscles that make up your core.

Your rectus abdominal muscles, which hold in your internal organs, run along your abdomen from your sternum to your pubic bone in two parallel bands. These muscle bands are connected by a bit of connective tissue in the middle called the linea alba. This connective tissue is where the separation occurs. All bodies have some separation due to the fact that the recti bellies are connected with this connective tissue. How wide this diastasis (or separation) determines if you need to modify your exercise routine for diastasis recti.

Diastasis recti can happen to anyone, including men, babies, and children. However, most cases occur in women due to pregnancy.

Diastasis Recti During Pregnancy

As your uterus grows during pregnancy, organs in your body move to make room for it. As your uterus expands outward, it adds pressure to the abdominal wall and stretches your abdominal muscles. If these muscles stretch enough to the point that they separate more than 2.5 centimeters along the linea alba, this is called diastasis recti.

You may have a higher risk of developing diastasis recti if:

  • Are carrying a large baby (because a bigger baby needs more room to grow)
  • Are having multiples (because twins or triplets need way more room to grow)
  • Have a weaker abdominal wall (because your muscles may not be able to withstand the stretching)
  • Have a narrow pelvis (because your muscles may need to stretch to compensate)
  • Are pregnant again shortly after giving birth (because your muscles may not have recovered)
  • Are over the age of 35

With that many risk factors, it’s easy to see why 30 to 60% of pregnant women and postpartum women
experience this abdominal separation.

Symptoms of Diastasis Recti

The symptoms of this condition can vary from woman to woman, so it’s important to understand what to look for if you’re pregnant or if you have recently given birth.

The most obvious symptom is a postpartum pooch around your ab muscles. However, that doesn’t always mean you have diastasis recti. It could indicate a weak transverse abdominis or weak core.

You might also think you have diastasis if your belly has a “bread loaf” or ridge or it cones as you roll to sit up.

The following are also symptoms of diastasis recti:

  • Weakening of pelvic floor muscles
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction
  • Incontinence
  • Pelvic pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Poor posture
  • Umbilical hernia

How to Tell If You Have Diastasis Recti

You can do a self-check exercise at home after you’ve given birth to determine if you have diastasis recti.

  1. Lie down on your back on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat.
  2. With your head raised off the floor, shoulders slightly lifted, look down at your stomach.
  3. With one hand, move your fingers above and below your belly button to see if you can feel any gaps in your muscles. Feel for both depth and distance.
  4. If you feel a separation of two finger widths (finger placement is horizontal), you likely have a mild case of diastasis recti. Separation of three to four finger widths indicate a moderate case, while four or more finger widths point to a severe case.
  5. Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist to get a definitive measurement/diagnosis, particularly if signs point to having a moderate to severe case.

 

Meet Lisa, a mom of three, with a 4-finger width diastasis reduced to a 2-finger width diastasis. Case Study Video courtesy of the Prenatal & Postnatal Fitness Specialist Course.

How to Improve Diastasis Recti

It’s possible to improve diastasis recti by repairing and strengthening your deep core muscles through a variety of abdominal exercises specifically targeting your transverse abdominis (TA).

As mentioned above your rectus abdominis run along your abdomen  in two parallel bands. These muscle bands are connected by a bit of connective tissue in the middle called the linea alba. Underneath lies the obliques and transverse abdominis. The transverse abodminis (TA) runs horizontal. Because these muscle fibers run horizontal, exercises dedicated to the transverse abdominis help approximate the rectus abdominis, which help to minimize the gap.

In your exercise, it’s important to avoid increasing pressure on your belly tissues, at least until you’ve created core stability.  Until then avoid the following motions:

  • Twisting your trunk
  • Traditional core exercises (such as crunches and planks)
  • Heavy lifting
  • Non-modified push-ups
  • Some plank exercises

Some cases are severe enough that they require abdominoplasty (tummy tuck); however, in most cases, you can do specific exercises designed to help heal your muscle separation.

Exercises for Diastasis Recti

Note: Check with your doctor and physical therapy specialist before beginning any exercise program.

Want to learn more about exercises for diastasis recti? View more exercises for Diastasis Recti here.

Then, check out the following and learn about the Moms Into Fitness Diastasis Recti program!

Try ab-safe core moves.

As we mentioned, traditional core moves like planks crunches won’t work. Instead, you need to strengthen the deep abdominal muscles with some ab-safe exercises. These include:

  • Transverse Abdominis Foundation
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing
  • Side-Lying Bracing
  • Bent Knee Fallouts
  • Modified Cat
  • Transverse Marching
  • Rolling Bridge
  • Clam Shell

Correct your posture.

We spend 12 hours a day upright, this is key time to keep your abdominal wall from being overstretched. With your feet parallel, stack your hip bone over your ankle bones. Stack your rib cage over your pelvis, careful not to flare the ribs. Breathe normally.

  • Posture Check
  • Lengthen your spine
  • Relax your shoulders
  • Slightly engage your core so your ribs don’t flare
  • Stack your rib cage over your pelvis
  • Stack your pelvis over your knees
  • Soft knees
  • Recognize any head tilt

Activate your pelvic floor.

Do Kegel exercises. Hold for 5-10 seconds (you should be able to talk while you do these so you don’t hold your breath). And relax for 10 seconds.  Do 10 contractions. Try to do these 10 to 20 times throughout the day. It is just as important to learn how to relax these muscles as it is to turn them on, so don’t skip that step!

Breathe correctly.

Diaphragmatic breathing helps you take complete advantage of your lungs’ capacity. Lie on your back on a flat surface with your knees bent and fingertips placed inside your hip bones. Breathe in slowly through your nose, up into the diaphragm without flaring the rib cage/arching your back. As you exhale through the mouth with a “shhhh” sound, tighten your stomach muscles. You will feel this tightening of the transverse abdominis with your fingertips.

Begin daily strength training.

It’s important to incorporate safe strength training into your exercise routine. The Moms Into Fitness Diastasis Recti workouts have all been modified to be safe for those with diastasis recti, including flexibility, cardio, and strength training. Healthy (from toning) and supple (from stretching) muscles will treat you well!

If you’re a runner, run safely.

Running puts additional pressure on your pelvic floor, which can exacerbate diastasis recti, incontinence, and pain, but there are ways to run safely. Wait six to eight weeks to begin running and take it slowly, spending two to three weeks on one distance at a time. Download our Ab Rehab Guide for more information on running with diastasis recti.

Don’t forget about the arms.

Diastasis recti is a core muscle issue, but it can affect the rest of your body. We have several arm exercises that will help you avoid added pressure on your abdominal muscles. For example, hold a dumbbell in both hands with your arms by your side and with your feet shoulder width apart. Then, bend your knees and push back like you’re going to sit in a chair; as you lower your body, raise your arms upward in a V position while keeping them straight. Then lower your arms and stand up straight again. Repeat these 15 times.

Leg exercises correct your posture.

Squatting while doing a transverse abdominis breath is a good leg exercise. Begin by holding a towel or resistance loop in your hands with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees, lean forward, and squat while keeping a flat back; as you squat, raise your arms and pull on the towel. This squat, in addition to our other leg exercises, is just part of our full three-phase diastasis recti workout program for strong legs.

Reducing Your Risk of Diastasis Recti

While this condition is common, that doesn’t mean it is inevitable. Doing the following during pregnancy can reduce your risk of developing diastasis recti. 

Avoid heavy lifting.
While you want to engage your core throughout pregnancy with approved exercises, excessively heavy lifting can lead to abdominal pressure and separation. If you have older children who want to be carried or your job requires heavy lifting, squat and engage your leg muscles. Wearing a maternity support belt can also take pressure off your abdomen.

Don’t focus too much on “traidtional” ab training during pregnancy.
Again, it’s important to engage your core but focusing too much on your abs can have the unintended effect of separating your abdominal muscles. Typically we recommend staying away from doing planks with Diastasis Recti but each case varies.

Roll over.
When you want to get up out of bed, try to avoid sitting straight up, which puts pressure on your abdominal muscles. Instead, roll over onto your side and use your arms to push yourself up.

Try our diastasis recti program free today!

Make sure you’re properly caring for your abdominal and pelvic health postpartum with an exercise program that really works.

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