Oh, the many joys of bearing children. Pregnant and birthing women put up with stretch marks, hemorrhoids, weight gain, boob issues, hair loss, sleeplessness, and hormonal insanity when we bring our little angels into the world. A lot of that stuff is temporary, or just an inconvenience. But one of the more serious and lasting results of pregnancy is a diastasis recti, or an abdominal muscle separation.
Not every pregnant woman develops a diastasis recti (DR), but it’s a common side effect of a distended belly. You know how when someone has a six-pack they have a line that goes down the middle of their belly? That’s called the linea alba and its made of connective tissue. Often, when a baby is growing behind the abdominal muscles, the linea alba will painlessly soften and widen to allow the left and right sides of the abdominal muscles to separate. This makes plenty of room for the baby to continue growing and stretching your muscles, organs, skin, and patience. Here’s a really scary-lady pic to illustrate where the linea alba is located, directly in the middle of the rectus abdominis.
So if you have a DR, there’s not actually a hole or tear in the middle of your belly. Even though the connective tissue of the linea alba is weakened and stretched, it’s still there.
After birth, lots women have a DR that naturally heals. But for many of us mamas, it’s a long uphill battle to get that top button of our jeans to ever snap again. Your abdominal muscles act as a corset around your middle, holding in all your organs and giving your torso its shape. When the abdominal muscles are separated, your stomach pooches out with the weight of your guts, and it’s difficult to exercise your way back to a flat tummy.
Many women hit crunches hard hoping to expedite Operation Fitting into My Old Jeans So I Can Feel Human Again. Unfortunately, certain kinds of ab exercises can actually make a DR worse. When the your ab muscles are separated and you contract your rectus abdominis (the long flat muscles that run vertically along the length of your stomach; the cans in your six-pack) just gaps and the contraction can actually increase the separation. Imagine one of those old plastic coin purses. Yep, just like that.
And a DR can do more than just make you uncomfortable in any pants without elastic. When your ab muscles are separated, they can’t help stabilize your torso as well as they used to when they were intact. Much of the work goes to the low back and you’re at greater rick for back injury, discomfort, and/or a hernia. And if you’ve had a baby, I can promise you that you’re gonna be doing a LOT of lifting and carrying for the next six years. So it’s vital to get that core strong again. Here’s a great article that addresses the physical aspects of a DR in more depth.
If you’re not sure if you have a DR or how severe your separation is, try this test.
Yeah, It’s Not Pretty. What Do I DO?
I spoke to Christine Anderson, DC, a pediatric and family chiropractor, pre and post-natal group exercise instructor, and mom of three. She filled me in on some safe and effective exercises moms can do that will help to strengthen the transverse abdominis (the deepest layer of abdominal muscle), the rectus abdominis (the most superficial layer of abdominal muscle), and the obliques (the muscles running along the sides of your belly). Additionally, the exercises, “help to strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the spine and the pelvis, reducing the pressure on the thinned and weakened connective tissue of the line alba,” says Dr. Anderson. All of this will assist in closing the gap in your muscles and hopefully help to heal a DR.
Dr. Anderson highly recommends wearing an abdominal brace or splint anytime you’re engaging your rectus abdominis and definitely during exercise. “Some women might find it helpful to wear while they are carrying the baby, cleaning house, etc., ” she advises. I personally found this to be extremely effective in helping to heal my DR. The splints are usually very inexpensive and widely available. Order one up and get busy healing!
What If It’s Hopeless?
Exercises to Help Heal a Diastasis Recti
- Back Work: Working on the back core is important in order to support the body and take the stress off the rectus.