What's the deal with diastasis?
Mum tum, mommy pooch, baby weight, no matter what you call it, a lot of moms are dealing with the same issue: diastasis recti. It is extremely common, yet not many doctors or OBGYNs will recognize or help treat it. So what is it, and how can you fix it?
Diastasis Recti refers to the separation of the abdominal walls, most often occurring as a result of pregnancy. The result can be a bulge in the belly either above, at, or below the navel, or completely open. This can cause back pain, pelvic floor issues, umbilical hernia, and more if left untreated.
There are several parts that make up your core: the rectus abdominus (your "6 pack" muscle), your pelvic girdle, multifidi (inner back muscles), your obliques, and your transverse abdominus. The transverse abdomens, or TVA, is like the corset of your body. It keeps your organs in and helps to stabilize your trunk and posture. In between your abdominal walls is a connective tissue called the linea alba. What happens during pregnancy is the linea alba gets stretched over time, and while some have a great amount of elasticity in their connective tissue, some do not, and the linea alba stays stretched even after pregnancy. Think of it like a hair tie: if you use it too often, it eventually loses its stretch overtime. It can still hold your hair together but it takes more effort to keep it in place, and does not return to its original shape.
Depth is more crucial than width. To measure your gap, lie on the floor with knees up and feet down. Lift your head slightly off the floor and place your fingers in the center line down your stomach. you should be able to measure width by seeing how many fingers you can fit between the abdominal wall. For depth you can measure by the number of knuckles deep your finger sinks in. You may notice measurements vary depending on the location on the abdomen. Anything deeper than 1 knuckle deep or 3 fingers wide is considered "non-functional" and workouts should be modified. It is always a good idea to consider a physiotherapist or womens' pelvic floor specialist for severe cases.
While this all sounds very scary and permanent, there is hope! In addition to having a knowledgeable trainer, there are a few things you can make sure you are doing to help.
TVA breathing: Learn how to properly engage your transverse abdominus. Learning how to "zip up" your core is essential to healing.
Watch your posture: A lot of times, a diastasis can worsen because of improper posture. Stand, sit, and perform daily activities with a neutral spine and an engaged core. (For a postural assessment, email email@example.com)
Avoid "front loading": While the severity of your DR will affect the intensity of your workouts, there are several key things to avoid. Try to stay as "vertical" as possible and avoid direct pressure on the abdomen, such as crunches, planks, etc. There are many ways to modify your workouts to accommodate for your separation without putting strain on the core.
Stay engaged: Make sure you are keeping your TVA engaged when doing things like picking up a laundry basket, or holding your baby, or vacuuming. It is very important to be aware of how you hold your core when doing strenuous activity.
Change the way you get up: When getting up from a lying position DO NOT SIT STRAIGHT UP! Roll to your side, then use your arms to push you up to sitting. Sitting straight up puts unnecessary pressure on the core.
Do your research and be your own health advocate: There is a world of misinformation out there, so protect yourself and your core by making sure you fact check! A lot of trainers will say they are postpartum friendly but then have you do things like planks to strengthen the core. While this may be fine for someone without a diastasis, it can be detrimental to someone that does. Make sure you also know what you can and can't do so you can keep your trainer in the loop. Better yet, make sure your trainer is knowledgeable about diastasis specifically and is able to help you heal (like myself for example!)
Core health is a long journey, but if done correctly and consistently, you will be functional in no time.