Diastasis Recti 101
I didn’t notice right away.
I am sure I was deep in the sleep deprived fog of new motherhood, more worried about breastfeeding schedules and the frequency of dirty diapers. But my sweet baby grew and after some time, I started looking a little closer at some of the changes in my postpartum body. Something that stuck out to me was this gapping and indentation that was now present just above my belly button. As a trained physiotherapist, I suspected I knew what this was – diastatsis recti.
“Diastasis” or “diastasis recti”
– are interchangeable terms that have been gaining a lot of attention amongst new moms. There are also a lot of people who like to refer to this as “mummy tummy”. The rectus abdominus (or our six pack abs) normally line up neatly on either side of our belly button. These muscles meet at the linea aba, which is connective tissue. As baby grows during pregnancy, a woman’s body accommodates by morphing and stretching in different and amazing ways! This causes a thinning and widening of the linea alba – which if you think about it, is a pretty clever coping strategy. After delivery, hormones return to prepregnancy levels and this thinning generally improves. In some women, however, because the connective tissue has expanded so much it loses elasticity and can’t return back to the prepregnancy resting state. This results in a gap between the abdominal muscles. Not surprisingly, this gap can range in size from barely noticeable to large. The biggest complaint woman seem to have, is that they continue to look pregnant despite being well along in their postpartum journey. Some women may also notice a dome or ballooning effect in the area when they activate their abdominals. As well, back pain and a general feeling of core weakness can be reported. In the most severe, but very rare cases, women can experience abdominal organ herniation because of a large gap.
With all the attention that has been placed on this issue recently, it is not surprising that discovering this in one’s postpartum body can be scary for some. At that time, I wasn’t well educated about diastasis and I was certainly apprehensive! I felt restricted and that I should avoid certain movements and activities for fear of making it worse. Now, as I have learned more and expanded my training as a pelvic health physiotherapist, I feel very differently. Diastasis is something that can be managed with some education and a little bit of work. It is no reason to eliminate sports or fitness from your life, if this is something you love.
The first step
The first step for many people is to undergo an assessment by a health professional with specific knowledge about diastasis, like a pelvic health physiotherapist. This will help establish where you are at. If you are asked to modify certain activities, this is likely only temporary until you have improved and restored your abdominal and core strength. A physiotherapist would then provide you with specific exercises based on how your body is functioning at the current moment. As you continue to improve, your exercises will be adapted to challenge you and geared towards getting you back to doing the activities that you love! I promise, this diastasis business is not as scary as you might think!
Thank you to: Kaitlyn Boyd, Registered Pelvic Health Physiotherapist from Function First London