What is Diastasis Recti?

Pre and Post-natal Pilates expert Andrea Speir answers your most pressing questions about the common condition

Ah motherhood… As we navigate the amazing journey of pregnancy, we accept and understand that our bodies are going to go through a metamorphosis that is both beautiful and amazing, but also a bit of an adjustment (ahem… bloating, constipation, water retention, swollen feet etc etc..). After that beautiful baby is born, we will lose the baby pooch and that’s that…or is it? There’s this thing that you may have heard of called ‘Diastasis Recti’, but what is it and and how do you get it? That’s what we are here to discuss. The good news is, if it does happen to you, don’t fear. It is common and can be fixed! However, there are ways to avoid it and great ways to safely work your way back to your pre-baby self.

What is Diastasis Recti?

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Diastasis Recti is essentially a splitting of the abdominal wall. During pregnancy, the uterus begins to grow and expand, which pushes on the abdominals. This pressure can cause the two parallel bands of the rectus (which run vertically down the midsection of your core) to expand and essentially split, which leads to a bulge in your midsection.

Do I have Diastasis Recti?

If you feel like your jeans just aren’t fitting the same way (even after you are back to pre-baby weight), that could just be because the hips separate and essentially your body has changed (hey, curves are hot mama!), but it could also be because of this bulge in your midsection. If you feel like this describes your situation accurately, or if you are experiencing any abdominal pain (definitely check with your doctor if this is the case as well) then you may have Diastasis Recti.  

Here is how to give yourself a diastasis check at home

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. This will help the abdominals relax down toward your navel. Now the traditional way to check to see if you have diastasis is to take two fingers and see if they can fit between a splitting or opening in the middle of your core muscles. Please note that two fingers can vary in size so just know that you are looking to see if it is in the ballpark of just over 1″. If it is that big or wider, chances are it’s diastasis.

How do I avoid Diastasis Recti?

During pregnancy, be very aware of your changing body. What could feel good one day, might not feel great the next. Listen to this and listen to your body! That is the first and most important thing you can do. Around 18-20 weeks (or sooner if your body is saying “excuse me?!’) take out any major twisting. This big twisting action is asking a lot of your already overstretched abdominals. The internal pressure of the expanding uterus and growing baby has pushed this tight band of to the max, and when you add pressure to this area, it could lead to a small split in the core muscles which will then potentially get worse as this area expands. If you have been doing crunches and/or twisted crunches (ie: bicycle or Pilates criss cross), omit these straight away and instead strengthen your core with more isolated movements, like holding a side plank. This will take the direct pressure off your core muscles and allow the obliques to safely strengthen, which you want strong because you will be using them to help push during labor.

Speaking of core work – this is what I get a lot of tricky questions about – ‘Do I work my abs or do I avoid core work?’ You want core strength. You NEED core strength to keep your back supported as the weight of your baby grows and pulls on your body. You will call upon your core strength during labor to help push. SO, work your core by holding an isolated curl up with a playground ball behind your back. Hold a side plank on each side for 30 seconds -1 minute/day. Go on active walks and focus on engaging your navel by gently hugging your baby with your core muscles.

If you know you have diastasis, definitely take out any sort of movement that will put direct internal pressure on your midsection. That means no planking – that puts all the weight of your organs down onto the split. Also be aware of your movements – get out of bed by rolling on your side first vs. sitting straight up and putting strain on your core. Don’t lift those heavy grocery bags alone (let your partner step up and do some of the heavy lifting)!

How to fix Diastasis Recti?

Ok, so you did your two finger test and felt that split in your abdominal wall. Now your doctor has confirmed it’s there, so what next? First of all, don’t stress. Studies show that diastasis is incredibly common, so it’s not an unheard of travesty to your body. There are some at home remedies you could begin to incorporate into your everyday life to get this area cinched back together. Stay in touch with your doctor on this though, if it becomes too extreme and it is recommended by your doctor, there is a surgical option. That being said, try a few of these highly recommended tips below and see how things go first. 

  • Tip #1: For smaller separations, women can benefit from focusing on physical exercises to essentially cinch the core muscles back together. Take a playground ball or small stability ball and place it behind your lower back. Round your back into a c-curve, holding on gently behind your thighs. Focus on scooping your abdominals deeply in and up along your spine to engage them. Hold this controlled curl and take deep breaths for 30 seconds. Repeat that 3x. This movement will help those bands find each other, strengthen and glue back together in a controlled and muscular way.
  • Tip #2: For larger separations, some women like to wear an abdominal splint or wrap. This helps those muscles come back together AND helps you to remember to keep your core engaged and not move mindlessly. When you are wearing one of these, you won’t sit up out of bed without engaging your abdominals pushing on your split. You will sit up with control. You won’t twist quickly to look at something, making your tear worse. No matter what you do, your core will be controlled. That, in my opinion, is the best benefit to the splint!
  • Tip #3: Focus on deep breathing exercises to isolate and strengthen the transverse abdominals. The transverse is the deepest layer of the core muscles that wrap around your core like a girdle. Even though the tear is in the more superficial layer, the rectus, getting this deep transverse band strongly engaged will help the rectus to fall back naturally into place and begin to strengthen back together. Lie on your back with your knees bent and visualize this girdle-like band wrapping and tightening in and up along your spine. Hold that wrapped feeling and take a deep inhale. On the exhale slowly release that feeling. Repeat for 10 deep breaths. This will safely begin to properly strengthen these muscles back together, while also creating fantastic muscle memory for you.