My experience with Diastasis Recti
When I was pregnant with my first child, I began to add to my workout rotation a few home DVDs on prenatal exercise including yoga. It was there that I learned about this thing called Diastasis Recti (or DR). I didn’t think I could be susceptible to it but in my second pregnancy I realized that I had developed it probably during both pregnancies and had done nothing to prevent it.
I’m not a physician so this is my own take on the condition and my own experience with it. I would recommend consulting with more than one GP before diagnosing yourself with DR.
My understanding of it is this – you have vertical muscles, the rectus abdominus muscles which make up the enviable six pack so many people want and those are the muscles engaged when doing crunches – if you are pregnant and you simply try to sit up from laying down or to do a crunch you might see your baby bump transform into this odd football shape. See the video here to understand what I mean.
This was taken at 24 weeks and I'm not really doing much other than trying to sit up from reclining. This is not me trying to do a crunch and it looks pretty crazy - seeing how the muscles pull down on the sides but not the middle, you see that the part bumping out is the part that is not covered by abdominal muscle there which is the diastasis recti. That is the bump being pushed out as a result of trying to contract the rectus abdominus muscles. The more you try to do exercises contracting the RA muscles and the more your baby and your bump grows, the worse the separation gets.
What is happening is that your rectus abdominus muscles are contracting but they are moving to the side of your belly button and so they are contracting along the side of your bump rather than right above your bump. Many of the prenatal exercise videos will tell you that if you see this happening during abdominal exercise that you should refrain from these exercises as it will only encourage your abs to separate more. If you have DR and don’t recover from it, you can have a large portion of your stomach unprotected by muscles which I guess later in life can have unfavorable consequences. In fact I read today that having DR can also weaken your pelvic floor muscles. I can attest to that from watching my mother’s experience – she had two of us girls and did not do a thing to recover from pregnancy so she had a wrinkly pooch and zero abdominal muscles for the rest of her life after having us. At one point she had such a weak pelvic floor that her bladder had dropped down; this was while she was visiting me in Europe and she had to go to the bathroom ALL the time. Some moms have noticed that after having kids, they find they can not completely control their need to urinate. I guess if taken to an extreme, not having those muscles recover has an effect also on your pelvic floor which could lead to problems down stream (no pun intended).
What helps to keep your muscles together are these deep muscles under your oblique muscles called Transverse Abdominus. Obliques are what get developed when you do side bends and those types of exercises (apparently there are actually two types of oblique muscles going in opposing directions – I’m so amazed at the human body after looking into this more). The transverse abs are underneath all of that and wrap around to your spine and those are like a girdle for your belly. It is these muscles that can be exercised to pull your abs back together. These muscles engage when you cough and sing or whistle and it’s sometimes hard to know if you are engaging them during exercise. It is the TA muscles that you need to focus on strengthening after you’ve had your baby.
I found that opinions on DR were so wide ranging. Some people say that not everyone gets DR and my doctor had said that everyone gets DR because that’s how the body adjusts to making space for the baby. There are some women who don’t develop the typical belly bump and perhaps they don’t have ab separation as most women do. It’s similar to the kegel exercises – some people say to do lots of kegels to make your pelvic floor strong which will help you push baby out but some say that making those muscles really tight will only make it harder to let the baby through when you deliver. I’m not sure which side is correct but I think that doing some level of those exercises will at least keep the muscles functioning so that they can also function when you are pushing baby out.
Some people recommend you keep exercising your abs during pregnancy whereas others suggest just keeping your core somewhat strong – it really depends on your own body during pregnancy. I found that my DR was worsening by trying exercises that engaged all of the muscles so now I focus on very simple exercises such as knee bend lifts and such so that I don’t exacerbate it and have to do more therapy after baby. I also feel like it’s nice to let your muscles stretch to make room for baby and to wait until after to get back into a regular ab routine. There are still many exercises that you can do without necessarily trying to keep your abs strong during pregnancy.
If anything, doing functional movements that you will need after baby will be very important. That is why I think doing simple transverse abdominal strengthening exercises is so important. When I started babywearing, I really felt that I was doing a disservice to my body by having a weakened core. Once you have the baby, you begin to use your own core to bear the weight of this baby now growing OUTSIDE of your body. It’s important to have a strong core and girdle to be able to carry baby around on you and to do functional exercises such as picking up an infant carrier properly or bending and lifting baby from tummy time.
I hope to do some blogging after baby on post partum fitness and recovery. I’m in no way an expert but I’ve always been a very active person and have tried the gamut of exercises both prenatal and non. I love to stay abreast of the latest trends in workouts and especially the latest in pregnancy fitness.
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Always A Parent is my blog about how parenting has changed my life - I began as an industrial designer and engineer and after having kids, how I saw the world changed - I began to design products for crazy people like me trying to balance it all without losing my sanity. My products for breastfeeding, nursing in public, diaper bags, gym bags, and more are hopefully just the beginning!