Diastasis Recti - “Diastasis” means separation. “Recti” refers to your ab muscles called the “rectus abdominis.” These two muscles run down the front of the abdominals and they are joined in the centre by the linea alba. During pregnancy, when the linea alba is softened, it is stretched by the increasing size of the baby and the abdomen. This causes the muscles to stretch and weaken as they lengthen. Eventually, the linea alba may split, and when this happens it is called diastasis. The split tends to start around the belly button area and then moves upwards or downwards depending on how the mum to be affected is carrying her baby.
So basically, it’s a separation of the abdominal muscles, allowing your tummy to literally bulge out, making it difficult postnatally to lose the “mummy tummy”.
It is important to know if you have DR both in pregnancy and postnatally and sadly it’s something that is not always checked by your midwife or doctor. I see many women in my postnatal classes and many have never had their tummies checked before. Therefore many women are unsure or unaware they have it and can unintentionally make the condition worse. Women with an untreated DR can suffer poor posture, back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, digestion problems and an inability to lose their “mummy tummy” despite their best exercise efforts!
So how do I know I have diastasis recti?
If you have never heard of diastasis recti and have never had your tummy checked then before you take part in any exercise it is important you self test using our guidance below. We would suggest you only check from 6 weeks post birth (when your uterus has shrunk, you have less fluid retention and abdominal discomfort). It makes for a more accurate test and it’s important to test your separation so you can measure progress.
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- Place 2-3 fingers above your tummy button with your palm facing you
- Take a deep breath in, then slowly raise your head and shoulders slightly off the floor as in an ab curl
- Breath slowly out as you raise up and press your fingers into your tummy
- The two sides of the rectus abdominus should close together on your fingers – a 1-2 finger width gap or less is fine, but don’t panic if it’s much bigger at first
- You want to continue to feel for the width (and depth – how far in your fingers go) all the way along the length of your tummy, into your tummy button and below it. The width and depth may vary… it’s common to have a diastasis around the belly button area but can be above or below.
- If the gap is greater than 2.5-3 fingers then the diastasis recti is present and doming may occur
- Remember, you are also testing for the condition of the connective tissue (the Linea Alba). The further your fingers go into your belly, the weaker the connective tissue.
What exercises should I avoid doing if I have diastasis recti?
If you suffer from this condition there are many exercises that you should avoid altogether until your tummy separation has knitted back together.
- Exercises that require lying backward over a large exercise ball.
- Yoga postures that stretch the abs, such as “cow pose,” “up-dog,” and all backbends
- Abdominal exercises that flex the upper spine off the floor or against the force of gravity such as: as crunches, oblique curls,
“bicycles,” roll ups/roll downs, etc.
- Pilates mat and reformer exercises that utilize the “head float” position, upper body flexion, or double leg extension. Pilates 100s are a definite no-no.
- Any exercise that causes your abdominal wall to bulge out upon exertion.
- Lifting and carrying very heavy objects.
- The full frontal plank and press ups (side planks ok) as the core muscles have to work against gravity, which puts great pressure on the abdominal wall.
With regards to every day movements, try not to sit straight up from a lying position – roll to your side and push up from there (like when you are pregnant) and try and always engage your core muscles whenever you lift (babies, toddlers, car seats, whatever!), twist or get up from lying or crouching.
We would always recommend exercising with an instructor who is qualified in postnatal exercise who will be able to make modifications so that you can exercise safely. Our Mama on the Move postnatal programmes have been specially designed for postnatal women to help repair a diastasis recti and improve core function.
How do I fix diastasis recti?
The key to closing a DR is to learn how to correctly engage your core….
Now this is something that is talked about a lot in some exercise classes, particularly Pilates. It’s something that many people are unsure about and in my opinion don’t always do properly!
You want to connect with your deep core muscles in order to start to knit your DR back together. We are talking about your TVA muscle –Transversus abdominis, which is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and wraps around the abdomen between the lower ribs and top of the pelvis, functioning like a corset. It is NOT sucking your tummy in as hard as you can.
Breathe in and on the breath out contract the transversus abdominis by drawing your tummy button in towards your spine.
No movement of your hips, pelvis or spine should occur as you gently connect with your TVA. If you palpate your tummy just inside the left and right hip bones, this deep contraction should feel like a light, deep tension under your fingertips, not a contraction that pushes your fingers out.
How do I know if I have healed?
Its all about the connective tissue strength and health, how you can connect with your core system and your individual function. If you have no pain, leaking, have good activation of your core muscle system, your connective tissue is strong along your midline and your posture improved then even with a small DR you have may found your balance.
If you still have any unanswered questions about diastasis recti please get in touch with us on our Facebook page. We are passionate about helping new mums to exercise safely and effectively!