We all know there is a lot to think about when you are a new momma. Making decisions for self-care is hard with minimal sleep, an endless stream of dirty diapers, and figuring out a feeding schedule. All of that on top of the societal pressure of getting the pre-baby body back, magnified along every grocery store aisle with magazine covers of celebrities boasting unrealistic beach bods weeks after giving birth. What’s missing from the narrative is how to help moms get their health back.
A few months ago I put a free therapeutic yoga video out online for postpartum mommas. The video specifically addressed diastasis recti—a fancy term for when the abdominal wall begins to give way to intra-abdominal pressure, meaning from the inside out, as opposed to the outside in. It is the weakening and separation of the fascia, or connective tissue, between the abdominal wall, and the rectus abdominus muscles. Imagine a really strong spider web, wrapping your muscles up and holding them together. That is your fascia. It holds the muscles together and keeps them in place through a web of connective tissues. Diastasis recti is most often diagnosed in post partum women, when a baby pushes up against that fascia, although sometimes it can affect men with recent weight gain.
Mere weeks after posting the video, hundreds of moms from all over the world with diastasis recti were writing to me. Some moms had never even heard of the condition, and others had been diagnosed with it but told surgery was the only option. I was getting emails from Qatar, India, Germany, and Texas. When roughly 60% of all women develop diastasis recti during, or after, their pregnancy, why weren’t women talking about it?
Diastasis recti undiagnosed can lead to pelvic floor and lower back pain long term, and can worsen over time. When this goes undiagnosed or unrecognized, many mommas try to jump back into their pre-baby routine to try and strengthen up the abdominal walls post partum. Think of the action of crunching or bending forward, our intestines and innards get squished up against our belly and it can cause a bulge. When the rectus abdominus are intact, a traditional ab exercise is not an issue, but when there is a gap, or the fascia is compromised, that additional pressure can actually weaken the fascia further leading to an even bigger gap.
Often health care professionals recommend surgery to repair this, applying a mesh overlay to the abdominal wall, to bridge the gap and prevent an umbilical hernia. However, surgery leads to a tough recovery time, especially when you have kiddos running around, and it doesn’t always work. And at the end of the day, your body isn’t doing the work to get stronger. Other healthcare professionals have women wear belly binders, to hold the abdominal wall back together. But once again, it can easily become a crutch, even atrophying the muscles further, without supplementing it with safe strengthening exercises.
Very few exercise programs available are geared specifically for the postpartum mom’s needs, namely strengthening the fascia or connective tissue and the deeper levels of the abdominal wall. In fact, some of the most common abdominal exercises, like crunches or planks, can actually do more harm and further the gap in the abdominal wall.
The solution is simple and easily accessible at home for many. There is a quick and easy self-diagnosing test involving lying down, gently lifting your head and shoulders off the earth and feeling the gap between the two rectus abdominus muscles. Normally women will have a gap of about 1 fingerbreadth distance. Diastasis recti is often defined as over 2 finger distance separation. Once you know whether or not you have it, you can start doing safe, subtle movements to rebuild that fascia. It doesn’t take much, and it doesn’t matter whether you are 2 months or 12 years post-partum, it still works.
Over the past several months, I have had hundreds of women write to me in YouTube comments about healing their DR and bridging their gap at home with a series of simple exercises. The movement is subtle and gentle, aimed at targeting the fascia and connective tissue. It’s symbolic of the energy needed in the post partum period, subtle, gentle, and consistent—being kind to the body, not jumping back into rigorous push-ups and crunches.
When we don’t talk about diastasis recti, it becomes another way that we oppress women, without providing accurate information to empower women in their own postpartum healing. Labor and delivery, on top of raising a baby, is hard enough. We have to find ways to empower mommas to have access to tools that can expedite the healing process at home.
In the era of instant access to information, there shouldn’t be gaps in the knowledge around the postpartum experience. But if moms don’t know what to look for, and what to keep an eye out for, it’s hard to know what to search. Check out this video for a gentle approach to healing and taking care of you, after a baby.
Author: Cait Allison