Picture with me, if you will, how I look down to try and find my toes…but my burgeoning tummy makes the view of my toes a bit harder to find.
Now, had I actually been pregnant (again), that sentence up there might be the start to a very cute preggo diary insert, and fun announcement…Buuut, as we all know, that was months ago for me….monthssssssssss ago. And yet here I am, sooo not preggy, but still with a slightly obscured view of my toes. Ok, fine, maybe Im a bit dramatic in the description…its not exactly preggo-esque, but it’s certainly not flat (far from it!)…In fact, its no longer even flat when I lay down. Which, if you knew much about me as any of my personal friends do, this is a very very huge change for me in my body with the third child.
BUT, at the same time, it is also very very normal!
You see, what it is – this bulging out of one’s belly even though postpartum recovery should no longer be a factor – is called Diastasis Recti (DR). And chances are, if you’ve been pregnant, you may have it to some degree or another. And if you had multiples, then the chances are even higher. More than one pregnancy? Almost sure you have it. Definitely more than two pregnancies, it’s practically guaranteed, you have it. (lest you’ve actively done something about it)
But the thing is, most moms don’t even know what it is, let alone if they know they have it. And the thing is, its not just about having that mummy tummy, or that extra bit of bulge that youre now sporting – nope its not about any worries of appearance. DR actually has some screwy consequences on your health and wellbeing too. (Lower back issues anyone? Sudden weakness in old activities you used to do? Ya? Thank you, DR!)
So what is Diastasis Recti (DR)?
Well, we all know about that game of Tetris your body starts to play as baby grows in utero– what organ can get squished where, how far can we push this bladder, lets stretch out all these ligaments, and oh, lets just separate these muscles to make more room. So, guess what happens to those sweet little six pack abs that sit nicely down your mid-line? They become like show time curtains to the amazing Broadway show that is your baby bump – as in separate to help make space.
And then after birth, these parallel sets of muscles (your abdominis erecti aka your six pack) are supposed to knit themselves back together. However, the degree to how well it does this, does depend on a few factors, such as : Your personal level of tightness and tone prior to conception, the size of bump, your genetics, the amount or type of pregnancy you’ve had, and how poor (or awesome) your posture is posture. But generally, thanks to the pregnancy hormones, (Relaxin and Projesterone) they start to relax, lengthen and weaken your ligaments, and muscles fibres (so that they become easier to shove around for that game of pregnancy Tetris, I spoke of earlier) But when your still sitting with that stubborn baby pooch that just wont budge, long after you’ve dropped the baby weight, or if you’re still getting asked that old beloved question “when are you due?”, as you stand with your five old at the bus stop. Or, in my case, both your kids constantly ask if there’s another baby in there that I forgot…or, “are you pregnant again, mama?” ( followed by hysterical laughter..their freakin’ hysterical laughter)..well, then, DR may very likely be behind it all.
So to all moms, who are feeling frustrated about those fave jeans of yours still not fitting, despite your best efforts, and all the good, loving care you’re taking and nourishing yourself with – it’s not you, it’s the damn DR!
And the thing is, you going to want to get this sorted ASAP! (and its not for aesthetic reasons either! So stay with me)
For with that abdominal separation, that is a sure-fire clue to you that your core is out of whack. And when your core is out of whack, you open yourself up to a world of injury, and stiffness and a general feeling of weakness in certain activities – even just trying to sit up in bed with baby on you becomes a heaving spectacle. (And this is even more so, if youre used to a certainly level of strength and activity, the adjustment can be jarring). And just a general feeling of not being in your peak condition. Also, keep in mind, whilst pregnancy affects about 98% of women wrt DR, DR is not only limited to pregnancy as a cause, and as such men can also suffer from it. So the advice here is applicable all round.
But before I go on to the how do you test for it, and treat it bits, please note, Im not in anyway claiming to be a doctor. All I am doing is sharing my experience, research and knowledge, mom to mom…or DR suffer to (possible) DR suffer…because I like the concept of the mama village, and like to believe that we do have each other’s back.
Right, now..how do you even know you have it? You could ask your gynae to help if you’re not sure, but there this is an easy home test you can do:
How to test if you have Diastasis Erecti:
• Lie on your back, with your knees bent to the ceiling, and your feet comfortabley flat on the ground.
• Place your one hand on your belly button, palms towards your tummy. Parallel to your abs.
• Then what you want to do, is gently lift your chin to your chest. Please note, don’t do a crunch – this just adds more damage to this situation, and should be avoided at all times (i.e. till your DR is sorted)
• Gently push your fingertips downwards towards your spine. (not hard). Just enough to feel the separation between the left and right panel of abs. If you have DR, you’ll feel a gap/hole of about 2 or more finger widths.
• Seeing how many fingers width across that you can fit in that gap, indicates the extent of your DR, or your degree of separation.
• Be sure to check the gap not only at belly button, but above it and below it – you would get different readings for those different areas.
Also note that using the same technique but just shifting your hand and fingers to be perpendicular to the panel of abs (and no longer parallel as before) you’d be able to tell how far along that separation is.
I remember with Morgan-Lee, my first, I didn’t notice much of a separation. But one day about 8 months or so after birth, whilst goofing off with hubby in the mirror doing muscle poses, I noticed that when I leant slightly back, a line of “muscle”, about a cm thick, popped straight up right down the centre of my abs. Obvs not a muscle, but was some form of DR. It didn’t fit the exact description/understanding I had of DR back then that I had had, so I dismissed it. And granted, I didn’t have any other issues to make me think I did, I went on with my merry life.
However, after Parker-Grace, I definitely noticed a difference. But I made sure to avoid all the no-no’s, like crunches etc. (The joke really is that I never did go back to any form of exercise ever again…so I was pretty safe from most of the no-no’s anyway. So I did nothing to “fix’ it. And because I think I generally didn’t feel like I had too much to worry about – my belly was almost flat – I didn’t even pay it too much mind, But the joke was on me, cause my abs never did go back like it did with Morgan. And whilst I didn’t feel it so much then, after having my third now, its all come home to roost. My abs are so wide apart, it’s pretty much a canyon down there. Your fingers could get lost in it.
The mama pooch is a real thing for me now. Not being able to fit into…well 95% of bottoms is an annoying reality for me. (and I refuse to go shopping!) But mostly, the abdominal pains I started randomly experiencing became worrisome.
So now, if you DO have DR, after having taken that test above, there are a couple of key things you need to understand:
WHAT NOT TO DO:
You cannot sort this out with crunches, planks or anything that is putting pressure on your abs. This will only make it worse. I know you’ve seen this so many times, but crunches are not the answer here – and generally they never are anyways.
So no bicycles no pushups, no planks, rollups or even many yoga stretches.
The reason being is that if you crunch up or place any pressure on those abdominals, all you would be doing is forcing your organs up against, or through your abs even further. Or downwards into your pelvic floor. Which are all places that you don’t want to be shoving your organs around into.
You want those abs together, not pressured in all sorts of directions – which is what they’ll do since the surround muscle structures are all too weak to keep it together anyway.
You don’t want to slouch – this just adds even further pressure to your weakened core.
What you DO want to do:
You want to focus purely of the Transverse Abs, and the general surrounding muscle structure.
Here are two my fave postpartum exercises that you could safely do immediately after birth – or once your doctor has cleared you depending on your birth.
What you must keep in mind though – especially those mamas who are so fit, and strong and so used to pushing themselves and doing heavy, challenging training regimes….this is NOT going to be that. And as much as you like THAT, THAT is not what you need now. So be patient, you’re not here to make “gains”, break a sweat or train for that iron lady – but also ok, if you do feel like you have afterwards. So ok. What we are after here, is rehabilitation. Your body has just done the most incredible thing ever – it has grown, carried and nourished life within. It has undergone immense and acute changes over the last 9 months, and as such needs the space and care for it to return there. So do these with that in mind, and how well you are taking care of yourself:
Pelvic Tilt with a Heel Slide
-Lie on your back, with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Draw belly in towards your spine. Slowly slide one heel away to fully extend your leg on the floor while keeping your belly button tightly in towards the spine. Then, release, inhale deeply, then engage your transverse abs again and slowly slide heel back to starting position. Alternate between both legs for about 10 times each side. (Ps. Transverse are NOT your six pack muscles, theyre the deeper longer muscles on the inside, on the side, and your obliques)
Belly Button To Spine
– Sit or stand up tall with your chest up and shoulders pulled back. (more of a neutral position, that’s not forced) Take a deep breath in and then exhale completely. ( and take note of your inner transverse muscles) Pull your belly button in towards your spine while maintaining great posture, as you take in another breath. Now, keep your transverse abs engaged as tight as you can, while you continue breathing. I typically hold for a minute in the begining, and then build it up as I go on. If a minute feels too long for you in the begining, hold it just until you feel like youre getting too tired and can’t maintain good form. Take note of your time, then try to break that record the next time. Take short breaks in between and then do it again. I normally do this while I walk to work.
Do these for two months everyday consistently and watch the magic happen.
These simple exercises have helped close mine down currently to a 2.7 finger width. And they can be used after birth (or preferably once cleared by doc), or starting right now 5 months, 10 months, 1 year after birth. It’s never too late. However, if the gap does seem excessive, it is advisable to have your gynae check it and make some recommendations. You may need physio therapy or more. But chances are, it is something you could start to manage by yourself in less excessive cases.
Now next time, I will share with you more exercises that Im going to be using over the next 3 – 6 months to get myself back into a form where I can start doing things like yoga, and serious ab training again, WITHOUT doing further damage to my structure. (Because, YES, that’s actually possible!)
ALSO, I will share with you what I did in the immediate days after birth, which I believe absolutely made a difference to the recovery of my abs in previous pregnancies. It’s the simplest thing ever, but so many dismiss it as old wive’s tales – and yet, both my sister and I have lived the experience and felt the difference of using it, versus not using it. Clue: I didn’t really use it as dedicatedly after this last pregnancy, and am so sorry I didn’t.
But for now, mamas, go test yourselves, and get cracking on those exercises. They don’t take long at all to finish them, so it won’t cut into your day really. Just agree with yourself that you will do them, and keep that promise to yourself. Because if you can’t keep a promise to yourself, then really, who CAN you keep a promise with? Be a #womanofmyword X