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Diastasis Recti Part 1: What is it and How do we Prevent it During Pregnancy?

December 8, 2017

A few weeks ago,  when training a new client of mine who is a mother of two, she asked me for ways to work on ditching the “mommy tummy”. My first question for her was if she knew whether or not she had experienced Diastasis Recti, or ab separation, during her pregnancies. She told me that she had no idea what that even meant or that abs could even do such a thing. However what she did tell me was that one thing she thought was funny during her pregnancies was how her tummy tended to make this “cone-like” shape when she flexed or was getting out of bed. She thought that was just a funny symptom no one warned her about. I was CRINGING because little did she know, this symptom was anything but “funny.”

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Abdominal “coning” during pregnancy is a  clear indicator of Diastasis Recti occurring

Diastasis Recti (D.R.) sounds like a mouthful but in the simplest of terms it is just the fancy way of saying abdominal separation. Unfortunately like my client mentioned, D.R. is a topic that many moms just aren’t aware of. What is even more unfortunate is that the reason for this is that many pregnancy books, online sites and even doctors/midwives, tend to not even discuss it. In fact, as a fitness professional myself, I have seen many other personal trainers not know what this is when it was brought up in discussion.

Now you may be asking yourself, “well if my doctor/midwife haven’t brought it up, how important could it really be?” Simple answer: VERY! It is important to know about D.R., both during your pregnancy and especially afterwards, because if you have developed it and are unaware, you can unknowingly make it much worse! This can then lead to a series of problems, such as: back pain, poor posture, constipation, painful sex (um no thank you!), weak pelvic floor muscles (a.k.a incontinence, a.k.a peeing your pants), hernias, and the dreaded post baby belly that just won’t ever seem to go away.

It is with this that I wanted to create this two-part post to show you wonderful mamas the steps to take to prevent, diagnose and help cure this abdominal separation.

The Nitty Gritty details of Diastasis Recti

Diastasis Recti, like I mentioned above, is the fancy way of talking about separation of the abdominal wall. It is a symptom that can occur both in men and women but gets much more attention in terms of it happening to females because pregnancy is usually the main culprit behind it.

To get more “sciencey” and go more into the specificis,  your abdomen is made up of a series of muscles. Two of them are called the rectus abdominis. These are “the six pack” area of your core. As you see in the image below, the rectus abdominis is made up of two sides that run straight down your belly. These two sides are then connected by a thin tissue called the linea alba. These muscles/tissues are responsible for holding in all your important internal organs and of course, stabilizing your body.

During pregnancy, as you can imagine, your belly and all the muscles in it will expand to support the growth of your babe. bc-diastasis-recti-logo_wide.pngThis means that the thin connective tissue, the linea alba, will also stretch so that your rectus abdominis (the”six pack”) can separate slightly down the middle. In many cases, this is not a big deal and the thin tissue heals post-birth to allow for the two sides of the muscles to merge back together. HOWEVER, for some women this isn’t always the case. In fact, according to most studies, 37% of first time moms and 67% of moms with multiples will experience this separation but in various degrees.

Preventing Diastasis Recti During Pregnancy 

So for all you expecting mamas reading this, I don’t want this post to scare you. In fact, I’m hoping that it will do the opposite and instead empower you to stay conscious during this exciting time in your life. So without further adieu, below I have written a series of ways you can help prevent this nasty ab separation and instead better strengthen your core.

  • Recognize the signs
    • Like mentioned above, coning is one of the top indicators to show you that diastasis may be occurring. If at any time you notice this happening, stop the activity you are doing and modify it.
    • Always STOP exercising if you feel pain in your core, back pain, or if you find that you pee a tiny bit.
  • Practice Breathing
    • Do you know that one major way to help preventing D.R. is by just simply breathing. However, we need to ensure you are breathing correctly. To help practice, lie on your back or while standing up, place your hand on your belly and take a deep breath. With each inhale, your belly should raise, pressing your hand forward. The thing we don’t want to do it breath only with our chest. You will notice this is happening if you see only your shoulders/chest raise–DON’T WORRY MOST PEOPLE DO THIS (I WILL GO INTO THIS FURTHER IN A FUTURE POST).
  • Exercise your core safely
    • Not all core exercises are off limits. As a general rule of thumb here is a break down of what you should avoid during pregnancy:
      • Planks
      • Crunches or sit ups of any kind
      • Any rotational core exercises (wood chops, Russian twists, etc.)
    • Any exercises not listed above are still perfectly safe to still perform and should be performed! Remember, you will need a strong core for labor!
  • Avoid heavy lifting or straining
    • Doctors all have their variety of restrictions when it comes to lifting weight. This may vary based on your previous fitness level but to be safe, avoid lifting weights that require you to brace or hold your breath.
  • Practice good daily habits (laying down/ getting up on your side)
    • This will go without saying, especially when you get far enough into your pregnancy, but even before you start getting a belly this should be common practice. Roll onto your side to get up and do the same or use assistance if laying back.
  • Get some great belly support bands, if needed
    • I personally didn’t use one while pregnant, since I never felt the need, but every pregnancy and body is different so there are plenty of women out there who would benefit. Just by doing a quick google search, I found plenty of options and I am sure that by doing a bit of research, you can find a band that fits your comfort level and is within an appropriate price range.
    • Basically, by wearing a support band, you can help support your growing belly and help prevent additional problems such as: lower back pain, Pelvic Girdle Pain, Sciatica, and round ligament pain.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 (coming as soon as my little one arrives–any day now) where I will discuss how we can gauge the severity of Diastasis Recti and work on treating it 🙂

 

 

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