We talk about diastasis recti a lot over here. Women want to know if they have it, what exercises they can do to fix it, and how to avoid it. Google “ab separation pregnancy” and you’ll get lots of results on a very common condition that is estimated to affect 1/3 of pregnant women. The trouble is, not all advice out there is appropriate as it focuses SO much on exercises to “close your abs”, and not enough on the root cause. Like anything, the best way to address a problem is at its root rather than by treating the symptom.
Diastasis recti is a condition of an overstretched linea alba. The linea alba is a vertical line of connective tissue that separates your rectus abdominus muscle. Think of it as the midline of your 6-pack muscle.
Diastasis recti results in a weak dysfunctional core and is often accompanied by loose pooched skin. It’s caused by too much intra abdominal pressure (IAP), often from but not limited to, a growing baby during pregnancy. (Fun fact: men with large beer bellies can also get diastasis recti.) A pregnant woman’s connective tissue is meant to stretch to a certain degree to make room for baby, but too much pressure can cause too much stretching, resulting in diastasis recti. There are several things you can do to prevent too much intra abdominal pressure during pregnancy, and they all have to do with how you breathe and move.
Did you get that? The root cause of diastasis recti isn’t just a function of how large the baby is, but rather how the pregnant mother sits, stands, moves and breathes.
I’ll cut to the chase. If your posture right now includes a swayed back, tucked bum, popped ribs and tight hip flexors, you’re more likely to have pelvic floor issues and get diastasis recti during pregnancy. You might not think this sounds like you, but if you sit daily for long hours at a desk, carry little people around, have a habit of sucking in your tummy (don’t we all from time to time?!) and wear high heeled shoes, you likely have some aspects of this posture. Oh and former dancers and gymnasts, you probably have this going on too. Awesome, I know.
Why does posture matter so much?! Because your posture impacts the position of your muscles and organs. And the position of your organs impacts how you breathe. How you breathe impacts how much PRESSURE goes into your abdominal wall. Here’s a fantastic video by physiotherapist expert Julie Wiebe explaining how alignment impacts your diaphragm and pelvic floor function.
Take home point: bad posture = tight muscles and squished organs = restricted breathing = pressure pushing forward into your abdominal wall with every respiration.
SO, if you want to both avoid and fix diastasis recti (and incontinence issues for that matter), you must begin with fixing your alignment, so you can breathe diaphragmatically. Think of breathing into the back and sides of your lungs and let your rib cage open like an umbrella as you inhale. Breathing this way will help you get the most out of your exercise choreography. I call it the ABC approach. Alignment → Breath → Choreography.
The problem is that when it comes to repairing diastasis recti (often referred to with the somewhat cringe worthy nickname “mummy tummy”), everyone wants an exercise prescription. There’s a lot of hype and fear around the topic, and many exercise programs claiming to fix it.
The idea of following a set of specifically targeted exercises in order to get guaranteed results is simple, powerful and very popular.
Headlines like “7 Moves for Flat Abs!” sell a lot of fitness magazines and get a lot of web clicks. People have come to believe that if they know the right moves to do, and how often, they’ll get results. I’m calling BS. If someone could go ahead and pass that memo on to the editors at every Fitness and Shape magazine, that would be grrrreeeeat (channeling my Office Space Lumbergh voice here). I’m so over it.
If I only had a dollar for every time I heard “Give me the best exercises I need to do, how many reps and how often, and I’ll do it! I just need a program to be on track. Just tell me the best moves!”
I want to say slow down! Take time to restore your core. You just birthed a human. But slowing down can be hard.
No motivated postpartum woman looking to “get her body back” wants to be told to chill out and breathe. I completely get it. Stretching tight muscles and breathing doesn’t feel productive. But I’m saying it. Chill out and breathe. Have faith that these small adjustments in how you breathe and move will lead to large changes. It might be the most productive thing for your body that you’ve ever done. And by the way, your body didn’t go anywhere. You’re beautiful. You got this, and we’re here to help.
Our Bump Method Prenatal classes teach you how to manage that intra abdominal pressure and minimize diastasis recti. Our Bump Postpartum mom & baby classes teach you how to reconnect to those deep core and pelvic floor muscles to repair diastasis recti. If you’re not able to join a class, please check out our online programs. Knowledge is power!