Updated: Mar 9, 2020
Diastasis recti. (I can almost hear someone dramatically shrieking in the background.)
We've gone from never having heard of it, wondering what the heck it is, and finally to everyone being convinced that they have it post-partum and their lives are over.
Woah. The pendulum on this topic has swung to extremes, making it very confusing when trying to get solid information. As someone who has diastasis recti, I get it. It's upsetting and can feel downright scary when you aren't sure what's going on with your body and can't seem to find the answers.
Let's talk about what diastasis recti is.
Various presentations of diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti is the thinning of the fascia - the linnea alba - between the rectus abdominis (most people think of these are their "six-pack muscles.") It is completely normal and necessary in pregnancy. In order to grow your baby, your abdominals need to make room. That's what diastasis recti in pregnancy is is: your body is doing its job.
After they have their baby, for some women, this separation will lessen and they will be able to generate tension in the fascia. For some women, this separation doesn't close and they have difficulty getting the fascia to respond when they're wanting and needing it to.
The exact reason why some women's bodies rehab on their own and some don't is unknown but genetics, the baby's position during pregnancy, body types, and many other factors can play a role. Women with diastasis recti postpartum should know that it is absolutely nothing they did and that it's actually not possible to prevent it.
When declaring that someone has diastasis recti, you'll hear a whole lot about the amount of fingers that can fit in between the rectus abdominus, in the gap. Here is where the panic usually sets in. The more fingers, generally the more panic.
Here's the thing: it's not all about the gap. While we do want that gap to shorten eventually, it is possible that the gap maybe never fully close. It is also possible to have a very functional or "healed" diastasis with a gap! You can be symptom-free and feel strong in your body, even if the gap remains. When considering whether or not a diastasis recti is "healed" (this word is problematic because healing looks different on every woman and goal) or functional, considering a woman's ability to generate tension and for her core to respond when and how she needs it to is crucial.
You've had a baby. It's natural and normal for you body and belly to look different, possible to feel different. Many times, diastasis is blamed for all kinds of things from loose skin to protruding bellies. While it can be a factor in the way your belly appears, ultimately it's important to remember to separate the appearance of diastasis recti from function. It's also natural and normal to be surprised, frustrated, disappointed, and whatever else you feel about your body after baby. Just know that the appearance of diastasis recti doesn't always reflect it's effect on your functionality. Similarly, rehabbing a diastasis does not mean your belly will go back to the way it is prior to having a baby.
So appearances aside, what are some of the symptoms of diastasis recti? Many women experience a "hole in the middle" kind of feeling or like something is not quite right with their core. There is often a feeling like traditional core exercises aren't really doing anything. Sometimes there is a ripping or unsupported feeling with movement. Many women experience back pain and some will experience hip pain or pain elsewhere in the body as well.
If you have diastasis recti and are experiencing these symptoms, don't panic! In most cases, diastasis recti can be helped with specific strategies and exercises to strengthen your core and bring back your mind-muscle connection. Surgery is an option, though only necessary in very extreme cases. Surgery is something that should be pursued with extensive knowledge of all of your options, including physio and working with a qualified coach. Reach out to a women's health physiotherapist and a postnatal fitness specialist for support and guidance.
Diastasis recti doesn't mean the death of your core strength, your love of fitness, or your life. Just as many other core and pelvic floor symptoms after baby, it requires consideration in your life and training. It's important to be intentional and to lay the foundation to return to the function you're wanting. Once you've laid the foundation, you can continue to challenge your body and progress back to the activities you love.
Do you have questions about diastasis recti? I'd love to clear them up! Book a free video strategy call and let's talk.