2 days after giving birth to my first child (TJ) my midwife checked me for diastasis recti (aka abdominal separation) (“DR”). I had about a 5 finger width gap. She told me to be careful how I got up and down, but that was it. She did not give me any exercises to do. My DR was never checked again by my midwife or by my doctor…
Fortunately, I knew a little about DR and through further research and some trial and error I was able to work on strengthening my core again. Many moms, however, do not know about this “condition”. And why would you when no doctor or medicial practitioner you see post birth mentions it!
So, here are 10 facts about DR that every mom should know! I hope by sharing these I will give you all the key facts you need to know and dispel some of the myths that are circulating regarding DR.
Please do share with your mom and mom to be friends. For further details on what DR is and how to check yourself click HERE.
1. When to check yourself
2 days after giving birth is too soon to get an accurate assessment of your diastasis recti. You need to give your body some time to heal and for your uterus to contract back again post birth. Most moms will have a large gap immediately after giving birth. Remember you took 9 months to grow the baby so it’s a bit unfair to expect your body to recover in a matter of days.
How quickly you recover and heal will vary person to person. I recommend testing initially around 10 days to 2 weeks after the birth at the earliest and then again at regular intervals of every 2 weeks to check the gap is continuing to close up and the strength and depth of your linea alba below the gap.
Don’t check every day – you will just get paranoid and it will be difficult to see the difference from day to day. Plus doing the test involves a crunch position which is not DR friendly!
2. A flat tummy does not mean you do not have DR
Yes, DR can be a contributing factor to your “mommy tummy” (there may be other reasons too), but you can also have DR with a flat tummy and abs. (Men and babies can also have DR.)
So, I would recommend you still check and monitor your core no matter what your core looks like from the outside.
3. Most, if not all, moms will get DR to some degree during pregnancy
It is not a “condition” that only a few moms will suffer with during pregnancy. Our abdominal muscles need to expand to accommodate your growing baby. This is why the linea alba (connective tissue) is there between the rectus abdominis. The linea alba can stretch a lot more than muscles.
So, studies show between 60 – 100% of women have DR during pregnancy. That does not mean you need to panic. Read my blog post HERE on how to test whether you have DR during pregnancy and steps that you can take during pregnancy to try to minimise your DR post birth.
4. Even if you did not have DR in your last pregnancy you could have DR in a subsequent pregnancy
Just as everybody is different every pregnancy can be different. You should also remember that you core has also been weakened by a previous pregnancy or pregnancies even if you did “snap back” first time round.
Have babies in quick succession (like I did!) and having large babies (like I did!!) puts a further real strain on your body and you need to take that into account even if you are in excellent shape.
So, I would recommend that in all pregnancies even if you avoided any issues last time you still take steps to protect your core during pregnancy and to allow it to heal properly post baby.
5. Most doctors will not check or comment on whether you have DR
And the lack of comment does not mean you do not have it!
When you go to your doctors for your post birth check up at, or around, 6-12 weeks post birth your doctor will check whether your uterus has contracted back properly, how your vagina and uterus look, but they will not (in my, and my clients’) experience focus on the muscles. Rarely do the doctors check the strength of your pelvic floor or whether or not you have DR.
So, the doctor giving you the green light to go back to exercising “as before” does not mean you should ignore the issue of whether your core is up to going back to exercising as you did before. In most instances (even if it “feels” ok) your core will not be and you will need to take steps to rebuild and strength before jumping back into advanced core work.
6. You can re-open/worsen DR post birth
Sadly, I often get moms contact me that say they did not consider they had DR post birth, but having re-started their fitness regime they can now feel weakness and having tested their core they have DR.
Jumping back into advanced core work or exercises that put a higher stress on the core such as sprints and, er, jumping will increase the risk of re-opening or worsening or even causing DR to a core system that is still weakened from our pregnancy.
You do not have to do nothing. Indeed I would highly recommend that you complete exercises that work on gently, but progressively heal, rebuild and strengthen the core such as The Fit Moms Core Plan.
7. DR is about more than the gap
When people talk about DR they tend to only talk about the width of their gap. Whilst DR is assessed, in terms of whether you have it or not, by the width of your gap this is not the only factor to consider.
The length, depth and functionality of your gap is also key. A mom may have a gap considered to be DR, but if the tension of her linea alba is good, with minimal depth and controlled function then she may not need to take any action to heal. Equally, you could have a gap of slightly less than 2.7cm but no linea alba tension and no control such that your core system cannot function well.
8. Daily movements are just as (if not more) important that your exercises
The focus is often on the exercises that you do or don’t do during your workout, but actually what you do 24/7 is really important too. Simply avoiding crunches in your workout is not the whole answer.
As moms we have to lift, carry and hold, often heavy, weights (aka our kids) all day. How you perform those daily movements can really impact on whether you are able to heal your core effectively and whether you re-open/worsen any DR.
On my blog and IG (www.instagram.com/thefitmomsplan) you will find lots of tips on protecting your core while lifting your baby in and out of bed, carrying your baby, carrying the shopping, getting up from breastfeeding, loading the stroller in the car and more.
9. You do not have to close the gap completely
For a while it was considered that you had to completely close your gap before your DR could be considered healed. It is now accepted that this is not the case. Instead the key is that you have a “functioning” core.
What does this mean? A functional core is normally a small gap, a gap that is not too deep with good linea alba tension (not too squishy/soft). Often you do not any back pain and no pelvic floor issues.
If you are suffering with lower back pain, a weak pelvic floor, are still coning/doming you probably need to continue with rehabilitation exercises before advancing your core work.
10. Surgery is not always the answer
Sadly, a number of doctors will recommend surgery as soon as a mom seeks help for DR. However, in most cases surgery is not necessary.
Many moms can heal their DR through mindful movements and the right exercises even years after giving birth.
Surgery has risks and will lead to scar tissue so I would recommend that you always question your doctor whether you can first try to heal yourself through exercises. Unless there is a medical reason to have surgery why not try the exercises first? If you have been diligently doing your exercises and being mindful of your daily movements for more than a year than sometimes surgery is necessary, but do talk it through carefully with your doctor and get a second opinion if needed.
Any questions then as always ask.