What is Diastasis Recti?

fitness and pregnancy

Diastasis Recti (DR) is a term that produces a lot of fear in the pre pregnancy and postnatal world.  Most of the fear is based around the lack of information or obtaining the wrong information. A little education goes a long way in minimizing the risk of developing DR and reducing stress and anxiety around the topic.  

If Diastasis Recti (DR) occurs, the integrity of your core is compromised.  

What is Diastasis Recti?

In very simple terms, the definition of Diastasis Recti is the separation of the abdominal muscles of the connective tissue holding the two halves of the abdominal wall together (aka your Rectus Abdominis muscle). This connective tissue is also known as the linea alba.

What Causes Diastasis Recti?

By the end of pregnancy, our linea alba stretches about 3 cm and our bodies are made to do that in order to accommodate a growing belly and baby. Problems arise when we don’t have the proper body mechanics to regulate what’s called “intra-abdominal pressure” in order to decrease pressure on an already strained linea alba. Improper breathing and movement mechanics will increase pressure on your linea alba, causing it to stretch beyond what your body can repair naturally. 

If Diastasis Recti (DR) occurs, the integrity of your core and abdominal muscles  is compromised.  You may be more susceptible to developing issues like pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic pain, incontinence, lower back pain, developing a hernia, you may also not have any symptoms at all or you may not experience symptoms for many years to come past weeks postpartum. 

How Do You Know if You Have Diastasis Recti?   

Here is a quick (but inconclusive) list of things to look for.  You may have Diastasis Recti if you…

  • Are on your 2nd,  3rd (or more) pregnancy.  Every pregnancy increases your risk.
  • Are carrying multiples.
  • Have had a C-section. The surgery cuts up the linea alba.
  • Have a belly “pooch” that continues to make you look pregnant weeks postpartum or even months postpartum. 
  • See your tummy is stretched/sagging/wrinkled (beyond holding extra postpartum weight gain and “stretch marks”).
  • See coning, doming or a small mound when you lay down, sit up or when performing a forward flexion movement.
  • Have incontinence.
  • Have chronic back pain.
  • Feel like you can’t regain core strength (do sit ups) no matter what do. 
  • Can insert 2-3 fingers or more through your linea alba.
  • Had a protruding belly button during pregnancy.
  • Have poor posture.
  • Are a chest or stress breather.

Don’t Panic

You’ll notice that you may be able to check off many of the following symptoms. Don’t panic! It’s important to note that having any one of these does not conclusively mean you have Diastasis Recti. My advice? Get yourself to a pelvic floor physiotherapist. They are the professionals who can give you the most accurate reading.  I feel strongly that ALL pregnant women and postpartum women should see a pelvic floor physiotherapist regardless of experiencing any specific symptoms or risk factors. 

How To Prevent It

As I mentioned earlier, the key to prevention is learning to regulate your intra-abdominal pressure. You can work with a women’s health Personal Trainer or OT that specializes in pregnancy and postpartum, a pelvic floor physical therapist, or find a pre & postnatal certified fitness trainer certified in corrective exercise and functional movement.  Not all pre/postnatal fitness certs are created equal! The physiotherapist you work with should address your breathing via your diaphragm as a first step. From there, they will teach you to activate and release your pelvic floor muscles in combination with your breath and then to wrap and engage your transverse ab muscles. If the professional you are working with doesn’t address the above steps, they may not have the education needed to keep your core muscles and pelvic floor safe. Be an advocate for yourself and ask them about their credentials, so you can help avoid diastasis recti at all costs.

The most important take-away is this: Education is key! You need to be informed on the mechanics of how you are moving during pregnancy and postpartum in order to fully empower yourself to avoid developing this all too common condition. This education along with your self advocacy and the proper training or rehab is the only true prevention.

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