Diastasis recti. I literally despise those words. And for good reason. Diastasis recti is the bane of my bikini confidence postpartum. Temporarily, of course. Because I am determined to find a way to not only heal it but to come back stronger.
For all the non-moms out there, let me break it down for you.
Diastasis recti is a separation of the rectus abdominis. Jamie Scomak PT, DPT, CLT, PRPC, explains it further, “The rectus muscle is also known as the six-pack muscle. During pregnancy, a prolonged stretch of this muscle creates a weakening in the linea alba (the fascia between the sides of the rectus muscle). This weakening can create a visual separation between the sides of the rectus muscle. This separation might be dysfunctional if you have back pain, feel weak when easing your way back into your routine, poor posture, and pelvic dysfunctions like urinary leakage, painful intercourse, constipation, abdominal bloating.”
Furthermore, according to this study, up to 60 percent of women experience diastasis recti during pregnancy or postpartum.
How do you know you have it? Scomak recommends meeting with a pelvic health physical therapist to evaluate the width and depth of the separation. But there is a way to check for it at home as well.
“A dysfunctional separation can be seen with a doming of the space between the rectus muscle when the abdominal muscles are challenged. The muscles are too weak to maintain closure during the challenge. An easy way to check yourself is to lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your fingers in your belly button and lift your head like a crunch. If you have more than two fingers, it’s possible you could have dysfunction.”
But let’s be clear – this isn’t just about how your pants now fit postpartum. Having diastasis recti can affect your mental health, or be a health concern. So I sat down a few experts to chat about how you can heal and strengthen that muscle, when your body is ready of course. (And as always, consult with your doctor first!).
1) Breath exercises
Julia Hickman, certified fitness professional, recommends starting with some breath exercises. First, stand with feet a bit wider than hip width apart and take a big inhale and then exhale.
Breath in pulling in towards your spine and imagining that you’re zipping up your belly from pelvis to ribcage. Hold for ten seconds and then release. Repeat three times. Work your way up to 90 seconds.
2) Modified deadbugs
Hickman also recommends modified deadbugs. These require you to lie on your back in a neutral pelvis position.
Bend your knees until your feet are about 12 inches away from your buttocks. Rest your arms by your side. Bend your elbows so your hands are pointing upward at 90-degree angles. Take deep breaths for 30 seconds.
Begin with the hollowing movement, tightening your deep abdominals and stabilizing your lower back. Lift your legs and arms off the floor. Keep your knees over your hips and bend them to form 90-degree angles. Bend your arms also at 90-degree angles keeping your elbows over your shoulders. Breathe in and slowly lower your left hand behind you and right heel in front of you until they barely touch the floor. Breathe out and bring your hand and heel back to the original position. Do 5-10 reps per side.
3) Heel slides
Women’s fitness specialist Jesse Truelove suggests heel slides. Lay on your back, knees bent, feet flat, spine neutral or against ground. Inhale and relax muscles, exhale and lift your pelvic floor. Contract and wrap your abdominals and slide one heel away from your body until your leg is straight. Then, slide your heel back towards the body to bent knee while holding contraction.
4) Arm raises on back
Truelove notes that arm raises on your back are a great exercise, too. Lay on your back, knees bent, feet flat, spine neutral or against ground, arms down by sides fingers pointing down towards feet. Inhale and relax your muscles; exhale and lift your pelvic floor. Contract and wrap your abdominals and lift arms up and over head to touch ears. If you notice your ribs flaring, try doing more of a “snow angel” arm movement, keeping them on the ground and sliding up. You can work towards bear planks, 90 degree toe taps, and others eventually when you master these!
5) Hip bridges
Hickman also recommends adding in a hip bridge into your routine. Start by lying on your back in a neutral pelvis position. Bend your knees until your feet are about 12 inches away from your buttocks. Rest your arms by your side. Push through your heels to lift your hips up while squeezing your glutes. Pause for 1-2 seconds, then slowly lower back down. Complete 10-15 repetitions.
6) Marching on back
Truelove breaks down how to do marching on your back. Lay on your back, knees bent, feet flat, spine neutral or against ground. Inhale and relax your muscles, then exhale and lift your pelvic floor. Contract and wrap abdominals and lift one knee up without bulging or doming. If bulging or doming is happening, try only lifting heel up while keep toes on the ground.
7) Leg openers
Leg openers are also recommended by Hickman. Lie on your back in a neutral pelvis position. Inhale then exhale to prepare. Pause your breath and lift and squeeze your pelvic floor and draw in your lower abdominal muscles. Use your hands to feel the lower abdominal muscles activate. Inhale as you slowly move one knee outwards. Make sure you maintain a neutral pelvis. Exhale as you return your knee to the start position. Relax your pelvic floor/lower belly area. Complete 5-10 reps per side.
I think it is important to note that moms should be SUPER patient with your body. In most cases, diastasis recti is fixable but requires consistent exercising.
Truelove adds, “The exercise program that works the best is the one the ONE YOU STICK WITH. So find a physical therapist and personal trainer you love, because its going to be a long road ahead. I know it can be frustrating, especially if you were very fit before and through pregnancy, to be told this. You will want to jump right back into the hard stuff, but just because you CAN doesn’t mean you should. Create a fantastic foundation and you’re less likely to create an injury and set back. “