Haven’t heard of it? Well, It is a normal physiological response to the changes in a woman’s hormones that allows the connective tissue, (aka the linea alba), between the left and right abdominal wall muscles, (aka the “six pack” or rectus abdominus), to expand and thin out to allow a baby to grow in utero.
In pregnancy, the hormone relaxin is produced and is responsible for softening ligaments and tendons. Additionally, progesterone is also increased which relaxes smooth muscle and together with the increase of estrogen soften connective tissue. All of this is wonderful to allow the pregnant body to expand and facilitate the pelvis opening for birth, but can also be problematic. Pregnant women are more apt to overstretch and strain ligaments, tendons and muscles; so, they must be cautious.
Once you've delivered your baby and hormone levels have returned to their pre-pregnancy levels, the thinning generally improves. In some cases however, the tissues get so stretched out during pregnancy that they lose their elasticity and, therefore, the ability to retract back into position -- kind of like an overstretched rubber band. That is when diastasis recti can become a problem.
Can I try to prevent it from becoming a problem?
Yup, you sure can:) First, no matter how experienced a yoga practitioner you are, avoid deep backbends!! Deep backbends not only compress the already exaggerated lumbar curve, but pose the risk of overly lengthening, stretching and straining the abdominal muscles. Second, avoid all abdominal “crunches” or sit-ups…pretty obvious. And, lastly, past 30 weeks, avoid any exercise that requires a forward tilt of the pelvis and torso, (like spin classes).
Huh? No spin classes? Why?
Spin classes have the potential to create overly tight pelvic floor muscles and ligaments, torque the pelvic and uterine ligaments and shorten the psoas muscle, all of which can lead to a malpositioned baby. A malpositioned baby can make for a longer, harder labor and delivery. Birth functions best when the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are supple and balanced allowing for the baby to find optimal fetal position.
Bottom line...as a doula, I advise my mamas-to-be to embrace pregnancy as a time to slow down, deeply listen to the needs of their baby and body and surrender to the transition into motherhood. Backbends, spin class, and crunches will all be there post-baby. And, it will be a lot harder to get back to a pre-baby fitness or yoga level if you are healing major diastasis or pelvic floor issues.
I’ve had my baby. Now what? How can I tell whether or not I have diastasis recti?
It's easy to perform a self-test for diastasis recti. Just lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Put one hand on your belly, with your fingers on your midline at your navel. Press your fingertips down gently, and bring your head (shoulders stay on the ground) up into a mini crunch-like position. Feel for the sides of your rectus abdominis muscles, and see if and how far they are separated. Separation is commonly discussed in terms of finger widths -- for instance, two or three (or more) fingers' separation.
Here is a video that demonstrates how to check yourself for Diastasis Recti:
Ok, I think I have diastasis recti. What can I do about it?
Well, exercise can be used to repair diastasis recti and should be undertaken as the first approach to healing. That said, some exercises will exacerbate the problem. So, please talk to your doctor to get a referral to a physical therapist who can help you correct the issue with gentle exercises. Since so many doctors aren’t well versed in how to treat the condition and can mistake the condition as a hernia, make sure to find a therapist—specifically, a pelvic floor physiotherapist—who specializes in treating the condition.
From my heart to yours,