Today I want to talk to you about Diastasis Recti or the “Mummy Gap” and how it is something completely natural rather than something to be feared.
After reading this I hope you feel empowered, you understand what it is, why it happens and importantly things you can do to aid your recovery and the closing of the gap in your early postpartum phase.
WHAT EXACTLY IS DIASTASIS RECTI?
The term “Diastasis recti” is the technical term given to the lateral stretching, or separation, that occurs between the rectus abdominis (six pack) muscles during pregnancy.
It’s something completely natural and if you think about what a six pack looks like, biomechanically they are designed to grow and spread; through day to day activities – as you laugh, cough, bloat or when you’re pregnant.
WHY CAN IT BE AN ISSUE?
The role of the tissues in the stomach is to manage intra-abdominal pressure and the transfer of load from the lower to upper body. This includes things such as movement, lifting and coughing. So creating a stretch on these tissues creates an instability that effects how the body functions.
In pregnancy the front of the tummy is put on a large stretch as the baby grows. In some instances, which I will go into shortly, the stretch isn’t even across the tummy and the linea alba stretches and creates this separation. This can manifest itself as doming in pregnancy and then in the post partumn period this “mummy gap”
If there is a large gap it *can* be a indication of malfunction and other issues such as pelvic floor dysfunction. However it’s important to add that is is entirely possible to have a functional gap.
If left untreated or ignored it can cause considerable long term damage including lower back pain, umbilical hernias and can contribute towards significant pelvis floor dysfunction, such as pelvic organ prolapses.
This all sounds pretty scary but it’s totally preventable. The problems usually occur when we rush back to exercise, feeling the society induced pressure to get our bodies back.
The main thing is to take your time and not rush back to running or any high intensity exercises. The focus needs to be on reconnection with the core through breathing strategies, specific exercises, good food and good hydration but I’ll go on to this later.
WHAT FACTORS EFFECT DIASTASIS?
Separation of the abs is completely normal but when the gap is 2.5cm or wider then it’s considered Diastasis Recti. We probably all know people who have gone through pregnancy and not had a problem with it at all so I’m now going to go through what makes it more likely during pregnancy.
- You have more than one child, especially if pregnancy are close together
- You have a large baby
- Your baby is lying sideways
- You suffer from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
- Or you’re doing the wrong exercise during and after pregnancy
The main thing is to take your time and not rush back to running or any high intensity exercises.
DIASTASIS DURING PREGNANCY
As your pregnancy develops the first sign of diastasis might be dooming down the midline of your tummy, this might occur in your second or third trimester. Potentially earlier if you’re having twins or it’s a second pregnancy.
Although we can’t fix or heal a diastasis during pregnancy , we can be smart in minimizing the damage by avoiding anything that makes the stomach dome
- Such as getting out of bed by rolling to the side vs sitting right up
- Lengthen your torso by stacking your ribs on top of your hips
- Work on your deep core muscles. Traditional core exercises such as crunches and planks should be out, so should oblique exercises and this can cause the gap to widen. If you think what happens when you contract the obliques – they’ll shorten.
However you want to continue to work on your deep abdominal muscles – your Transverse abdonimis and your pelvic floor. Anti rotation, anti lateral flexion and anti extension exercises are all your friend as they work your deep core stabilizing muscles instead of the superficial muscles.
DIASTASIS AFTER CHILDBIRTH
As discussed a degree of diastasis is completely natural and is one of the marvellous adaptions the body makes for pregnancy. Although it’s usually greatly improved within 8 weeks, there are things that can help in the first 8 weeks and help with global healing after childbirth too.
In the first 8 weeks it really is recommended that you use this time to rest, enjoying your time getting to know your baby and not worrying about your core.
This period of rest is also vital to your recovery. Your body has gone
through a massive challenge, the endurance task of pregnancy for the past 9 months and then the monumental event of birth.
Rest helps your body to recuperate and recover from the stress and
encourages healing. Elevated cortisol levels and stress has been shown to
actually reduced healing capacity so any additional stress (than a new born
babe itself!) should be avoided where possible. So stressing to get yourself to the gym or exercises it not the one.
In this first few weeks, nutrition and good food is vital and essential to your recovery. It forms a foundation for the deep connection. You need to be deeply nourished to create the building blocks for the regeneration of the connective tissue in the midline.
It’s also vital for gut health and getting things moving properly. Constipation is a biggy and we need things to be moving properly to eliminate all the excess hormones. Plus if you had a c section it’s likely you were given antibiotics so we need to good food to feed and replenish the good bacteria in the gut.
Nutrition goes hand in hand with HYDRATION
The linea alba – the midline of the core is made up of connective tissue, infact most of the core is made up of layers of connective tissue. This connective tissue is mostly made up of water so Hydration is really important to the healing.
Your diaphragm is connected to your core and pelvic floor so breathing is key to your postnatal recovery and core restoration.
It is also something that you can start doing from early in your postnatal journey. Nothing too strenuous of course, but deep full inhales and exhales and gradually reconnecting with the core.
Using the inhale to expand consciously into your ribcage and re-find the space that was squished as your pregnancy progressed. And full purposely exhalation visualising the lift of the pelvic floor and the contraction and compression of the deep, deep abs.
Moving on from breathing but so intrinsically linked is postural alignment. The postural changes that occur in pregnancy – upper cross syndrome, pelvis changes, all effect how the core works. So releasing these tight areas can also really help overall functionality – and also help with lower back pain and shoulder pain. Which can all be exacerbated with life with a new born. Some gentle stretches in the first 6-8 weeks postpartum can do wonders for your quality of life.
After 6-8 weeks you can begin to slowly introduce some bespoke core exercises to help further improve the diastasis and improve overall core connectivity and functionality.
We’re again not talking about traditional hypertrophic exercises where we working the superficial muscles. But the deep core muscles.
But first things first we need reconnect.
The whole of the fascial network has been stretched, maybe cut through if you had a csection. And along with the muscle tissue and fascia the nerve pathways have been effected too.
It’s a relationship between your Transverse Abdominals, Lumbar muscles, Pelvic Floor and Diaphragm.
Exercises such as pelvic tilts, heal slides, bridges; all linked with breath, gentle resistance and visualizations. Check out our Instagram for some vids on these.
I think it’s important to mention that everyones postnatal journey is different and their isn’t a one size fixes all approach to core restoration so if you can work with a professional such as a women’s health physio or a specialist Personal Trainer.
However if you’re still experiencing doming and separation after about 3 months/ 12 weeks. I really would recommend reaching out to a women’s health professional and have a check over.
Mummy Mot are ace and if you go through to their website you can find your closest practitioner.
There is never a more important time to invest in your health.