I was about halfway through my second trimester before I learned about the horrifying condition known as diastasis recti. My workout regimen has always consisted of a lot of core work as an aerialist. I was doing hanging leg lifts one day at the gym and looked down to see a slight bulging along my mid-line. I also realized at this moment that my core felt considerably less stable than it normally did during this workout. I stopped immediately, a little freaked out, and wondered if there was a point in my pregnancy when I should stop doing abdominal work. The more I googled, the more horrified I was. My muscles could actually SPLIT APART and I could develop a HERNIA?!?! WHY HAD NOBODY WARNED ME ABOUT THIS?!?!?
Diastasis recti is the separation of the abdominal muscles during and after pregnancy. A whopping two-thirds of pregnant women supposedly have this condition, but when I asked my doctor about it, her response was that EVERYONE’S abdominal muscles have to move during pregnancy. It’s physically impossible to fit a baby in there if things don’t move out-of-the-way, including your organs and the abdominal muscles in varying degrees. Now, it isn’t as scary as it sounds, but it is definitely a big issue that a lot of people aren’t talking about. This condition is the culprit for women looking like they are still pregnant months after they’ve had their babies. If the muscles don’t come back together properly, the weakness will allow a bulge or pooch in the stomach area. Your stomach muscles are what hold everything in and keep your stomach looking flat, but they can’t perform that function in the wrong spot.
I did a lot of research about this after my incident at the gym and I actually had a hard time finding the answers to some of my questions. Although everyone has a certain amount of separation that will usually resolve on its own with proper core building activities postpartum, some women’s separation is more severe than others. Sometimes it is so severe that the abdominal wall has a difficult time coming back together without therapy or surgery. It is also far more common in women with multiple children or women who have children later in life. Excessive weight gain and MOST abdominal workouts during pregnancy worsen this condition. I’m not trying to scare you here, I just want you to be aware of the risks and to be careful with your body. My own abdominal muscles separated about four fingers’ distance apart and they came back together just fine within a few months postpartum.
There are some core strengthening exercises that you can do to help prevent and repair your diastasis recti. This is what you can do:
- Avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy
- Avoid having pregnancies close together. You want to make sure that your core has a chance to fully heal and become strong again before having another baby.
- After your first trimester or after you have started showing, you should avoid exercise that puts pressure on the mid-line or pushes your core out, such as any type of crunches, leg lifts, etc.
- Do these exercises during pregnancy that pull your core muscles in towards the spine and strengthen the pelvic floor.
- Wait until you are cleared by your doctor to begin any form of exercise. This isn’t just a suggestion, it’s very important for a woman recovering from birth.
- Start an abdominal routine SLOWLY. I recommend any of these postnatal yoga videos on YouTube. You can do them at home while the baby naps. It may not seem like much, but trust me, you’ll feel it the next day. Any amount of core engagement should be minimal at first. You will have lost all of your strength in that area and will have to start from nothing. You don’t want to injure yourself or worsen the diastasis, so it is important to do exercises specific to postpartum women that focus on pulling the muscles back together and strengthen the core. Avoid crunches, leg lifts, and other intense abdominal work until you are sure that your abdominal muscles have finished coming back together.