Diastasis recti describes the separation of the rectus abdominis muscle (your six-pack) from the mid-line connective tissue (the linea alba) that runs down the centre of your abdomen. During pregnancy the linea alba will stretch to accommodate your expanding womb and growing baby.
What is a diastasis recti or abdominal separation?
Diastasis recti usually refers to abdominals not coming back together after you’ve had your baby with either a gap between both sides of your rectus abdominis or in some cases they come back together, but connective tissue is still weak when you perform certain exercises.
The gap is most common around the navel but can be higher up by the ribs. It is estimated that a third of first time mothers and around 70% of mothers with two or more babies will have some degree of diastasis, causing instability of the core and a protruding tummy.
This pressure can be the cause of a mummy tummy that sticks out, pelvic floor weakness, stress incontinence or back pain. When your body really can’t contain the pressure, hernia or prolapse can be the result. Your core isn’t aligned or working correctly and that means your post-baby stomach can’t lie flat.
How do I know if I have a diastasis?
You may see a coning of your lower abdomen like an alien belly, or a ridge-shaped protrusion from breastbone to belly button when you roll up from your back, or attempt a crunch movement. This is perfectly normal in the early days and if you join one of my postnatal courses and have a 1-2-1, I’ll be able to check this for you.
What causes it?
Like many things to do with our bodies, it can be down to chance or genes. But certain posture types can increase your risk, this is because a diastasis recti can happen when the body is not aligned in a way that allows the core and pelvic muscles to do their job effectively. So, anything that increases the risk of a permanent stretch through the tummy – like standing with your bottom sticking out or wearing high heels can make it worse. Even a small heel can put your pelvis into an anterior tilt which means that your body isn’t aligned and the relevant muscles are not working correctly.
For mums who have had a c-section or gave birth naturally, they need to bear in mind pelvic floor dysfunction from incontinence to pelvic organ prolapse. And they may have abdominal separation. If you do, you should see a postnatal fitness expert (like me) to address this.
It can be a result of people standing with their ribs thrust out over their pelvis. This is why during pregnancy and the postnatal period, I am always reminding women to focus on connecting ribs to hips – to ensure the ribs don’t push forwards and add extra strain to the tummy. Tight hip flexors (psoas) muscles can also increase the risk as well as putting pressure on the pelvic floor or a person might have very tight oblique muscles. Alternatively your shoulder girdle may be under constant tension. These or many other alignment or movement habits could be causing the two sides of the abdominal muscles to be pulled away from the midline of the body.
Therefore addressing a diastasis recti must be a whole body solution. Simply concentrating on abdominal exercises alone will not fix the problem and could even make it worse. For example, doing crunches and the plank will just place more pressure on weakened abdominal muscles, pulling them further apart. You need to strengthen the core muscles from within and realign the body.
Does it matter if you have a diastasis recti?
Well aesthetically, if you’ve lost your baby weight and have a diastasis recti or a mummy tummy, it can affect your body confidence. But more importantly, it can lead to other problems. That pouch is where there is no muscular abdominal wall to hold your organs in place; only a thin layer of connective tissue, therefore your organs protrude. Without a strong core, many people with a diastasis recti, can experience lower back pain, and 66% of sufferers can have some form of pelvic dysfunction including a weak pelvic floor, urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Is it fixable?
It is fixable to a certain extent but it’s worth remembering that the gap is not so much of a problem as the tension underneath it. The separation will narrow by itself in the days and weeks following childbirth, but a gap often remains. You can rebuild stability and strength in your core, even with a small gap remaining and you can make a huge improvement to the look and function of your core, and this is more important.
What can I do to heal a diastasis recti?
What can I do to heal a diastasis recti?
Firstly, nourish your body with good, wholesome food: this is not the time to be crash dieting. Your body needs collagen-boosting foods to heal itself. Become aware of your posture and core alignment. Untuck your tailbone. Stand, sit and walk with proper alignment. Breathe into and from the diaphragm: this will relieve pressure and connect your breath to your pelvic floor. These are all areas that I can advise on through my Holistic Core Restore® Course 1-2-1 Diastasis Recti Programme and through my Holistic Core Restore® Every Woman course.